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With Lima Accord reached, climate attention turns toward 2015

posted Dec 16, 2014, 7:55 PM by Vidal Martinez
Negotiators from nearly 200 countries struck a deal early Sunday morning in Lima, Peru, marking the first time that nations, large and small, developed and developing, agreed that each will make pledges aimed at cutting global greenhouse gas emissions. 

The agreement, known as the Lima Accord, concluded two days after the scheduled end of the two-week (Dec. 1-12) negotiations, held among delegates representing 196 countries at the United Nations’ annual climate change conference, formally known as the 20th Conference of the Parties.

The Lima Accord does not provide emissions-cutting benchmarks for each country, but rather states that all nations will submit their own plans -- “intended nationally determined contributions” -- by the end of March 2015, or by June for those missing the first deadline. By November, the U.N. will prepare a synthesis report on the aggregate effect of those commitments on global warming. Commitments will be posted on a U.N. website.

The accord will also serve as an outline text next December in Paris, where world leaders are expected to finalize and sign an international climate deal. The U.N. has targeted 2015 for such a deal, which would then go into effect in 2020.

The overall goal of the U.N. climate negotiations, first held in 1992, has been to stunt global temperature rise by no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, a point viewed by scientists as when the most extreme effects of climate change would begin to occur.

According to media reports out of Peru, the Lima Accord came together through a series of compromises -- along the traditional divisions between rich and poor countries -- during a 30-hour overtime period of the negotiations.

“The negotiations here [in Lima] reached a new level of realism and understanding about what needs to be done now, over the next 12 months and into the years and decades to come if climate change is to be truly and decisively addressed,” said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework on Climate Change, in a statement.

The agreement was a sign of the global community “inching forward” on addressing climate change, said Dan Misleh, executive director of the U.S.-based Catholic Climate Covenant.

“It sounds like they’re trying to get countries to move in the direction of everybody pitching in and doing something, whatever that’s going to be, but it’s certainly not where it needs to be,” he toldNCR.

As to where it needs to be, Misleh pointed to the statement from nine Catholic bishops released during the Lima conference, in which they discussed the global economic system and individual complicity in it that has led to the current state of massive emissions.

“Unless you can identify how we got here, it’s going to be hard to fix where we are. And I think that’s what the bishops were trying to say, is in the economy, the market system is a human creation and so understanding that, as humans, means that we can also undo the worst aspects of a market system, which include this rapid consumerism and this gobbling up of fossil fuels that are warming the planet,” he said.

Secular environmental groups also saw the Lima Accord lacking, though for other reasons. The World Wildlife Fund called it “half-baked,” criticizing the few specifics on emission-cutting plans or financing for the Green Climate Fund, currently at $10 billion by expected to provide by 2020 $100 billion annually to developing nations for mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Like WWF, 350.org, a grassroots climate group, said that the lack of details in the draft text wasted the wave of optimism -- largely generated by emission-reduction pledges from the U.S., China and European Union -- heading into the Lima talks.

While one wave might have ebbed at Lima’s end, another may rise in 2015 from within the religious community.

Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment is expected at some point during the first part of the year, what Misleh described as “a big, big moment.”

“To have the first every papal encyclical focusing just on the environment is one thing, and then having it come from Pope Francis just makes it all the more special,” he said.

In the Lima summit’s final days, Francis sent a message to delegates -- as Pope Benedict XVI (aka, the “green” pope) had done in 2011 in Durban, South Africa, and in 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark-- emphasizing the “ethical and moral responsibility” they have to work collectively toward a deal that protects both the planet and the human family.

The statement placed the human person at the center of the climate change conversation, said Erin Lothes, an assistant theology professor at the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, N.J.

“When he wrote that we need to be free of political and economic pressures to choose what’s best for the human family, that indicates the way the church is looking at this. And in one sense, it’s new in the context of climate change, but it reflects how Catholics have always acted on behalf of their brothers and sisters around the world,” she told NCR.

Lothes, who convened in 2013 a three-year task force within the Catholic Theological Society of America to study a 1981 statement from U.S. bishops on energy, said the statements from Francis and nine global bishops were powerful in their own right; a papal encyclical, though, could have an even larger impact.

“It will summon attention to the issue as only the pope can do,” she said.

For the church, that attention will likely shift climate change discussions beyond its scientific, technical, political or economic aspects, and toward its human dimension.

“For the church it is primarily a human issue, and I think that an encyclical from Pope Francis would galvanize attention and help people see this in a very relevant and direct and personal way, as a way for them to act for the well-being of the whole human family and for the common and individual good in our economies and communities,” Lothes said.

Misleh expects the encyclical will boost the Catholic Climate Covenant’s and other groups’ ongoing efforts, and hopes it will create new thinking and ideas toward reducing not only nations’ carbon footprints, but also those of parishes, schools, hospitals and even individuals.

“We each need to do our part, as people of faith, as Catholics, as people who are beginning to understand that the world is at serious threat from rising [carbon] emissions. So I think each of us needs to take Pope Francis’ words to heart and examine our own lifestyles and our own contributions to this,” he said.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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