Reflections on Lima

From Rio to Kyoto, Bali to Copenhagen, and Durban to Paris, we wind up with structured climate agreements that are supposed to lead to final agreements (but haven’t done so just yet). Maybe in Paris?

December 16, 2014

The following blog is by Michael Williams, Vice President for Strategic Development at the BlueGreen Alliance.

Familiarity often brings comfort, yet the similar refrain that has happened year after year at the international climate negotiations should make us all a touch nervous. From Rio to Kyoto, Bali to Copenhagen, and Durban to Paris, we wind up with structured agreements that are supposed to lead to final agreements (but haven’t done so just yet). Maybe in Paris?

We are dealing with a situation that has impacts today and will have greater impacts each and every day afterwards.

Still, the threat of climate change is clear and the solutions seem clear, but the moral and political calculus of the situation is unnervingly complex. For a solution that is fair and just, all nations should have a voice. We should take into account historical precedent, but not ignore current contributions to climate change pollution levels. We are dealing with a situation that has impacts today and will have greater impacts each and every day afterwards.

In Lima, one of the most impactful results to come out of the negotiations is that all nations are expected (not mandated, but rather more like shamed) to put forward details on how they plan to reduce emissions—through their Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions (INDCs). This quite directly stems from the heralded agreement announced between the U.S. and China a few weeks back, which laid out a very similar structure.

In addition, the Green Climate Fund finally has met its goal of a $10 billion commitment, which (hopefully) means it can finally begin to operate under the strong structure that has been created for the funds. That said, the $100 billion commitment— the amount that would actually begin to bring developing nations onto a level playing field in terms of addressing climate change—is still far from being met.

We here at the BlueGreen Alliance spent our time in Lima doing three things:

1) Listening to and learning from our colleagues in the international trade union and environmental movements. We had some great debates and discussions on how to equitably and justly address climate change.

2) Explaining our views on how the U.S. (both the government and its people) is responding to the threat of climate change. We held a briefing at the official U.S. Center titled “Perspectives on U.S. Climate Action Plan from Labor, Environment and Business” and a briefing for the International Trade Union Confederation on our experience helping to organize the labor contingent at the People’s Climate March.

3) And, advocating like hell for a strong agreement that not only includes but highlights a just transition for workers and communities. We sent a letter to the president, outlining our needs for strong and fair transition policies. Read it here.

We feel like progress was made—on truly effective matters like mitigation and finance—but there’s that sinking feeling of familiarity. We can’t let the majority of the progress be wasted on continuing the negotiations with results happening only on the margins. We’re going to need to change that norm within the next year.

On to Paris, where the fight…continues.

P.S. – Here are reactions from some of our partners and allies, who have been deftly watching and participating in these negotiations for as long as they’ve existed: