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UN Climate Change Delegates Under Pressure to Reach Consensus

On assuming the presidency of the 20th Conference of Parties (COP20)  annual climate change conference in Lima on Monday, Peruvian Minister of the Environment Manuel Pulgar-Vidal reminded delegates from 194 countries that they should seize the opportunity to reach a global consensus to reduce emissions ahead of next year’s Paris agreement.

“Never has it been so clear that a window of opportunity will soon close,” he said, citing a recent report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC, told COP20 delegates that preventing global temperatures from rising no more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) would require a 40 to 70 percent reduction in global carbon emissions by 2050.

The IPCC’s recent synthesis report shows that human activity has been “extremely likely” to contribute to global warming since the mid-twentieth century.

Last week, IPCC spokesman Michael Wadleigh told Peru’s foreign press association that global temperatures will soon rise by1.5 degrees Celsius unless people stop emissions immediately. Additionally, billions of tons of carbon would need to be removed from the atmosphere to stop the temperature rising by two degrees Celsius.

For Allioaiga Feturi Elisaia, ambassador to the United Nations for Samoa—which is considered, along with other Pacific Islands, to be one of the places most vulnerable to climate change—“the reality for us is that we are not trying to philosophize about something that is going to happen in a few years. People have seen it happen, and it is going to be very difficult.”

Christiana Figueres, secretary general of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said that global emissions should peak in the next few years. Figueres stressed the importance of decreasing emissions, rather than increasing them, to become “climate neutral” by the end of the century. “Achieving that balance, which we had prior to the Industrial revolution, is ultimately our goal,” she said.

Yet she also acknowledged that this would be a challenge, since each country has different circumstances, both economic and political, as well as regarding natural resources.

“We all have positions that are slightly different,” said Ramiro Ramírez, the deputy head of the Venezuelan delegation.  He nonetheless expressed optimism about group negotiations: “It works. That is one of the positive things that it going to happen here.”

Latin American countries have been meeting within the CELAC group, as well as the much more diverse Group of 77 and China group. Negotiations will continue until December 12.

Pressing issues pre-Paris

Franz Perrez, head of the Swiss delegation—which is part of a negotiating group called the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG) that also includes Mexico—said that each country’s “intended nationally determined contribution,” or INDC, will be crucial in the success of the climate talks.

INDCs will determine how close countries will come, altogether, to reducing emissions to allow the global temperature increase to remain within 2 degrees Celsius. “What is really important is to have a good decision on how countries have to hand in their INDCs,” Perrez said.

In the run-up to Paris, countries will have to submit INDCs by March 2015, publicly presenting the actions they intend to take on climate adaptation and mitigation.

“Depending on the decision taken in Lima, the contributions will look different.  We will need good contributions in order to have a good outcome in Paris. For this reason, we think this is more important than a draft text,” Perrez said.

Secretary Nojibur Rahman of Bangladesh’s Ministry of the Environment and Forests said his country, which is especially prone to flooding and rising ocean levels, has begun to formulate its INDC.  “We are trying to be realistic,” he said.

For most developing countries, the issue of economic development in setting INDCs remains key. Gambia’s head of delegation, Babu Jallow, said that his country would stress climate change mitigation in its INDC, but economic growth must be prioritized when drawing up national contributions. “If it is just greenhouse benefits, the government is not interested,” he said.

Funding

Figueres specified that finance and technology will be “the two arms of support that need to be given to developing countries for them to be able to follow the pathways” toward reducing climate change.

While a recent rush of pledges to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) has led to some public optimism about financing green solutions to climate change, privately, many COP20 participants believe the $9.7 billion raised to date will not adequately address needs through 2020, when the new agreement will come into effect.

Michel Smitall, spokesman for the GCF, said Peru is planning to convene a session early next week where he will invite other countries to participate in the GCF.

Gabriel Quijandria, Peru’s vice-minister for Strategic Development of Natural Resources, announced recently that Peru is considering a symbolic contribution to the fund, “to send a message to developing countries with better economic conditions than ourselves.”

Beyond 2020, the fund has set a goal of raising $100 billion, a sum that Todd Stern, the United States official in charge of climate change, says is “feasible.”

Smitall admitted, “If the global GDP was 84-85 trillion dollars last year, you could argue that 100 billion would hardly be one percent, and it is probably an inappropriate number given the magnitude of the problem.”

*Paula Dupraz-Dobias is a freelance journalist regularly writing about Latin America for international media sources.  Born in New York, Paula has lived and worked in Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Peru, and often covers environmental issues for print and television.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: COP20, Climate change, UN Conference on Climate Change

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