COP 20 – another few steps along the road

Lima sunset

COP 20 – another few steps along the road

December 18, 2014
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by Jason Lowe (AVOID 2 Chief Scientist)

As the sun sets on another COP it is useful to reflect on the scientific evidence that will be needed to inform decisions in the lead up to the Paris COP in 2015, when the world is aiming for a global agreement on greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

The latest UNFCCC COP has recently finished in Lima, Peru, with agreement only reached after almost two gruelling weeks of negotiations. However, the meeting has laid some of the foundations for ongoing discussions over the coming months. In particular it has set the scene for nations to provide pledges of the amounts by which they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade or so. Some pledges are already clear, with the EU announcing earlier in the year that they will reduce emissions by 40% by 2030 relative to 1990 levels. Additionally the US and China, the two biggest emitting nations, have both come forward with pledges. The US will aim to reduce emissions by almost 30% below 2005 levels by 2025. China will aim to peak its emissions by 2030, and possibly earlier.

Many other emission pledges are expected in 2015 and AVOID 2 will be calculating the climate effects and their impacts. An important new phrase in the UN’s report of activities from COP is that the pledges “may include, as appropriate, inter alia, quantifiable information on the reference point (including, as appropriate, a base year), time frames and/or periods for implementation, scope and coverage, planning processes, assumptions and methodological approaches”.  Speaking as somebody who tried to unravel the meaning of the emission pledges produced after the Copenhagen COP in 2009 I fully understand the need for more clarity and this new text is a step towards that. AVOID 2  has already examined the uncertainty in global emission budgets compatible with the 2ºC level and will now be putting the national pledges into the context of this and comparing them with new and existing integrated assessment scenarios to better understand their feasibility.

The result of the Lima COP also retained the words “loss and damage”, although there is much more work needed to define the implications of this. This key phrase enshrines the principal that nations making only a small contribution to global emissions, often either smaller countries or developing countries, may experience a disproportionately large amount of damage from climate impacts, and based on the principals of fairness and equity, wish to be compensated by the bigger emitters. AVOID 2 is helping by providing a clearer understanding of the risks of different types of impacts in different parts of the world, and is also considering how impacts in one part of the world might affect other nations, through price signals or trade.

AVOID 2 has now been active for several months and our first findings are now being shared with the policy community. In addition to the exciting scientific challenges that lie ahead for AVOID 2 we also have a programme of engagement with policy makers and other UK and international stakeholders over the coming months. If you would like to find out more, please feel free to contact us.

Read more about this in our recently published policy cards