Al Jazeera called today, Sunday morning, at 6:45 a.m. They wanted me to appear live in London on their morning news. Why the early call? Negotiators had stayed up all night at the global climate change conference in Lima, and just reached an agreement. I jumped in the taxi.
A comprehensive global climate agreement is the hardest thing the world has ever tried to do.
In Lima in the early hours of 14 December the first building block was put in place to make such an agreement possible.
Oceans of ink are being spilled decrying the inadequacies of the Lima agreement. Let me share with you my thoughts about why it is a good thing.
The most obvious point is often missed: almost 200 countries have agreed to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Even a year ago this seemed impossible to achieve.
The Kyoto agreement of 1997 was destined to fail because the United States, China and India were not parties. The Copenhagen climate meeting in 2009 ended in chaos with no agreement. The international community doubted whether it would ever be possible to get a climate deal.
The next big chance to get a comprehensive climate agreement is in Paris in December 2015. Today's result in Lima helps prepare us for the Paris meeting.
Focus on this: Every country in the world is in the same room agreeing to cut emissions, with plans drafted in the first half of 2015. This breakthrough was possible because China and the United States, the world's biggest emitters, agreed with each other last month to major cuts. Their agreement, encouraging to other countries, could change history. More fundamentally than that, it means that a global civilization might survive to write its history.
Are there issues to resolve? Of course, there are big issues, three in particular. The voluntary cuts that nations propose in the first half of 2015 will not be enough to prevent dangerous climate change. Using them as a starting place, we need a mechanism to generate further cuts.
Then we need a transparent way to monitor cuts as they are being made. This will allow us to build a global carbon cut accounting system. This is a sticking point.
Finally, there will need to be significant investment by the developed world in the developing world to help with new energy technology and climate adaptation. This challenge is also an opportunity.
To build a global civilization that survives the climate threat, we will need to work together to build a more equitable world. If we survive well, it will be together, and we will have matured as a species.
Are these minor challenges? Not at all: we need to restructure the energy economies of all countries, trust each other to monitor our progress, and help to improve the economies in the developing world.
A year ago it seemed impossible to do all this. Now that everyone is agreeing to cut their own emissions, the way to further agreement is open. Russia is agreeing to cuts, China, the US, India.
China is a particularly interesting case. There is a quiet revolution for environmental protection going on in China from the highest level. I recently returned from Beijing, where I met with senior members of the Chinese Supreme People's Court, the People's National Congress, and Ministry of Environment. It was an inspiring trip. China is prioritizing environmental protection. Its climate deal with the United States is not an anomaly, rather part of a larger plan to reduce all pollutants. The Chinese constitution now requires China to become an "ecological civilization".
Could it be that China helps lead the way into the new world we are entering?
We need to create a global ecological civilization, and that means each country signing up to do it. While there is more work to do, that is what just happened in Lima.