The Slatest

Climate Change Talks End With Watered-Down Deal That Kicks Can Down the Road

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres and COP20 President and Peruvian Minister of Environment Manuel Pulgar celebrate the approval of the proposed compromise document in Lima on Dec. 14.

Photo by Cris Bouroncle/AFP/Getty Images

The Lima climate change talks began with such optimism on Dec. 1. It was shortly after the U.S. and China sealed a landmark deal to cut carbon emissions, and it seemed like it was going to be a nice little conference where everyone was going to be on the same page. Around 190 countries would finalize the last major deal that would form the basis for a global agreement to be signed in Paris next year. Alas, it was not to be. “What was supposed to be a fairly straightforward two-week conference descended into a bitter fight, running 33 hours overtime,” explains Ed King in Responding to Climate Change.

The good news is that at least a deal was reached; there were points Saturday afternoon in which it seemed as if the whole thing could collapse, in large part due to the same old bitter dispute between developed and developing nations. And, as the Guardian explains, everyone was able to at least partly fulfill their goals. Under the deal, countries will have to submit plans to cut back on emissions by the end of March, which will then be used to write up the global deal. But the toughest decisions on climate change were simply postponed, meaning the Paris meeting is likely to be particularly tough, notes Reuters.

Even though governments and sleep-deprived delegates tried to put a positive spin on the deal, many analysts warned the whole thing was simply too weak to have any real effect. “We went from weak to weaker to weakest,” Samantha Smith of the WWF conservation group said of all the draft documents that came out of the Lima talks.

Although rich countries wanted all nations to agree to strict rules to make sure any pledges can be backed up with clear data, the text was watered down to such an extent that any commitments to decrease emissions is essentially voluntary. One word ended up being particularly crucial. Now the climate plans that countries will outline next year “may”—rather than “shall”—include detailed information about emissions and a timetable to reduce them, notes the Financial Times.

“It’s totally up to you now whether you provide that information or not,” Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said. “It’s the bare minimum we needed to come out of here with; it’s not what we hoped for.” Even if the countries were to make detailed pledges on reducing emissions though, they would fall short of what is needed, notes the Telegraph. Plus, what one expert called the “trench warfare” mentality that became evident in Lima could mean the talks will be “falling off the cliff in Paris.”