It has been nearly two months since the UNFCCC 20th Conference of Parties (COP20) took place in Lima, providing us with a point from which to reflect upon Peru’s actions, the road through 2015, and beyond. Now in the conference aftermath, Peruvians are faced with the challenge of sustaining and leveraging political and civil society momentum. The internal energy created by COP20 could well serve as potential to bring Peru back towards its goals and further boost national climate ambition.
Since its announcement as COP20 host, Peru has been in the spotlight to prove its commitment to climate action and to set an example through ambitious regional and international agendas. Efforts fell short, however, as Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s wobbly leadership on climate change issues revealed troubling inconsistencies between national policies and international stance, slowing progress on what started as ambitious goals. Regaining lost ground will require stronger participation from the growing Peruvian civil society movement, which must push for greater transparency and accountability from the government and ensure that climate change becomes a top priority in the national development agenda.
COP20 brought an important and unprecedented wave of climate-related civil society mobilization to Peru. At the center of this mobilization was the Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change, an alternate forum carried out in parallel to the COP20, highlighting the importance of public participation for climate justice and amplifying the voices of those most vulnerable to climate change. For the first time ever, a wide range of Peruvian civil society groups – unions, farmers, indigenous peoples, women, and youth – convened to discuss and exchange ideas on climate change issues, and were present next to several other international groups invited to participate. The Summit also resulted in affiliated conferences in other Peruvian regions, such as a Peoples’ Summit in Cajamarca in October and the Women’s Summit for Climate Change in Celendín in November. Mobilization reached a peak as COP20 neared its end, with a People’s Climate March in Lima that gathered 15,000 participants from diverse backgrounds, affiliations, and nationalities.
These events have jumpstarted a transformation in Peruvian civil society towards a more cohesive and inclusive climate change movement. Climate-related issues have traditionally been approached under the indigenous rights framework, with Peru’s indigenous population remaining the most vulnerable to climate change and the most affected by extractive industries. While indigenous populations are certainly a necessary focal point, both rural and urban sectors are needed to push for the economy-wide transformations required for national low-carbon development. The mobilization brought about by COP20 shows a positive force recognizing climate change’s multi-sector effects and illustrating the need for a variety of voices calling for climate justice. Moving forward, civil society organizations will need to strengthen and build upon their COP20 and Peoples’ Summit networks, working together to ensure that addressing climate change is a priority in the government’s development agenda.
However, despite this strengthening of civil society, there remains a serious lack of public awareness around climate change issues. A shocking example is the fact that, according to a November 2014 poll, only 8% of Peruvians knew about the COP20 conference. This poor national media coverage exposes the larger fact that climate change and environmental issues are still not given the necessary importance that they require. The media play a crucial role in catalyzing the growth of civil movements, with public awareness being the first step towards a more active and engaged citizenry. Civil society organizations need to push for more adequate coverage of climate change issues in order to have a better-informed public that can mobilize for ambitious agendas, both at the local and national levels. Ultimately, the media need to move beyond the old portrayals of climate change and environmental issues as solely a concern of indigenous peoples. The influence and importance of all regions and all sectors of the population should be highlighted in the climate debate.
Finally, it is sustained political will that Peru crucially needs. A strong civil society movement and greater public awareness are key ingredients to generate this. Climate change will hardly become a priority in the political agenda if it is not expressly demanded and emphasized as a top priority for voters. The same November 2014 poll also revealed that 65% of respondents did not vote for environmentally-minded candidates. Given the lack of public awareness around climate change issues, this does not come as a surprise. However, it also indicates that there is room for civil society groups to reach out to voters, and not just to lobby politicians in order to generate political motivation. With presidential and congressional elections upcoming in 2016, 2015 is the year to make future candidates realize that climate change and clean development should be top priorities in any proposed agenda.
The tasks needed to move forward certainly present a great challenge to face. Yet the unprecedented motivation that remains after COP20 is a clear opportunity to generate change in Peru from the bottom up. Beyond the eventual spillovers that the COP may leave behind in the current political landscape, it is clear that civil society stands to gain the most from the COP reverberations and the mobilization that was generated. This potential should certainly not go to waste.