What You Need to Know about the the Lima Climate Conference

(COP20 Lima, Peru) –  This morning 190 member states came together to begin the 20th UN climate change negotiations conference, otherwise known as the Conference of Parties (COP20).  Hundreds of concurrent meetings and events will take place to discuss concrete ways countries can effectively deal with greenhouse gas emissions, climate adaptation mechanisms, and financial commitments in fight to save the planet. The fact that these negotiations have continued without a measurable agreement for all these years has prompted some to deem the negotiations moot. However, this year is important for three big reasons: a final agreement is intended to be signed just one year from now in Paris; the developing world is flexing its muscle in new and important ways; and the latest scientific evidence on climate change is being woven into these discussions and is brining a new sense of urgency to these talks.

Paris 2015

The UN framework on climate negotiations is set to end in just 12 months, meaning delegates have come to the table in Lima with a sense of urgency.

One of the main goals in Lima is to have domestic plans of action to combat climate change in place for each member country.  The U.S. and China’s historic climate agreement is added pressure on countries.  When two of the world’s largest polluters jointly announced target dates for emissions reductions, it sent a strong message — despite those who say the targets are not nearly as ambitious as required.  For the USA to say they will reduce emissions by 28% by 2025 and China to say it will similarly reduce emissions by 2030, was monumental.

UN officials are hoping other countries will follow suit while here in Lima.  These announcement are important because they will make up a portion of the Paris 2015 agreement, which once signed will hold countries to their commitments.  

These ‘intended nationally determined contributions’ (INDCs) are actually due to be set in March 2015, so the sense of urgency is actually palpable here in certain delegations’ offices.  It is clear that everyone here realizes Lima is the last stop on the road to Paris; perhaps even the last chance to save the planet.

Developing Country Drama

Since it is the last time countries will meet on this scale before Paris in December 2015, developing countries are in one of the most interesting negotiating positions.

Countries like India, Brazil, and South Africa are feeling the pressure of China’s recent announcement – especially since some will not likely see emissions reductions until 2040.  Though, many also see it as an opportunity to push their government’s lawmakers to agree on domestic climate action plans that their delegations can take to the negotiating table as a good faith effort.

Developing countries have walked out of negotiations in the past, most recently last year in Warsaw.  This year however, they may choose to stay adamant on certain points of past frustration as it is the last large-scale conference before Paris.

Since the Paris agreement will only come into effect in 2020, developed countries previously agreed that emissions reduction efforts would be ramped up between now and then. The developed world has definitely fallen short of its commitments, not just in emissions reductions but also weak financial commitments and practically non-existent technology sharing commitments.  Lima is the last chance for developing countries to push for a more fair post-2020 scenario and it puts them not in a desperate position, but a powerful one.

There is little choice but for developed countries to come to some sort of compromise on their pre-2020 actions if they hope to walk away from Lima with any kind of usable draft text for Paris. The private sector lobby in these countries is behind-the-scenes here in Lima and powerful, but even manufacturing companies will recognize the need to become more sustainable, emit less, and be more ‘green’ for future profits.

Developing countries will also be fiercely arguing the structure of the INDCs.  The least developed countries and small island developing states especially want these INDCs to focus less on mitigation and more on adaptation mechanisms, binding financial commitments, and technology sharing.  Developed countries have been equally stubborn on these terms in the past, citing population booms, economic growth, domestic politics, and a shared global responsibility for climate change as reasons for not including more adaptation items in their INDCs.  This is possibly the point to cause the most drama in Lima.

The Science of It

A recent scientific report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  was ominous, at best, but it was an important document in merging the scientific aspects of climate change and the economic implications of disasters, food shortages, droughts, and floods. By linking the two, those discussions do not have to take place in silos in Lima but instead more holistic arguments can be made by parties. That, at least, was the intention of the scientists who drafted the report.

The report also pointed to the need for action in the short term in addition to the post-2020 era of the Paris 2015 agreement. Developing countries will hone in on this particular portion of the report to bolster their position on pre-2020 efforts by the developed, wealthier world.

The science in the report also codifies what countries in Asia, Africa, and island nations have already felt: that they are bearing the brunt of climate change inaction.  However, this point will be important for developed countries to exploit as they will likely say countries like India and China have just as much impact in their regions as the U.S., Canada, and the EU.

Dr. Rajendra Pachauri of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted at this morning’s opening plenary that “science is at your doorstep” as he showed that only 1000 gigatons of CO2 are left in the carbon budget, a fact that should spur delegates to put pressure on their governments for domestic plans and points of compromise with the rest of the world.

For the next two weeks hundreds of meetings and thousands of discussions will take place between countries’ delegates and world leaders regarding the fate of everything from land, water, energy, transport, and electricity.  All of these affect everyone on a daily basis so this conference is not just about climate change — but about how countries will be able to sustain their citizens’ day-to-day lives. There will certainly be dramatic moments in Lima as the urgency of approaching the Paris deadline, developing countries negotiating terms, and more broad-based scientific research are all laid out on the table for one last time. As UNFCCC Director Christiana Figueres noted this morning this climate conference “must make history.”