The bear necessities of climate agreement in Lima

By Cindy Baxter 01/12/2014

The population in the seaside capital of Peru, Lima, has grown exponentially in the last few days ahead of the latest round of UN climate talks, with  11,000 official delegates, 40,000 police, and thousands more who’ll attend the Peoples Climate Summit, all descending on the city.

“The streets are filling up with gringos,” a horrified friend who’s living in Lima told me today.

It is a relief to be at climate talks hosted by a government that’s less in the thrall of the fossil fuel industry than the last two, in Doha and Warsaw. Perhaps, just perhaps, we can count on more action as a result.  I hope they act like Paddington Bear (whom I believe has a Peruvian background1 ) — in terms of his “trying hard to get things right” rather than his getting into trouble.

This is the first of a few blogs I’ll be writing, so let’s take a quick look at what’s at stake in Lima.

Apart from the usual “future of the planet” stakes that get higher every day, there are a number of key issues that governments can get to grips with over the next two weeks. This meeting is an important stepping stone on the way to Paris late next year, which should come up with a new global climate agreement designed to set the world on the right path towards keeping global warming below 2˚C.

Pre-2020 action

The Paris agreement is one that would be agreed in 2015, and come into play in 2020. But what happens before then? Some Governments, like New Zealand and the US, see the paltry 2020 emissions reduction targets they made after Copenhagen as being the only targets they’ll accept for the next six years.

Scientists have told us that if nothing more than the Copenhagen pledges are fulfilled by 2020, then we’ve very little hope of keeping to that 2˚C limit, without having to make ridiculously huge changes to the world’s energy systems in 2021. Their messages are consistent: the sooner we take action, the cheaper it will be. Waiting longer is a risky business, in terms of both climate impacts and economics.

There are many of us – from vulnerable developing countries to scientists and NGOs – calling for the world to ramp up the action now, instead of waiting until after 2020. But will it happen?

I find it extremely unlikely that New Zealand would contemplate any increase on our paltry target of 5 percent reductions by 2020 (on 1990 levels), given that all indications are that we’re set to massively overshoot that by more than 30%.   I won’t go into our situation too much, suffice to say it’s had considerable – and much-deserved- scorn poured on it recently,  from our Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment to the NZ Herald’s Brian Fallow, to name but a few.

So much for doing, to repeat the government’s mantra, our “fair share.”


Let me introduce you to a relatively new UN acronym: INDCs. They used to be called “emissions reduction targets” or “commitments” which, under Kyoto, were legally binding commitments to cut emissions.  However last year in Warsaw some governments didn’t like the name – it was far too direct, and to the point, for comfort, and implied Committing To Something.  So they came up with “INDCs”: Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (read: doing what you feel like, depending on how much pressure the big emitters at home are giving you, but not wanting to be tied to it).

On the road to Paris, by next March, all governments, large or small, developing or developed, must submit their INDCs to the UNFCCC. But before they do that, they have to decide the criteria. What information must be in them? How specific do they have to be? This is absolutely crucial to these INDCs being useful.

As the chair of the Least Developed Countries, Prakash Mathema, told the RTCC blog:

“Among the criteria to be included are: type of commitment/contribution, base year or period, baseline emissions trajectory, peaking year, coverage in terms of GHGs and sectors, geographical boundaries, percentage of total or national emissions, expected emission reductions to be achieved, approach to accounting for the land-use sector, additional specific information depending on the type of commitment/contribution, and indicators relating to fairness and ambition.”

So there’s plenty of scope for those discussions to go on late into the evenings and extra days at the end of the session.

Of course the NZ Government hasn’t decided on our INDC yet – no doubt it will be too busy here in Lima making sure that the criteria agreed contain enough loopholes for us to get away with committing to as little as possible. This is New Zealand’s modus operandi in these talks, and I see little change on the horizon, not least because our emissions are expected to balloon in the coming decades. Those will be emissions that will be increasingly costly to reduce. All the global reports released recently say that the sooner you take action, the cheaper it will be.


Another key component of this meeting is the ongoing subject of finance. Finance to the world’s most vulnerable countries to help them adapt to the impacts of climate change – and to reduce their own emissions along the way.

This finance is another crucial stepping stone towards the Paris Agreement. They’ve finally got the “Green Climate Fund” (GCF) set up so that it can deliver projects and programmes to make sure money gets to the right places, and now Governments have nearly $10bn pledged towards that fund. But that’s just a start. By 2050, this fund needs to deliver $100 billion a year, every year.

New Zealand’s own contribution to the GCF slipped out almost unnoticed last month — and no wonder — it’s an astoundingly low $3 million. Even the Czech Republic has pledged almost double that amount.  OK, so the Australians are not going to contribute anything, they say, but do we really want our Government to be like Tony Abbott’s?

The slow progress on the GCF has engendered much distrust amongst developing countries, so the pledges have been a welcome first step. If, by Paris, the pledges are turned into actual money in the bank, and those programmes are up and running, this will make a huge difference.

There’s a lot of work to do here in Lima, and I haven’t touched on all of it. Let’s hope those gringos filling up Lima’s hotels will actually get down and do some work worthy of the thousands of tonnes of emissions we’ve all shoved into the sky by flying here.

  1. GR adds: Indeed he has. In fact his Aunt Lucy lives in the Home For Retired Bears in Lima.