What to Expect at COP-20 in Lima

06/02/2015 11:06 am ET | Updated Jun 01, 2016

On Monday, December 1, the Twentieth Conference of the Parties (COP-20) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) commences in Lima, Peru. Over the next two weeks, delegations from 195 countries will discuss and debate the next major international climate agreement, which — under the auspices of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action — is to be finalized and signed one year from now at COP-21 in Paris, France.

What to Expect in Lima

Because of the promise made in the Durban Platform to include all parties (countries) under a common legal framework, this is a significant departure from the past two decades of international climate policy, which — since the 1995 Berlin Mandate and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol — have featured coverage of only a small subset of countries, namely the so-called Annex I countries (more or less the industrialized nations, as of 20 years ago).

The expanded geographic scope of the incipient Paris agreement -- combined with its emerging architecture in the form of a pragmatic hybrid of bottom-up nationally determined contributions (NDCs) plus top-down elements for monitoring, reporting, verification and comparison of contributions -- represents the greatest promise in many years of a future international climate agreement that is truly meaningful.

A Diplomatic Breakthrough: The Key Role of the China-U.S.A. Announcement

If that confluence of policy developments offers the promise, then it is fair to say that the recent joint announcement of national targets by China and the United States (under the future Paris agreement) represents the beginning of the realization of that promise. From the 14 percent of global CO2 emissions covered by nations participating (a subset of the Annex I countries) in the Kyoto Protocol's current commitment period, the future Paris agreement with the announced China and U.S.A. NDCs covers more than 40 percent of global CO2 emissions. With Europe, already on board, the total amounts to more than 50 percent of emissions.

It will not be long before the other industrialized countries announce their own contributions -- some quite possibly in Lima over the next two weeks. More importantly, the pressure is now on the other large, emerging economies -- India, Brazil, Korea, South Africa, Mexico, and Indonesia -- to step up. Some (Brazil, Korea, Mexico?) may well announce their contributions in Lima, but all countries are due to announce their NDCs by the end of the first quarter of 2015.

The announced China-U.S.A. quantitative contributions are themselves significant. For China, capping its emissions by 2030 (at the latest) plus increasing its non-fossil energy generation to 20 percent by the same year will require very aggressive measures, according to a recent MIT analysis. For the U.S.A., cutting its emissions by 26–28 percent below the 2005 level by 2025 means doubling the pace of cuts under the country's previous international commitment.

Thus, the China-U.S.A. announcement begins the fulfillment of the promise of the Durban Platform. A sufficient foundation is being established for meaningful future steps, and thereby the likelihood of a successful outcome in Paris has been greatly increased. The talks in Lima over the next two weeks will produce at least a rough draft of the the Paris agreement, which can then be elaborated and finalized over the coming year, and signed (with abundant photo opportunities for heads of state) in Paris in December, 2015.

Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize

There will be -- indeed, already have been -- pronouncements of failure of the Lima/Paris talks from some green groups, primarily because the talks will not lead to an immediate decrease in emissions and will not prevent atmospheric temperatures from rising by more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which has become an accepted, but essentially unachievable political goal. These well-intentioned advocates mistakenly focus on the short-term change in emissions among participating countries (for example, the much-heralded 5.2 percent cut by the Annex I countries in the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period), when it is the long-term change in global emissions that matters.

In other words, they ignore the geographic scope of participation, and do not recognize that -- given the stock nature of the problem -- what is most important is long-term action. Each agreement is no more than one step to be followed by others. And most important now for ultimate success later is a sound foundation, which is precisely what may finally be provided by the China-U.S.A. announced contributions under the Durban Platform structure of a hybrid international policy architecture.

All in all, this may turn out to be among the most important moments in two decades of international climate negotiations. And this means -- at a minimum -- that the next two weeks in Lima should be very interesting indeed.

Upcoming Events at COP-20 in Lima

As with previous Conferences of the Parties, we -- the Harvard Environmental Economics Program and the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements (HPCA) -- will be at the Lima talks for their second week, December 7. We will be participating in a number of events, and will be holding bilateral meetings with key national delegations.

In all cases, our contributions to the discussions will draw on our compendium of knowledge from our 70 research initiatives in Argentina, Australia, China, Europe, India, Japan, and the United States. Our purpose continues to be to help identify and advance scientifically sound, economically sensible, and politically pragmatic policy options for addressing global climate change.

For those of you who will be in Lima (as well as the rest of you), here is the schedule of COP-20 events that are co-sponsored by HPCA or in which I am participating as HPCA Director. It is going to be a very busy week, but I will try to blog -- or at least tweet -- about these events and other developments. After I return from Lima, I will follow up with an assessment.


Monday, December 8, 4:45 – 6:15 pm, Room: Machu Picchu

"Implications of the energy-efficiency gap for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions"

The discussion will be based on our Duke-Harvard research project (sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation) on the "energy-efficiency gap"—the apparent difference between predicted and measured rates of adoption of energy-efficiency technology. Panelists will explore the implications of this gap for climate-change mitigation.


Daniele Agostini, Head of Low Carbon Policies and Carbon Regulation, Enel Group

Andreas Löschel, Chair of Microeconomics, and Energy and Resource Economics, University of Münster, and Research Associate, ZEW

Richard Newell, Gendell Professor of Energy and Environmental Economics, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, and Director, Duke University Energy Initiative

Robert Stavins, Director, Harvard Project on Climate Agreements and Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, Harvard Kennedy School


Tuesday, December 9, 12:00 – 2:00 pm, China Pavilion

"International Cooperation: Towards the 2015 Agreement—A perspective from international think tanks"

This event aims at exchanging ideas from various international think tanks on the design of the 2015 Agreement with consideration of interaction and cooperation of parties on bilateral and multilateral basis, with a view to provide for inputs to the debates of the negotiation of the 2015 Agreement.


H.E. Minister Xie Zhenhua, Head of Chinese Delegation to COP-20 and Vice Chairman, NDRC

Li Junfeng, Director General, NCSC

Zou Ji, Deputy Director, NCSC

Martin Kohl, President, South Center

Jennifer Morgan, Global Director of Climate Program, World Resources Institute


Tuesday, December 9, 4:30 – 6:10 pm, International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) Pavilion

What Role will Markets Play in the 2015 Climate Agreement? How can the Agreement Facilitate Linkage of Carbon Pricing Policies?"


Dirk Forrister, President & CEO, IETA

David Hone, Chief Climate Change Adviser, Shell Research

Anna Lindstedt, Ambassador for Climate Change, Government of Sweden


Thursday, December 11, 11:30 am – 1:00 pm, Room: Caral

"Linkage among climate policies in the 2015 Paris agreement"

Panelists will discuss how the Paris agreement might facilitate or impede linkage among cap-and-trade, carbon tax, and non-market regulatory systems. Panelists will also address related issues involving market mechanisms in the new agreement.


Dirk Forrister, President & CEO, IETA

Alexia Kelley, Senior Climate Change Advisor, U.S. Department of State

Nathaniel Keohane, Vice President for International Climate, Environmental Defense Fund

Ulrika Raab, Senior Advisor Climate Change, Swedish Energy Agency