Cloudy outlook for robust climate accord

In an effort to find something positive about the world's protracted climate negotiations, one might deem even slender gains achieved at the latest Conference of the Parties (COP), which ended last week in Peru, as a "breakthrough" of sorts. The COP, which is to assess the progress of climate policy and diplomacy - pursued under the legally non-binding United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - has been going on wearisomely for 20 years, despite increasingly extreme weather conditions.

The silver lining, such as it is, is that the persistent dichotomy between developed and developing nations has dissolved lately in the face of global realities like the economic rise of China, Brazil and India who have become major emitters. Indeed, developing nations are said to be responsible now for over half of total emissions. The existence of two camps had led to interminable finger- pointing earlier. The outlook is brighter when all countries, without exception, accept they have a part to play in emissions mitigation.

A working outline of an agreement was cobbled together for the crucial Paris climate summit next year. But so great is the divergence of the options compiled in the hefty draft document, at the insistence of intransigent delegates, that one wonders how binding commitments will be secured in time for the Paris meeting.

Nations should know the score by now: All must put on the table targeted limits on greenhouse gas emissions - a vital step if global warming is to be limited to an increase of 2 deg C. Further, a timetable for implementation must be clearly specified, together with agreed monitoring systems that permit external verification.

Pleading a loss of sovereignty, like China and India did, will undermine international efforts to build a policy architecture that is open and robust - with enforcement mechanisms to assure fair play; to establish financial support; and to address loss and damage from climate change.

In the lead up to Paris, it's vital to ensure there's no more foot-dragging in laying a proper foundation that will serve the planet over the long term. Kicking the can down the road would be foolhardy as "20 years of climate negotiations have shown that deferring critical decisions to the last minute often leads to a bad outcome", as noted by the chief of the Climate Group, which represents global business leaders lobbying for a climate accord. Business people, like ordinary citizens, would find it easier to prepare for a global low-carbon economy when the political will to act is universal and no one tries to game the system in a devil-may-care manner.