Climate Change Conference in Peru - what chance of a global deal?


“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago, the second best time is now.”

So the Chinese proverb goes.  And it seems the Chinese Government is starting to act on this advice.  The recent US-China Climate Change deal was the first time in recent history that the Eastern state committed to slowing down it’s greenhouse gas emissions, by announcing one of the largest adaptions from natural to renewable resources the world has ever seen.  Once famed for opening one coal fired power station a week, China will soon be producing the equivalent of the US’s entire energy grid capacity from renewables.

According to scientists, 2014 is set to be the warmest year in recorded history.  Sea levels have risen from melting ice caps and we are emitting more heat capturing gasses from our homes, our cars and our industry, than ever before.  Avoiding a rise in global temperature of more than two degrees centigrade, compared to pre-industrial times, is crucial if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change; and with the temperature up by around 0.8 degrees right now, we’re literally half way to disaster.  This is why, by 2015, the UN want’s to implement a global climate change deal, committing all nations to reducing greenhouse gasses and keeping the temperature down.

There are fewer places in the world where the affects of climate change are felt more than in Peru, the host of this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP20).  At the same time as 190 nations from across the world are gathering to debate how we reach this global deal, Peru’s glaciers are melting at an alarming rate. Peru has seventy percent of the world’s tropical glaciers, which have lost more than a fifth of their mass in just three decades, affecting weather, sea levels, and consequentially the farming of vital crops to feed its people.  So, as I head to Lima tomorrow as part of the European Parliament’s delegation to the climate change conference, what will I be looking out for?

In a bind

At the heart of any global deal will be uniting the world around a set of targets (known as indicative nationally determined contributions).  The goal is for each nation to set an emissions reduction target, calculated by determining it’s contribution to climate change and it’s capability to address the consequences.  This is by no means an easy task.  Some developed nations, like Australia or Russia for example, don’t view climate change with the same urgency that others do; and when developed nations (who by virtue of their industrial prowess emit more than most other nations) fail to take on their share of the burden, less developed nations quite rightly ask why they should have to pay the price of mitigation and adaption too.

There is a separate debate raging about the nature of these targets, too.  While the EU (for years a leader in emissions reduction despite only contributing around 18% of global emission), would prefer to see binding targets, the US (by far and away the world’s largest emitter) would prefer the targets to be indicative only.

So how do we resolve this?  Being clever, EU negotiators have a plan. They believe that if they can unite the G77 (an organisation of 77 developing nations), around the need for a binding target, then the US will be embarrassed into accepting one too. A fine idea, but maybe too clever by half...

A helping hand

It is universally accepted that some nations need more help than others in order to reduce emissions and keep the temperature down.  Developing nations, who are going through the same industrialisation as we did all years ago, have more to lose in terms of economic growth should they adapt their economies at the same rate as we do, and some simply can’t afford the cost of doing so.

That is why the Green Climate Fund will be another key indicator of whether we are on the right track to reach a global deal.  Money talks, and if developed nations are committed to a global deal, they will make substantial contributions to the Green Climate Fund, and agree on how that money will be spent.  The target of the fund is 10 billion dollars.  To date just over 9 has been raised, with the US contributing by far and away the largest proportion (3 billion dollars) and the UK the third largest (1.1 billion dollars), behind Japan’s contribution of 1.5 billion dollars.

However, while this may seem like cause for celebration, already there is controversy surrounding how the fund is being spent, with reports emerging this week that up to one billion dollars of Japan’s contribution has been earmarked to help build three coal fired stations.  As I said, the detail of how it is spent will make or break the fund, and in turn the prospect of a global deal.

An honest assessment

The key to a binding deal will be it’s potential for longevity, and from this point of view we have to have in place a transparent way to assess how nations are faring against their targets.  Progress has to be monitored independently, has to be published regularly, and we must ensure that every nation continues to prioritise climate change.

So where stands Scotland?

We have some of the world’s most ambitious climate change targets - a reduction of 42% of greenhouse gases by 2020. Yet to date we haven’t met a single annual target underpinning it. By positing ourselves as a world leader, we cannot ignore the gauntlet we have thrown down.

Much can be achieved in Lima, but a roadmap to a global deal will be elusive.  Each day i’ll try to cut through the noise and bring you the latest developments, agreements, stumbling blocks and political rifts, as well as inform you of the hot topics of the day.