What’s at stake in Lima?

I am in Lima, Peru for the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). COPs within the UNFCCC are the on-going process working to develop a comprehensive treaty to ensure greenhouse gas (GHG) levels to do not rise more than 2 degrees C global average temperature above pre-industrial revolution levels. 

Every year since 1994 there has been a negotiation session.  “COP20” means we have been at this for 20 years.

The negotiations have been brutal.  They ended in disaster at COP15 in Copenhagen.

Since then, halting progress has been made with a negotiation track and a new deadline – COP21, December 2015, set for Paris.

Although a process that was nearly dead after Copenhagen has been resuscitated, we are not on a trajectory for a strong treaty. And we must get there within a year. If you remember my dispatches from last year’s COP in Warsaw, we lost precious time at COP19.  The best that can be said of the Warsaw meeting was that we prevented the talks from sliding backwards.  COP19 also created a requirement for each nation to announce their domestic targets by the end of March 2015.

The halting process means that Lima and COP20 are crunch time. The negotiating text (in UN-lingo “elements of the text”) for COP21 next year must be ready six months ahead.  It must be translated into the six official languages of the UN system.   All the heavy lifting has to be done in Lima.  

That is why UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon invited world leaders to a special Climate Solutions Summit in New York in September.  And it is also why civil society organizations grabbed hold of Ban’s initiative to hold the largest ever peoples’ march for climate action on September 22.  Still, with all that additional pressure and media coverage highlighting the urgent need for climate action, the negotiations in Bonn October 20-25 (a meeting of a sub-group of COP mandated since Durban’s COP17 in 2011, called the “Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action,” or “ADP”)  were cautious, lacking the serious momentum we need.  The language is moving away from “legally binding targets” to “pledge and review.”  And in Bonn there was pressure to remove the “and review” part of that climb down.

In this context the long awaited US-China deal breathed new oxygen into the process.  The US and China pledges (with the US promising to cut GHG by 26% below 2005 levels by 2025 and China promising to ensure its emissions stop rising - or “peak” – and to have 20% of its power generation from non-fossil sources - both by 2030) are not individually or collectively enough.  Nevertheless, most climate activists have celebrated the announcement.  

The Secretary-General of the UN climate process, Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres, had this to say in a statement from Berlin: “This positive momentum opens the door for all major economies and in particular all other industrialized nations to bring forward their contributions to the Paris agreement in a timely fashion over the coming months...Investors have long called for policy certainty. (The US-China) announcement is a firm and positive step towards that as we look towards Paris 2015.”

Her statement hits one of the key reasons that the comprehensive deal can make the difference we need.  We need a signal to investors that putting money in long-term fossil fuel projects is a bad investment.  It is encouraging that former Canadian Governor of the Bank of Canada and now Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, told a recent World Bank seminar that the “vast majority of reserves are unburnable.”

I am the only Canadian Member of Parliament, other than Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, attending COP20.  But I am far from the only Canadian here with a goal of real climate action.  Both the Ontario and Quebec Ministers of Environment are here and their sights are set on deeper reduction cuts led by sub-national governments.  Glenn Murray, Ontario’s minister, is an old friend of mine from his days as Mayor of Winnipeg.  His presence here, along with his Quebec counterpart David Heurtel, hold hope that other national delegations will realize that Canada’s views on the need for climate action are not reflected in our national policies under Stephen Harper. 

These conferences create opportunities for like-minded jurisdictions, whether cities, states or provinces to work on their own deals.  Imagine California, Ontario and Quebec working for deeper cuts.  The populations of those jurisdictions begin to form the critical mass to drive national governments.

So far reports of the first week show some encouraging progress in negotiating the elements of a text for COP21.  I look forward to picking up my credentials (once again I am not allowed on the Canadian delegation) and getting to work tomorrow. Will write a blog a day to keep you up to date.

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