I noted previously that the world’s action on climate change is crucially dependent on when emissions stop rising and can begin to fall in countries like China. In what was the most important speech at the UN Climate Summit in New York on September 23, China’s Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, said that China would publish “as early as possible” a date at which it expected its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to reach a peak.
In short order, China did more than publish. On November 11, President Xi Jinping jointly announced with President Obama a bilateral agreement to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. China committed to peak emissions by 2030, and perhaps earlier. For its part, the United States put forward a target to bring down emissions by 26 to 28 per cent from a baseline of 2005 by 2025. This is a significant move by the two highest-emitting GHG countries in the world both in terms of their level of commitment as well as the cooperation and leadership, critical to world actions on climate change, that they have shown.
Just a week later, China reinforced its intentions on peak emissions by putting a cap on coal consumption by 2020. It will also promote non-fossil fuel generation to supply 20 per cent of the country’s energy needs by 2030. According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), this will require between 800 to 1,000 gigawatts of nuclear, wind, solar and other zero-emission power generation.
At the end of October, European leaders agreed upon a plan for GHG reductions in the European Union of at least 40% by 2030. Other positive country announcements on climate action came in the past week during the Berlin Pledging Conference for the Green Climate Fund. With later pledges made by countries such as Canada (a good turnaround on previous policy) and Spain, the fund now stands at US $9.7 billion equivalent, just a little shy of its target for the year. This bodes well for the commitment that industrialized countries made in Cancun, Mexico to provide funds rising to USD 100 billion per year by 2020 to support concrete mitigation actions on climate change by developing countries.
Cumulatively, these country actions, together with the activities around Climate Week in New York and the publication of the IPCC Synthesis Report, give quite some optimism that the 20th Conference of the Parties, or COP 20, starting in Lima next week will be more than the administrative hurdle in climate policy development it might have been seen as just a few weeks ago. Many Technical Expert meetings will take place within what is known as Work Stream 2. The scope of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDC‘s should be at least well resolved, if not perhaps completely settled. This will be important for framing the country commitments for climate action and getting them public by the end of the first quarter of 2015. Most important of all though will be the drafting of a text on climate actions that can, hopefully, be globally agreed in Paris at COP21 next year.
Peru is poised to stage some significant progress on global climate policy. As Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres put it, countries are gathering in Lima “with the wind in their sails” , or, in Spanish, Con viento en popa to deal with climate change. Let the wind blow!