Media from across the political spectrum and around the world are trumpeting the new Lima climate deal as breaching the ‘firewall’ differentiating the greenhouse gas emission (GHG) responsibilities of developed and developing countries.
Leading the pack was British Broadcasting Corporation environment correspondent, Matt McGrath, whose December 15th article “UN climate deal in Peru ends historic North-South split” exclaimed, “Here in Lima, that old fashioned view of the world [where rich countries have GHG reduction targets, while poor ones do not] was consigned to history, though not without a desperate struggle.”
Not far behind was New York Times writer Coral Davenport who told readers in an article published everywhere from the Boston Globe to the Hamilton Spectator to Today, Singapore’s second most-read newspaper, that, “Negotiators from around the globe reached a climate change agreement yesterday that would, for the first time in history, commit every nation to reducing its rate of greenhouse gas emissions.”
The Montreal Gazette was equally excited. In their Monday editorial: “All nations must do their part to fight climate change – including Canada,” the Gazette proclaimed, “The United Nations climate talks that wrapped up in Lima, Peru saw — for the first time — all nations, rich and poor, sign on to the battle to slow global warming. This is a historic step … Now that they [developing countries] are on board, Canada has one less excuse for its own inaction.”
Though less exaggerated, Associated Press’ (AP) Karl Ritter told us in his piece “Last minute deal salvaged UN climate talks” that, “A last-minute deal that salvaged U.N. climate talks from collapse early Sunday sends a signal the rich-poor divide that long held up progress can be overcome with a year to go before a landmark pact is supposed to be adopted in Paris … the Paris agreement would be the first to call on all countries to control their emissions.”
But the very first sentence in the new Lima Call for Climate Action tells us, in convoluted UN code of course, that all this is highly improbable, if not nonsense. That sentence is:
The Conference of the Parties, Reiterating that the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action [ADP] shall be under the Convention and guided by its principles.
Although few in the public or the press know much about it, the ADP may eventually be seen as the sleeper in the unfolding climate policy disaster. They are the backroom negotiators who are drafting the text for the big climate deal to be signed in Paris in 2015. This is the agreement the Obama administration tells us will give meaningful GHG reduction targets to all the countries of the world, developed and developing.
And, according to this first sentence in the Lima deal, the work of the ADP “shall be under the Convention and guided by its principles.” The ‘Convention’ refers to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), signed by President George H.W. Bush and hundreds of other world leaders at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. In the UNFCCC is the critical Article 4:
The extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under the Convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country Parties of their commitments under the Convention related to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.
So, under any treaty based on the UNFCCC (which all UN climate agreements are), developing countries will keep their GHG emission reduction commitments if we in developed world pay them enough and give them enough of our technology. Also implied in the article is that, even if we give them everything we promise, developing countries may simply forget about their GHG targets if they interfere with their “first and overriding priorities” of “economic and social development and poverty eradication.” Developed nations do not have this option and must keep our emission reduction commitments no matter how it impacts our economies.
It is not as if the UN has been hiding this ‘firewall’ between developing and developed nations. They have told us repeatedly in UN climate change agreements in Copenhagen, Cancun, Durban and now in the draft text prepared by the ADP that appears in the appendix to the Lima agreement: “development and poverty eradication,” not GHG emission reduction, takes top billing for developing countries.
Actions to significantly reduce GHG emissions would entail dramatically cutting back on the use of coal, the source of 81 percent of China’s electricity and 71 percent of India’s. As coal is by far the least expensive source of electric power in most parts of the world, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by restricting coal use would unquestionably interfere with development priorities. So, developing countries simply won’t do it, citing the UNFCCC in support of their actions.
Some commentators have speculated that the inclusion of a new phrase in the Lima decision, that countries’ responsibilities will be decided “in light of different national circumstances,” will somehow impose tougher requirements on poor nations over time as they develop. This is naïve. The UNFCCC treaty, especially Article 4 that addresses the preferential treatment given developing nations, has been the foundation of all UN climate negociatations. Developing countries will clearly not allow this to change between now and Paris. AP’s Ritter admitted, “Asked about the implications of the Lima deal, Chinese negotiator Su Wei repeated China’s mantra that the purpose of the Paris agreement is to “reinforce and enhance” the 1992 convention, not rewrite it.
The Lima Call for Climate Action may not have accomplished much in itself, but it certainly did us one favor. It clearly revealed that, whether the result of ignorance, wishful thinking, or in support of an agenda, most of the press are merely cheerleaders for a UN climate deal, no matter the impact on our society.
Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition (www.