Record temperatures raise pressure on UN climate talks

Envoys gather to discuss plans for global deal, with low levels of rich-poor financial aid still causing headaches

Peru's highest mountain, Nevado Huascaran, is affected by glacial retreat, affecting communities who depend on melt water (Photo: Gilvan Barreto / Oxfam GB)

Peru’s highest mountain, Nevado Huascaran, is affected by glacial retreat, affecting communities who depend on melt water (Photo: Gilvan Barreto / Oxfam GB)

By Ed King in Lima

Two weeks of UN climate change negotiations start in Lima today, with time running out for countries to develop the structure of a global agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Envoys arriving in Peru’s capital are tasked with crafting a draft version of a deal that nearly 200 governments can assess by May 2015 and sign that December.

It will need to limit warming to below 2C, beyond which scientists say climate-related impacts could become dangerous and potentially irreversible.

By the end of the conference, the 20th since climate negotiations started, countries need to agree on what types of commitment they will make to a deal.

The UN’s lead climate official told RTCC she was arriving in “confident” spirits due to recent carbon cutting announcements from the US, China and EU.

“Never before have the risks of climate change been so obvious and the impacts so visible. Never before have we seen such a desire at all levels of society to take climate action,” Christiana Figueres said.

Last Friday India and seven other South East Asian countries added their voice to calls for Lima to help deliver a legally binding climate deal in 12 months time.

“There is the urgency for the global community to arrive at a Protocol, another legal instrument, or an agreed outcome with legal force applicable to all by the end of 2015,” said the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

WWF’s lead climate official Tasneem Essop said she was not expecting a completed draft text by the end of the talks, but urged envoys to start focusing on specific options.

“We cannot leave here with just a list of bullet points defining elements,” she said.

Science warning

The possible risks of allowing emissions to rise unchecked could be underlined on Wednesday when the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) releases its annual State of the Climate report in Lima.

Speculation is mounting it could declare 2014 the warmest year on record since records began in the late 1800s.

Global temperatures have risen 0.8C since pre industrial times, and weather agencies in the UK and US say the past five months have been hotter than average.

“Human influence on the climate system is clear, and continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system,” said Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN’s IPCC climate science panel.

Even accounting for the latest commitments from the US, China and EU, emission cutting pledges on the table are likely to see the planet steamroll through the 2C ceiling.

“The numbers are still far from adding up,” said Ronny Juneau, Seychelles ambassador to the UN and spokesperson for the Alliance of Small Island States.

Climate cash

One delicate set of discussions in Lima is likely to focus on the levels of money flowing from wealthy to poor countries.

Developing countries say the future of any agreement to address climate change hinges on how much financial help they will receive to invest in clean energy systems and prepare for future floods, heatwaves and droughts.

“There is no doubt that Lima will be a finance COP,” said Ecuador’s lead climate negotiator Daniel Ortega-Pacheo. “It has to deliver a clear road map on how information regarding financing commitment will be disbursed by 2020.”

Recent donations to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) amounting to US$9.7 billion have raised hopes the UN-backed body will be able to play a role in helping leverage backing for clean technologies in poor countries.

But this is well off the 2020 goal of $100 billion a year promised by rich nations back in 2009, leaving many wondering if this target can ever me met.

Bangladesh envoy Quamrul Choudhury said he wanted to see $4 billion of new money in Lima, split between a Least Developed Countries fund and the adaptation fund.

Finance cliff

According to Oxfam the US, EU and Japan must radically increase their levels of climate aid to keep the planet on a pathway below 2C.

The US has already offered $3 billion to the GCF, Japan $1.5 billion and leading European states over $4 billion.

But in a report published today Oxfam says Washington should provide 56% of all financial flows to help countries embrace green growth – amounting to billions more than is currently on the table.

The EU should offer 22% and Japan 10%,, while Brazil, Korea, Mexico, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait should also offer funds, say the study’s authors.

Sub Saharan Africa along requires $62 billion a year to adapt to changing climatic conditions, they add.

With predictable flows of money Oxfam policy advisor Kiri Hanks said the Peruvian hosts of this year’s climate talks could boost GDP 1% while halving emissions, Ethiopia could avoid building 65 coal power plants and Indonesia could cut emissions 41% by the early 2020s.

“Richer countries must be clear that they are willing to commit to their fair share in Paris,” said Oxfam policy advisor Kiri Hanks.

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