01/09/2015 10:45 am ET Updated Mar 11, 2015

From Bad to Worse: Lima's Roadmap for Global Burning

The "Lima call for climate action", which came out of the recent UN climate talks, establishes a roadmap to a post-2020 agreement that will be weaker than the ongoing Cancun Agreement, and it lays a foundation for an even worse agreement in Paris in 2015.

Cancun opened the door to dismantling the Kyoto Protocol, pushing for voluntary pledges for emission cuts instead of mandatory commitments. This approach has failed. Four years later, there is a big gap in emission cuts of around 12 gigatons of CO2 by 2020. The business-as-usual scenario for global greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 is 57 gigatons of CO2. The Cancun Agreement reduced that figure by just one or two gigatons, but according to UNEP's Gap Report, we need to be below 44 gigatons by 2020 in order to limit the global temperature rise to 2º C.

The emissions gap for this decade was not reduced at all in Lima. This makes it impossible to catch up with a 2º C pathway in the next decade, since global emissions must peak before 2020. Meanwhile, China announced it will only reach peak emissions by 2030.

The Lima text prefigures the outcome of the Paris agreement on the basis of the same laissez-faire attitude used in Cancun when it comes to emission cuts. The term "pledges" is replaced with "intended nationally-determined contributions," and countries are asked report them by the first quarter of 2015 only if they are ready, and based on whatever criteria they choose. The Lima decision blatantly excludes proposals from developing countries to have two tracks for reporting contributions, plus a clear scope including mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, finance, technology transfer, and capacity building.

The last-minute addition of "common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances" is a copy-paste from the US-China agreement and has no concrete implications in the Lima decision. The Paris agreement will further dilute the historical responsibility of developed and emerging economies for causing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Lima decision urges developed countries to "provide and mobilize enhanced financial support" for developing countries." Here, "mobilize" means that financial support can come not just from the public sector, but also from the private sector, carbon markets, and loans.

Despite all the nice speeches, there are no references to loss and damage in the adopted decision, and only general references to adaptation, finance, transfer of technology and capacity building.

Annexed to the decision is a text of elements for the Paris agreement. Several countries believe their proposals were not fully captured as options in the Lima text. And its best proposals are indeed far behind from what is needed to address climate change. Here are 10 examples:

1) Mitigation contributions will be voluntary, and the new emissions gap for the post-2020 period will be known after the first quarter of 2015 if the big emitters communicate their contributions. Paris won't address the key issue: the magnitude of emission cuts and how consistent they are with limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5-2º C. The text says nothing of the need to keep global emissions under 40 gigatons of CO2 by 2025. The most advanced proposal mentions a "global emission budget," but with no fixed amount or timeline.

2) There is no proposal in the text to leave 75-80 percent of known fossil fuel reserves under the ground, which must happen if we want to limit CO2 emissions to a pathway of less than 1.5-2º C.

3) There is no reference to the need to change our current patterns of production and consumption. The proposals focus on reducing domestic emissions, and not the emissions consumed by a country, when in fact about one-third of emissions associated with the goods and services consumed in developed countries occur abroad.

4) There is no proposal for a strong compliance mechanism for climate change mitigation commitments. A climate agreement without a strong compliance mechanism is just a political declaration.

5) In Cancun in 2010, there were proposals to acknowledge the rights of Mother Earth in recognition of the fact that humans must change our relationship with nature and stop treating it as an object. In this text, the proposal is not even being considered. "The protection of the integrity of Mother Earth" comes up once, and human rights are on a par with "the right to development."

6) No proposal is included that suggests carbon market mechanisms should be avoided in the Paris agreement to ensure that countries really fulfill their commitment to make emission cuts without buying offsets. The text instead mentions several different kinds of carbon markets and carbon pricing.

7) In relation to finance, the most radical proposal is for developed countries to provide 1 per cent of gross domestic product per year from 2020 (around $450 billion per year). Other proposals mention $50-100 billion per year, or simply say there should not be a specific figure. When it comes to the source of finance, there is a clear trend toward "mobilizing" (instead of providing) money through private and "alternative sources" like carbon markets.

8) The "elements" text has a real push for private investment, but there is no suggestion that private investment must be controlled in order to avoid profiting and grabbing from climate disasters.

9) The legal status of the Paris agreement is still under debate, and probably the United States will not need to ratify it.

10) Finally, no proposal would avoid or ban forms of geo-engineering. This is extremely dangerous, because proposals like achieving "net zero emissions or full decarbonization by 2050" with no mention of leaving 80 percent of fossil fuel reserves under the soil can open the door to these technologies in Paris.

In conclusion, an "agreement" that does not close the emissions gap for this decade, that continues with voluntary contributions and no clear targets for the next decade, has no strong compliance mechanisms and only more cheating carbon market mechanisms, puts the future of humanity and life on our planet Earth in serious jeopardy.