Next year’s international climate change conference in Paris represents the best shot for securing a global agreement on cutting carbon pollution—and avoiding the worst effects of climate change. But deals like that don’t come out of nowhere. Much of the groundwork will be laid in the next two weeks, at a less-hyped but critically important conference being held in Lima, Peru. 

At the moment, climate change negotiators are unusually optimistic, because countries have made real progress in a matter of weeks. The U.S. and China reached a historic agreement to curtail emissions, while there have been new commitments to an international fund to fight climate change. 

Whether that progress carries over to Lima, though, remains to be seen. The basic goal in Lima is to create a draft agreement that can be finalized and then signed in Paris. If everything goes as planned, negotiators will leave with a strong framework for an accord in hand, even if some of the details may change before they come together again.

But there are some pretty big issues still to be resolved. The European Union has pushed for a formal treaty, with legally binding targets. That’s not something the U.S. can probably do, since it would be difficult to get any Senate—let alone one under Republican control—to ratify it. That’s why the U.S.’s top climate envoy Todd Stern has touted the merits of New Zealand’s plan, which makes the actual emissions targets non-binding. The plan still requires countries make some sort of legal commitment to a schedule for emissions reductions—except it leaves the Senate out of it. 

Some of the other details being hammered out in Lima include transparency (in other words, how and when countries will report on progress) and process (what countries must do to review their own implementation efforts) .

And then there are the details of the Green Climate Fund, an international financial vehicle to help poor nations adapt to climate change. It has collected nearly $10 billion in pledges, which is the UN’s initial goal, but it’s not clear that the U.S. can actually deliver on its $3 billion pledge. That money still needs to come from Congress, spread over four years, despite Republican opposition. Oversight of the Fund is yet another issue. The Associated Press just reported that Japan steered $1 billion of a prior climate donation to the construction coal plants. (The Japanese said the plants burned cleaner than older plants, so that made the expenditure legitimate.)

Keeping the world to under 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of global warming, the target scientists have frequently invoked, seems increasingly unrealistic. But getting major polluters to bring down their greenhouse gas emissions once and for all still seems possible—and that would at least mitigate the effects of climate change. In that sense, Lima could be both a success a failure. 

Rebecca Leber

News from Tuesday:

DEFENSE: Ashton Carter, who previously served as Deputy Secretary of Defense, is President Obama’s top choice to replace Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary. (Jamie Crawford and Barbara Starr, CNN)

HOMELAND INSECURITY: Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said that the Republican plan to punish the DHS with only temporary funding would set back operations. (Seung Min Kim, Politico)

PRISON REFORM: New York City will allocate almost $130 million to addressing the needs of the city’s growing population of mentally ill prisoners. (Aliyah Frumin, MSNBC)

UVA RAPE CONTROVERSY: Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s now-famous story about rape at the University of Virginia has come under scrutiny, with critics questioning its accuracy and sourcing. Judith Shulevitz and Rebecca Traister address some of the questions—and implications for the broader debate about campus rape. (The New Republic)

Articles we’re reading

The $84,000 Question: In a report about Solvadi, a new Hepatitis C drug, Sarah Kliff explains why drugs cost so much more in the U.S. than in other countries. (Vox)

Department of WTF: The Wall Street Journal editorial board called on Republicans to abolish both the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation -- the two economic scorekeepers in Congress.Jared Bernstein explains why that's such a terrible idea. (Wall Street Journal)

McConnell Tells It Like It Is:  Greg Sargent catches the incoming Senate Majority Leader admitting that Republicans, unable to repeal Obamacare via the legislature, are hoping the Court will do it via the judiciary. (The Plum Line)

Catch-22: The Food and Drug Administration is considering ending its policy of barring gay men from donating blood. But there's one giant disclaimer: They can't have had sex with a man in the last 12 months. (Patrick Caldwell, Mother Jones

At QED

Danny Vinik writes about the CEOs who would love to fund a Jeb Bush 2016 Presidential campaign. He also explains why Amazon should be worried. Brian Beutler explains the “ambiguity” at the heart of the latest challenge to Obamacare. New York City stop-and-frisk policing is way down, and Rebecca Leber reminds us the city hasn’t fallen to chaos.

Clips compiled by Claire Groden and Naomi Shavin.