The United Nations meets in Lima, Peru today to begin discussions on climate change and reducing global carbon emissions. The talks will conclude on December 12.

The main agenda of the climate talks will be to set a new framework for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from both developed and developing nations, with the new framework replacing the Kyoto Protocol in 2020.

Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru

According to the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), this meeting will be the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) and the 10th session of the COP serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 10).

The Kyoto Protocol was an ambitious international plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent by 2012. Yet despite strong support from then-President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore, the U.S. abstained from ratifying it. Congress told Clinton that the bill for its ratification would be dead on arrival, and so the President never even submitted it. President Bush II would later ignore Kyoto outright, and in 2012 President Obama allowed the ratification bill to expire.

Then came the 2009 Copenhagen summit, where two climate goals were scrapped: limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2050. However, a two degree Celsius limit was set by member nations in a non-binding agreement, with the science at the time saying the limit would serve to mitigate the worst effects of climate change by 2100.

But this non-binding agreement has failed in function. Last week, the World Bank issued a report warning that the world’s continued reliance on fossil fuels “means that climate change impacts…may now be simply unavoidable.” Further, scientists have warned that the 2°C threshold was both “effectively unachievable” and “impractical.”

America’s rejection of Kyoto proved to be a major stumbling block for global progress on climate change. Now that U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have jointly pledged to reduce their countries’ carbon footprints by 2030 (which comprise about 45 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions), both environmentalists and policymakers are cautiously optimistic for the Lima talks.

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