Climate diplomats arrive in Lima amid air of cautious optimism


With the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) due to get underway on Monday, tens of thousands of government, NGO, business, and media representatives have begun to arrive in town. In the next fortnight, around what is described as the most important meeting on the planet, expect to see colourful street marches, television crews, extra security, and haggard looks on faces as delegates burn the midnight oil debating, discussing, lobbying, and, occasionally, emerging outdoors blinking into the sunlight.

_(Photo: Corey Watts/Peru this Week)_

This is the first time in a decade the UN has held climate talks in South America. Seen as a key milestone on the road to the critical climate meeting scheduled for next year in Paris, activists and scientists hope COP20 will be a stride towards a new, binding treaty that steers the world away from dangerous climate warming.

What’s at stake for Peru, and what can we expect to see when the delegates go home?

*Climate change comes to Peru*

In its latest assessment of the global climate, the UN’s expert group, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), concludes that the evidence for manmade climate change is now ‘unequivocal’. The signs and symptoms, says the IPCC, can now be seen on every continent and in all the oceans.

Between the end of the 19th century and the start of the 21st, the global average temperature rose by 0.8 ˚C—a change scientists say is unprecedented in human history, with levels of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane higher than at any time for at least 800,000 years. Surveys of scientists show that around 97% agree that human activity—principally the burning of oil, coal, and gas, as well as deforestation—is the culprit. So far, the rise in emissions shows little sign of slowing.

Here in the Andean region, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reports a rise in the average temperature by 0.7 ˚C between 1939 and 2006. According to the UK Met Office, since the 1960s Peruvians have generally experienced fewer cool days and nights and warmer night-time temperatures. Winters are milder, on average, and rainfall patterns are shifting. The projected impacts are mixed: agriculture may actually benefit in some areas, but the intensity and frequency of droughts in the Amazon is set to rise, as is the risk of torrential downpours and flooding near the coast.

_(Photo: Corey Watts/Peru this Week)_

Indeed, the UNDP suggests that Peru is amongst the most vulnerable countries, given the climate sensitivity of key industries, and the exposure of the poor to hostile weather. By 2100 the average temperature in the Andes could be as much as 5 ˚C or higher. Peru’s Central Reserve Bank projects that, by mid-century, changes in temperature and rainfall could slice 0.67% off the country’s annual growth, pushing GDP down by more than 20%. Climate change, says the UNDP, may well jeopardize emerging economies like Peru.

This is a view shared by the World Bank. In a 2013 report, the Bank’s President, Dr Jim Yong Kim didn’t mince words: a lack of action on climate change, he said, threatens to ‘put prosperity out of the reach of millions’ in the developing world and ‘roll back decades of sustainable development’.

*What will success in Lima look like?*

In 2009, the COP in Copenhagen left many observers disappointed and was widely seen as a disorderly affair that eroded trust between key players, and failed to deliver an agreed way forward. Five years on and there seems to be somewhat more cause for optimism as delegates make their way to Lima on a wave of recent developments.

In September, around 400,000 people marched in New York City as global leaders prepared to meet in the Big Apple to discuss climate action. The European Union, despite still labouring with sluggish growth, recently raised its emissions reduction targets. In the days leading up to the G20 summit in Brisbane, the United States and China sealed a deal to set fresh targets and support one another to reduce emissions; a move many see as a game-changer. The EU, US, and China together emit more CO2 than the rest of the world combined. Shortly afterwards, most of the world’s richest countries pledged nearly US$ 10 billion to kick-start a Green Climate Fund intended to enable developing countries to adopt clean-growth and adapt to the warming already in the pipeline.

Even so, warn experts, there is a yawning gap between what is being done and the scale of action needed to avoid the worst. Without ‘deep cuts’ in emissions, warns the prestigious scientific journal Nature in its latest issue, humanity faces the possibility of dangerous and irreversible changes in the global climate. The journal says the next ten to fifteen years represent a ‘window of opportunity’ to change course, with the meeting in Lima a chance to show political will.

To begin closing that gap, say the World Resources Institute’s Jennifer Morgan and David Waskow, COP20 will need to deliver guidelines for what countries ought to do beyond 2020. There needs to be a clear, transparent process to assess countries’ performance against their promises, they say, and a plan for mobilizing funds well above those already committed. Crucially, the negotiating text needs to be honed so that something ambitious yet achievable is put on the table in Paris.

This December, the spotlight is on Peru almost as much as on the conference itself. No doubt conscious of global attention, and the opportunities this affords, President Humala has called on countries to forge ‘the greatest alliance the world has even seen’. The last few weeks saw plans for a new solar energy programme announced, together with a renewable energy auction scheme—even as news about the murder of Peruvian environmentalists made world headlines.

En route to Lima, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres tweeted that while she did not ‘underestimate the challenge’ she was ‘confident of a productive session’ at COP20. It’s easier to tweet than to do, of course, as there are plenty of hurdles to clear, but there also seems to be something a little different about Lima.

Will COP20 be the turning point? Stay tuned. Get familiar with the climate change conference that has the world’s eye on Lima!