The first week of COP20 climate talks in Lima concluded as negotiators entered a second and final week of debate this Monday. The event, which has drawn representatives from 195 countries, non-profits, and celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio and Emma Watson to Peru, began on Dec. 1st and is scheduled to end on Dec. 12th. COP20, which stands for the 20th Conference of the Parties, is a yearly environmental conference that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has organized since 1995 when it was first hosted in Berlin. Since then various member countries from around the world have moderated the event, including Argentina in 1998 and 2004 and Mexico in 2010. This is the first time Peru has hosted the COP climate talks.
The president of this year’s talks, Peruvian Environment Minister and environmental lawyer Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, has high hopes for their results. While some see COP20 in Lima as preparatory for the up-coming COP21 to be held in Paris in 2015, Pulgar-Vidal states that “Lima isn’t just a preparatory meeting. It is a key meeting and it should leave things very well-advanced to sign a climate agreement in Paris next year.” The pressure is on in Lima because December 2015 in Paris is the deadline to sign an accord to keep climate change to less than 2° C. The majority of arrangements for this deal must be made and agreed upon this week in Lima.
A series of unexpected international advances on climate issues, most notably the recent U.S.-China climate accord, sparked an optimistic beginning of the talks last week. Many hope that a rough draft for a new international climate deal will indeed be hammered out by the end of this week. A senior environmental reporter for the Inter-Press Service News Agency, Stephen Leahy, wrote in Rabble.ca that “However, this is like writing a book with 195 authors. After five years of negotiations, there is only an outline of the agreement and a couple of ‘chapters’ in rough draft.” Many onlookers, including Leahy, believe that Pulgar-Vidal is crucial in determining the outcome these 195 authors produce and in managing the disputes between them.
Pulgar-Vidal and Peru have much to gain or lose in any international agreement on greenhouse gases. Lima, as well as many other cities and towns in Peru, are dependent on glaciers in the Andes that provide them with fresh water. Worryingly, studies show that in the past 30 years these glaciers have lost 30 to 50 per cent of their ice and are increasingly threatened by rising greenhouse temperatures. The survival of many indigenous tribes in the Peruvian Amazon are also directly tied up with climate change. Their hopes for the future may be determined by Pulgar-Vidal’s actions and the results of this week’s COP20 negotiations.