It is Day 5 of the UN Climate Change talks in Lima, Peru and there is a sense of both urgency and optimism among the COP20 crowd. The pace of negotiations is a bit slow, but it will heat up over the weekend and into next week as ministers from all over the world join their government colleagues in the capital city.
As Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the governing body for these negotiations, Christiana Figueres said during her opening address that plenary countries “must make history” over the next two weeks.
The timing of the Lima talks is particularly critical. Emission negotiations have been ongoing for twenty years, with the UN continuing to bring its 190 member countries together to curb the damaging effects of coal burning and gasoline use (among other sources of pollution), but the overarching goal of this past week and next is to prepare a framework for a binding, international agreement in Paris next year. Lima will be the last large meeting amongst all plenary members for the next 12 months.
The timeline is not the only issue that will likely make countries rethink their points of compromise in ministerial-level negotiations next week. The science is obviously a critical part of why a comprehensive agreement needs to be signed by Paris 2015.
During the opening remarks, Dr. Rajendra Pachuari, of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said “the human influence on the climate system is clear.” Dr. Pachauri painted an ominous picture that “greenhouse gases have continued to grow much larger in speed and rate” this past decade compared to the previous three decades. The world, he said, has only one thousand gigatons of CO2 left in its “carbon budget.”
The “budget” is an estimated maximum amount of carbon dioxide that could be emitted over a period of time while keeping global warming within the two degree Celsius limit. He declared the IPCC position is that “the longer we delay…the more difficult…the more intractable…the more expensive” combating climate change will become.
Despite the grim facts, Pachauri did end on the note that countries do actually have the ability to “limit the effects of climate change” but targets must be ambitious and decision-making must be quick and ethical.
The dwindling timeline and carbon budget have not dampened spirits in Lima though, with Figueres seeming upbeat throughout this week as she went through many of the hundreds of meetings and events taking place. Participants, delegates and lower level negotiators appear to have taken her cue and are eager to discuss issues. The real test for the stress of the urgency will come as ministers begin to arrive with their respective governments’ politics and economic interests.