From Warsaw to Lima

Since 1992, countries have converged annually to discuss and negotiate strategies to reduce global emissions of green house gases and tackle climate change. The lack of significant results and commitments by the main polluting parties throughout these years has evidenced the structural barriers of the negotiating process: an inflexible division of the world into developed and developing countries. Peru, as the host for the next COP, will need to face this challenge in the pursuit of an ambitious climate agreement by 2015. This will also be a crucial opportunity for Latin America to influence the agenda, pressing for a new vision of development that links its successful poverty alleviation policies with strategies to secure a transition to low-carbon economies.

The road from Warsaw to Lima outlines the main challenges, blockades and potentials in the trajectory of a negotiating process that may or may not lead to an adequate agreement to tackle the climate crisis. The North-South divide that characterizes the negotiations has slowed down the process by disregarding the diversification of countries over the years, especially with the rise of emergent economies. This power struggle has complicated the adoption of effective commitments by the main polluting parties and weakened global governance on climate change.

The COP in Warsaw

The COP19 in Warsaw evidences the conflict between developed nations and emergent economies. While the main objective of the Conference was to advance on the Durban Platform towards a new binding multilateral agreement, the results were clogged with uncertainties. Member countries committed to have a draft agreement ready by March 2015 and present their voluntary goals for emissions reductions by that time, yet no clear commitments were made on this front. No further improvements were achieved on the Green Climate Fund, where mistrust from developing countries remained regarding how promises would be translated into effective disbursements. Furthermore, no agreement was reached on dealing with private sources to fund mitigation and adaptation. These shortcomings on the finance front evidence that developed countries are not prepared or willing to contribute to the transition of developing countries into low-carbon economies. On the positive side, some improvements were made on REDD+ with the approval of a package of definitions, including institutional matters, methodology and finance for this mechanism. Advancements were also made on funding for loss and damage in the most vulnerable countries with the creation of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage.

Given the shortcomings of the Warsaw negotiations, NGOs voiced their concern and criticized the lack of commitment from member countries. They emphasized the lack of ambition of the negotiations, aimed at voluntary reductions rather than binding commitments. Furthermore, they criticized the lack of a definition to differentiate contributions from each country in an agreement applicable to all, as well as the lack of advancements on an international legal framework. The withdrawal of several NGOs from the COP19 due to the frustration over its results evidences the need to reestablish confidence in the negotiating process, which will require an update of its institutional framework and a demonstrated commitment from both developed countries and emerging economies.

Latin America’s role

The COP20, hosted by Peru, represents a strategic opportunity for Latin America to emphasize, both in their regional as well as in their global agendas, the debate about the necessary transition from their current development model towards a low-carbon economy. Latin America, as the provider of raw materials and natural resources, represents the weakest link in the global production chains. The region specializes in the extraction and export of fossil fuels and minerals, and has an agricultural model based on large-scale monocultures, associated with the high levels of deforestation observed in the region. It is important to recognize that intensification of natural resource exploitation and extraction activities is closely linked to efforts in the region to reduce poverty and income inequality, which remain high despite improvements over the last 15 years. The region is thus urgently pushing for economic growth to alleviate these problems, reinforcing a tendency to increase emissions and reduce willingness to transition to low-carbon economies.

The COP in Lima also presents an opportunity for the region to include in the agenda the topics of its abundant natural resources, forests and biodiversity in the framework of a transition towards a new development model. In fact, it is expected that the COP will be marked by the characteristics of the host region and country, and Peru’s location in an Andean and Amazon region rich in biodiversity and ecosystems is especially significant. Peru could play a crucial role in emphasizing themes related to forest and natural resources management –especially given the advancements on REDD+ achieved in Warsaw.

NGOs have high expectations for COP20 and are expected to play an important role in this year’s negotiations. They will be pressing for greater political will and commitments in a wider agenda geared towards a transition to low-carbon economies. The COP20 represents an opportunity for regional NGOs to address climate change with the topics in their agenda, which include pressuring national development banks to support the transition to low-carbon economies; advocate for the approval of legislation protecting indigenous territorial rights from resource extracting corporations; and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies in favor of the diversification of energy sources. Indigenous groups and NGOs are quickly mobilizing in preparation for the negotiations, and in fact they have organized a parallel event to the COP20 - the People’s Climate Summit – for Peruvian civil society organizations, NGOs and indigenous organizations to convene with regional and global partners. If these organizations are to have a real impact in the negotiations, it is crucial that the Peruvian government gives weight and visibility to their pleas.

Future challenges and prospects for the negotiations

The challenge for Latin America, and particularly for the Peruvian government, will be that of articulating into the agenda the concept of equity at global level in the structure of the negotiating process, and at the regional and national levels. Lima needs to ensure the conclusion of an adequate and ambitious draft agreement action for mitigation and adaptation while still working under the conflicting 1992 parameters, which assume a North-South division of countries. While the structural issues of the negotiating process may be problematic in Lima, the strong commitment of indigenous groups and organizations may be a bearer of hope. They could potentially lead to a greater focus on structural issues of the current development model and legitimize, both for the public opinion and for the negotiators, the need to transition to a low-carbon economy. Lima will need to deal with the urgency of creating a strong commitment from society, governments and national, regional and global institutions in order to tackle climate change, without undermining the need to guarantee the legitimacy of the Convention to lead the process.

Summary and translation by Ximena Carranza Risco

The original and full version in Spanish was published in Nueva Sociedad and can be found here.

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