Waking up to Day 2 at the UNFCCC COP 20

December 2, 2014
Manuel Pulgar-Vidal speaks at the UN Climate Change Conference in Lima, Peru. (UNclimatechange Photo via Flickr CC)

There are at least two things going on at the COP 20: building of relationships that endure and solving deeply complex problems.  The relationship building is important because it helps scientists talk to policy people and lawyers, NGOs talk to technical experts, and government representatives interact with civil society and the business community. 

Arriving at Jorge Chavez airport (perhaps one of the only international airports named after a young daredevil who died in a plane crash) at 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning, the flight from Toronto brought Canadian government delegates, NGOs, think tanks and business people, all hoping to contribute to a successful meeting. On the shuttle bus to the conference site at Cuartel General del Ejercito del Peru were many UNFCCC veterans who have travelled the world from COP to COP trying to nudge along a consensus for action.  What is clear is that no one group of experts or advocates holds the key to success – this is a task for the many, and some 10,000 are expected to come. 

This challenges the conventional notion of national governments negotiating on behalf of their countries and then legislating as to how the commitments will be met internally.  For federal states such as Canada this dynamic of the national government not controlling all the levers for implementation of international obligations is not new. What is perhaps a newer dynamic is that although national and sub-national governments need to take action to implement climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, it would also help significantly if sub-sub-national organizations and individuals — municipalities, industry sectors, individual corporations and farmers, families and individuals — take action within their sphere of influence.

In the opening plenary Christiana Figueres said the world now needed lines of action on climate change that are “as indelible over time as the Nazca lines”, the ancient geoglyphs that score the Nazca desert of southern Peru. She identified the key deliverables for COP 20 as the following:

  • a new draft universal climate change agreement and clarification of how national contributions will be communicated next year;
  • consolidating progress on adaptation to achieve political parity with mitigation;
  • enhancement of the delivery of finance particularly for the most vulnerable; and
  • stimulating ever-increasing action of all stakeholders to scale up and accelerate progress.

Mr. Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Environment Minister of Peru, who was elected President of the Conference of the Parties (COP 20/CMP 10), in his opening address emphasized the positive announcements to curb emissions by Europe, China and the U.S. and the growing importance of public mobilization in addressing climate change.

Thus, the discussion at COP 20 constantly flows back and forth from global to regional to national to sub-national to local to individual.  On day 1 there was discussion of the need to coordinate across multiple UN bodies involved in climate change issues (See: Acting on Climate Change: The UN Delivering as One). For example, the UN system, including the Bretton Woods Institutions, assists developing countries to leverage finance from various sources to help them adapt to climate change impacts and undertake nationally appropriate mitigation. One heard about the success of the British Columbia’s tax on carbon, and the Province of Quebec’s agreement with the California Air Resources Board concerning the harmonization and integration of cap-and-trade programs for reducing GHG emissions. There was discussion about litigation in the U.S.A. that forced the federal Environmental Protection Agency to take action to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs), and about pro-active subnational action in the U.S. (California and the north-eastern states’ Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative). One heard ecologists saying individuals and municipalities have to mitigate risks for which insurance is not available, and adjust behaviour to take account of known catastrophic but rare risks (e.g. not building in 100 year flood plains). There was discussion about the complexity of climate change litigation and compensation, as well as repeated calls to build the Green Climate Fund to help the developing world mitigate risk and adapt to climate change. There was mention of programs to engage youth through the Climate Selfie Project: and to train and employ Tunisian youth to work on local green projects.

With so many levels of activity it may be challenging for states to understand and articulate their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).  What processes have states undertaken to consult, gather and quantify their respective potential to address climate change? Gregory Briner and Andrew Prag in “Establishing and Understanding Post-2020 Climate Change Mitigation Commitments” (PDF) summarize the task as follows:

A new international climate change agreement that has legal force and is applicable to all countries is currently being negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The agreement is expected to address mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, capacity building and transparency, and is due to be adopted at COP 21 in 2015 and come into effect from 2020. An effective agreement would include quantitative mitigation commitments from all major emitters and result in concrete actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while catalysing long-term transformations to low-carbon and climate-resilient economies.

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About the Author

Oonagh E. Fitzgerald was director of international law at CIGI from April 2014 to February 2020. In this role, she established and oversaw CIGI’s international law research agenda, which included policy-relevant research on issues of international economic law, environmental law, IP law and innovation, and Indigenous law.