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Mat Hope

Mat Hope

05.12.2014 | 1:05pm
International policyFive things we’ve learned from the first five days of the Lima climate change conference
INTERNATIONAL POLICY | December 5. 2014. 13:05
Five things we’ve learned from the first five days of the Lima climate change conference

Thousands of politicians, diplomats and campaigners are currently in Lima, Peru, for the latest round of international climate negotiations. News from the conference hall has so far been been fairly muted as negotiators ease themselves into the talks, due to conclude next Friday. But there have been some important developments.

Here’s what we’ve learned from the Lima climate conference’s early stages.

1) The need to get a deal is being talked up

World leaders have promised to agree a new global climate deal by the end of 2015, at a meeting in Paris. As that deadline looms ever larger, each climate meeting is instilled with an increasing sense of urgency.

The UK’s energy and climate secretary, Ed Davey, told the Telegraph:

“These are the last major annual talks before we hit our deadline in Paris next year. We need a deal in Paris – there is no alternative that will protect our national security, our economy and the way of life we take for granted.”

Many of the talks’ participants are still scarred by what happened last time countries tried to agree a comprehensive global climate deal, in Copenhagen in 2009. That conference’s failure is driving a desire to agree as much as possible before negotiators descend on Paris.

Before the conference, negotiators were quick to state their optimism that the Lima meeting would prove productive.

“I have never felt as optimistic as I have now,” Tony de Brum, the Marshall Island’s foreign minister told the Guardian. “There is an upbeat feeling on the part of everyone that first of all there is an opportunity here and that secondly, we cannot miss it.”

Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of US thinktank the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, told National Geographic that “we’re in far better shape a year ahead of Paris than at any stage leading up to Copenhagen”.

Copenhagen climate protesters.jpg
Protesters at the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009. Credit: Shutterstock

2) Expectations are being managed

But while negotiators are hopeful that countries will find plenty of common ground in Lima, they’re also carefully managing expectations.

Little is expected to be formally agreed at Lima. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which oversees the meeting, said Lima is best understood as a “stepping stone” towards a deal in Paris.

Negotiators hope to have a draft text of a new climate deal by the end of the conference, which countries will adjust over the next twelve months.

Figueres speaks.jpg
UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres. Credit: UN Climate Change

3) The US-China climate deal means the spotlight is on India

Many previous meetings focused on trying to get the world’s two biggest emitters to commit to taking action on climate change. But three weeks ago, the US and China signed an agreement to curb emissions.

That has changed the dynamic at the Lima meeting. The world’s three largest emitters, the US, EU, and China, have now all made formal commitments to cut emissions. So negotiators are turning their attention to other major economies, like India.

When Indian prime minister Narendra Modi was elected six months ago, some commentators hoped he would expand his commitment to renewable energy to the national level. So far, Modi has largely failed to meet those expectations.

There is speculation that India will make a major announcement at the Lima conference, perhaps pledging to ensure its emissions peak in a particular year, as China has. But, so far, India’s negotiators have kept to form, calling for developed countries to bear the brunt of emissions reductions, and for more action to fund climate adaptation measures in vulnerable countries.

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Modi addresses the press in May 2014. Credit: Shutterstock

4) Record temperatures and typhoon threat are framing the conference

Lima is taking place under the shadow of two major weather and climate events, both of which are shaping the tone of the talks.

On Wednesday, the World Meteorological Society said it expected 2014 to be among the hottest years since records began, in a statement timed to coincide with the talks. Christiana Figueres said the news shows that as “emissions continue to rise, we need to act urgently.”

Negotiators are also keeping a close eye on typhoon Hagupit, which is making its way towards the Philippines.

Last year’s talks in Poland were dominated by the story of the Philippines’ delegate, Yeb Sano, going on hunger strike to highlight the world’s lack of progress to tackle climate change as his country was ravaged by typhoon Haiyan. Typhoon Hagupit’s looming threat serves as a “deadly and urgent reminder” to the Lima conference of the risks associated with failing to tackle climate change, environment blog Grist says.

typhoon hagupit.jpg
Typhoon Hagupit in December 2014. Credit: NASA

5) Old divisions persist

Despite negotiators’ early optimism, countries’ opening gambits at the Lima conference show old disagreements persist.

Many developing countries have expressed concern at developed nations’ reluctance to provide climate financing to help them adapt to climate change. China has called the $9 billion pledged by 22 countries to the UN’s Green Climate Fund “far from adequate”.

A group comprising Saudi Arabia, China, India and 30 other ‘like minded nations’ continues to call for more transparency in the process. The group has used such pleas as a delaying and blocking tactic at previous negotiations.

The US and EU may also find themselves at loggerheads over the design of any new deal. The EU wants countries’ pledges to cut emissions to be legally binding. The US is adamant that this can’t be the case as it would then have to ask Congress to ratify the deal, which legislators are very unlikely to do.

So there’s still plenty left to discuss as negotiators head into Lima’s second week.

Obama address climate summit.jpg
President Obama addresses Ban Ki-moon’s climate summit in October 2014. Credit: UN Photos

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