Countdown begins on new climate change agreement

Countdown begins on new climate change agreement

Over the past two weeks, diplomats from around the world have descended on Lima for the latest round of UN climate change negotiations. The annual conference has been framed as an essential step along the road to the 2015 conference in Paris, where leaders are under increasing pressure to go beyond empty rhetoric and sign a universal climate change treaty.

International media attention is set to intensify between now and next December. Here is a look at the key messages being communicated in Lima at this early stage, as governments attempt to manage international expectations and define what a successful outcome in Paris might look like.

European Union

Anticipating the back-pedalling of other key players, the European Union has cranked up the pressure at every opportunity during the Lima negotiations. Demanding nothing less than the implementation of a legally-binding agreement, the head of the EU delegation, Elina Bardram, has repeatedly hammered home the argument, saying that legal force, procedures, and institutions are “the only way” to ensure long-term commitment to the cause.  

This puts the EU by-and-large in the same camp as the international NGOs, who wield an increasing amount of power on issues such as climate change. By taking similar positions, the EU and NGOs will be well-positioned to raise public awareness and drum up mass support in the months ahead of the 2015 conference.

United States

In marked contrast, the US message in Lima has focused on the merits of a non-binding agreement. Fully aware that a law-based agreement would not be ratified in the US Senate, the American delegation in Lima has attempted to refocus the discussion on the importance of the issues rather than the legal form of the agreement. To this end, US Climate Change Envoy Todd Stern has been eager to draw attention to the failings of the Kyoto Protocol – a legally-binding agreement in concept – stating that its form was “not credible” and “failed to guarantee domestic implementation of commitments”.

Thus, the United States is sowing the seeds for a strategy in 2015 that tries to convince international leaders, the media, and the public that a deal in Paris would work most effectively if based on trust rather than legally-binding rules.


As the third key player in the negotiations, China has taken a backseat in Lima. Following the climate change agreement that was reached between the US and China last month, the immediate pressure is off China to make fresh pledges on how it plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions. As the US and the EU go head to head, China can for the time being sit back and observe, knowing full well that it will not be expected to sign an agreement that the US is unwilling to sign.


The scene is set for a compelling 12 months in which the key players put forward their arguments to the public on what a successful agreement in Paris will look like. As next December’s conference draws nearer, it will be interesting to track how the key players deliver their message, and to see if anyone is able to control the international media narrative and create a groundswell of public support.

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