COP 20 – how much will it help the climate change response?


Climate protesters in Lima – photo courtesy of LWF/Sean Hawkey

COP 20 – the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – has come and gone, and no doubt life in Lima continues much as before. Out there in the ether, depending on the source you consult, the COP was either ultimately a success, or a failure. So, Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate chief, said that a successful COP 20 means the world is now firmly on track to an effective Paris 2015 agreement. Michael Jacobs, writing in The Guardian, hedged his bets somewhat, reporting that while the deal is weak in many respects, it does represent a fundamental breakthrough in the shape of the global climate regime, by breaching the distinction between developed and developing countries’ responses.

But WWF’s asessment was stark: the Lima climate talks failed to deliver progress. And this is the response of many of the international NGOs closely involved in the UNFCCC process. As Action Aid’s Brandon Wu tweeted “New text has nice new words & references re adaptation, finance, loss & damage, carefully placed to have absolutely no legal meaning”. As he further specified, “We wanted three primary things from Lima: clear indications of how developed countries would scale up climate finance leading up to the promised $100bn per year in 2020; assurance that “loss and damage” would be a core pillar of the new climate regime to be decided in 2015; and concrete commitments to reduce emissions in the immediate short term (pre-2020). Lima delivered none of these things.”

If you manage to preserve the talks, but not agree on many – if not most – of the specific details that need to be in place in one year’s time, to craft an effective new international climate change agreement in Paris in December 2015, can this really be called a success? If the negotiating draft moves from more specific to less so, and the content from weak to (drastically) weaker, can this really be called a success? No, I don’t think so either. What we need is immediate action on emissions reductions – that means starting now – and clear, concrete, legally binding plans. We have run out of time for obfuscation and fudging. The IPCC has made it very clear that significant and substantial emissions reductions are required to avert climate catastrophe, and that the window of opportunity is fast closing.

Things are now going to be a lot harder in the run-up to Paris. In his final round-up from COP 20, Saleemul Huq, ICCCAD Director and IIED Senior Fellow, notes that there is “still a mountain to climb between now and Paris”, and that “getting something out of the negotiations is becoming more and more difficult”. He still manages to hit a relatively positive note – I for one hope that this is translated into a good international climate agreement and accelerated action on the ground. I am not sure I should hold my breath, though.


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