A universal hug in climate change pact

For the first time, all nations agree to take some action on global warming. While the deeds may be minimal and voluntary, the collective nature of the Lima Accord can help alleviate fears and lead to a treaty in 2015.

AP Photo
Former Vice President Al Gore, left, former President of Mexico Felipe Calderon, second left, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, center, Peru's President Ollanta Humala, second right, and Peru's Environment Minister, Manuel Pulgar Vidal, gather at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru, Dec. 11.

With so much of the climate-change debate based on fear, it is welcome news when all nations of the world embrace a pact to do something together about carbon emissions for the first time.

The agreement reached Sunday at a global conference in Peru was not the tightest hug of mutual sacrifice to reduce coal and oil usage after 2020. Much still needs to be done before a final conference in Paris next December. But by agreeing to efforts by every country, even if minimal in their voluntary pledges, the idea of common humanity acting in concert helps lessen the anxieties that surround the many issues of global warming.

The five-page text agreed in Lima creates two foundations: It requires more than 190 countries to post quantifiable information on their carbon emissions; and it invites them to submit plans that show when their emissions will start to decline. Up to now, under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, only wealthy nations had agreed to act. The new pact calls for “common but differentiated responsibilities.”

Mere information by each country, of course, may not necessarily lead to concrete reductions in Earth-warming pollution. The Paris meeting in 2015 is designed to cement a treaty that forces action on greenhouse gases. But it helps serve a key purpose: lessening each country’s concerns with the comfort of we’re-all-in-this-together purpose. 

The last talks on global warming, held in Copenhagen four years ago, ended in disarray. With this new pact, said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, “the ghost of Copenhagen is fading.”

A final agreement in Paris will need this initial step of each country submitting data on its current emissions and offering some time-line for reducing them. The sheer act of officially admitting a role in the problem can help overcome differences between rich and poor countries on how to share the burdens. Fixing the problem, said United States Secretary of State John Kerry is “everyone’s responsibility, because it’s the net amount of carbon that matters, not each country’s share.”

A big help in forging an agreement in Peru was the fact that the world’s three largest economies, the US, China, and the European Union, have come forward with pledges for cutting emissions after 2020. Now the Lima accord lays a foundation for success in Paris, said Xie Zhenhua, China’s vice minister of National Development and Reform Commission.

As with many global problems, international cooperation is a necessary first step to alleviate fears of isolation, feelings of injustice, or an air of resignation. This is not just safety in numbers. At its best, it is mutual affection in action.

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