UN Climate Deal in Peru Ends Historic North-South Split
December 16, 2014
Matt McGrath / BBC News
The gavel came down on UN climate talks in Lima after they had almost collapsed because of wide gaps between the positions held by rich and poor nations. So how was the agreement reached? And does it take the world any closer to dealing with climate change? The Lima deal can be seen as a dry run for a much greater Paris compact. Ostensibly it was about how countries should format their intended national pledges on climate change.
UN Climate Deal in Peru Ends Historic North-South Split
Matt McGrath / BBC News
(December 14, 2014) -- Unexpectedly, for a city that is in a desert area, rain drizzled from the nighttime sky over Lima early on Sunday. Just as unexpectedly, the gavel came down on UN climate talks that had almost collapsed because of wide gaps between the positions held by rich and poor nations. So how was the agreement reached? And does it take the world any closer to dealing with climate change?
The Lima deal can be seen as a dry run for a much greater Paris compact. Ostensibly it was about how countries should format their intended national pledges on climate change.
In reality, it was about much weightier issues. It asked the 194 countries that came to the Peruvian capital if they were really serious about a long-term global climate deal.
It the answer was Yes, then some sacred cows would need to be sacrificed.
Prime among them was the binary view of the world that the UN convention on climate change brought into being in 1992.
It divided the world into rich and poor (Annex 1 and Non-Annex 1, in UN jargon). The richer countries would take on carbon-cutting commitments -- the poorer ones would not.
Here in Lima, that old fashioned view of the world was consigned to history, though not without a desperate struggle.
Developing countries resolutely fought to keep this sense of differentiation firmly in the text. They were very upset when the original text about the pledges countries will make next year, used the word "shall".
It seemed to them that poor African countries and small island states were being corralled into making the same level of commitment on climate change as the big boys.
No one seriously expects the countries in sub-Saharan Africa will have to do the same as the US and the EU. Eventually the "shall" became a "may".
But when you have a situation where countries like Singapore, with a gross domestic product per capita larger than Germany, are still classed as a Non-Annex 1 ("poor") country, you can see why there were calls for reform.
So there is no mention of Annex 1 parties anywhere in the document. To make it clear there are different strokes for different folks, the text reiterates the importance of "common but differentiated responsibilities", or CBDR in the jargon.
But it adds an important rider: "in light of different national circumstances."
I am told that both China and the US supported this addition. Essentially it means there will be no fixed positions anymore. Countries can and do develop, and with that development will come a different level of commitment on climate change.
Hope for Paris
According to the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, this was extremely significant.
"There are three pieces of that concept," she said. "One is the historical responsibility, which is undeniable, of industrialised countries; next is the respective capacities and capabilities of countries, which are an ongoing process; and the third part is actually the national circumstances.
"From a political and operational point of view it is a very important breakthrough that actually opens the way towards a Paris agreement."
Others agreed. This change was painful for some but it had to happen, said Liz Gallaher, from the think tank E3G.
"What we've had in the past is this north-south divide, and what this text does is to break that up, it's much more fluid," she added.
"There is lot of sense of differentiation, how do you apportion responsibility between countries rather than this north versus south which is great."
Green campaigners, though, are very upset with the Lima process. Too little had been achieved, too many decisions had been kicked down the road, they said.
"These talks delivered basically nothing for the poor and vulnerable in developing countries," said Harjeet Singh from Action Aid International.
"More exciting than the negotiations were the sheer number of impacted peoples marching in the streets in Lima and staging actions at the talks -- the people who have the most to gain or lose from these talks. How long will governments continue to ignore people's demands?"
While the focus has undoubtedly been on the issue of pledges and the arguments about them, another important concept has quietly crept into the broader document.
This is the idea that a long-term goal for climate change might not be just keeping temperatures below 2C, but zero emissions from fossil fuels by 2050.
The idea has the backing of scientists, and now it is in the rough negotiating text.
It that was to remain in the final deal in Paris, it would be an idea that could, quite literally, change the world.
But there is a long way to go.
The ghosts of Copenhagen are everywhere in this talks process. One of the reasons Lima has been so important is that it got everyone to say what they will do, before they arrive in the French capital next year. That hopefully overcomes one of the key problems that saw efforts founder in Denmark five years ago.
But despite that, the Lima deal does have a critical weakness. There is, as yet, no meaningful way of ratcheting up the commitments countries make. That was sacrificed to keep the developing nations on board.
It is not the only can that has been kicked down the road and the big danger is that leaving too much to the last minute in Paris will ensure a repeat of the failings of Copenhagen.
Water Woes in Lima: A Glimpse of Our Future?
Matt McGrath / BBC News
Lima (December 10, 2015) -- Snarling and screeching, the bouncing water truck speeds backwards down the steep hill, in a cloud of coarse dust. It halts with a judder and a wild eyed, sweaty man jumps from the cab, grabs a large plastic pipe on the back and starts to fill a series of plastic containers on the ground, with little care.
Dressed in bright pink, a woman looks on nonchalantly. The man runs up to her and holds out his hand. She drops some coins and away he goes, jumping onto the running board of his vehicle, already snorting its way to the next stop.
This is daily routine for tens of thousands of people who live in this sprawling hillside settlement that looks down on the Pacific Ocean, less than an hour north of Lima, Peru.
Water in Nuevo Pachacutec is not just the vital substance for life, it is a measure of social status and progress.
People first came to these hazy hills in the 1980s, in response to politicians who promised them land in return for votes. When they first arrived the women said their feet would just sink in the sand. That's all that was here.
The politicians allowed them to take the ground -- but most of the 160,000 people here do not have legal title. They are "possessors of the land" but not the owners. And land is too grand a word. This is really a desert. After Cairo, Lima is said to be the world's second biggest city built in one. Rainfall here amounts to just 50mm of water per year.
A river runs through it
A few kilometres south of Nuevo Pachacutec, a miserable, dirty stream meanders under a motorway. Bags of rubbish sit alongside the ubiquitous tractor tyres.
This is the Chillon river, the sole water source for around two million people in northern Lima. The waters of the Chillon are fed by glaciers in the Andes. And this is a source of concern.
"We are worried here in Peru because climate change is already having a huge impact on our access to water," says Armando Mendoza a research officer with Oxfam in the country.
"In the last 40 years, the glacial coverage has retreated by 40% more or less, because of the increase in global warming. The predictions are that in the future access to water will become even more difficult and the ones who are most vulnerable to this are the poor."
These longer term water issues with glaciers are not the immediate priority in Nuevo Pachacutec. As well as the speeding tuktuks, the sandy roads are festooned with signs for car washes, even private schools. Despite the fact that 80% of the homes are made of wood, incomes and aspirations are rising here.
Access to water is critical in this development, as it is in developing nations all over the world.
With funding from the German government, a green group called Alternativa has helped build networks of white water tanks, connected by underground tubes that bring water directly to the houses.
They have also installed 900 outside water points in this sprawling settlement. Their efforts to date have brought the vital liquid to 9,000 households. In this community, water is more than just a key ingredient for life, it is a reflection of harsh social divisions.
Radios and children play loudly on the street where Daniza Cruz Navarro lives. The homes on this stretch are known as the "casas azules" -- the blue houses. Outside many sit blue plastic barrels, some with lids, some without, that hold the water residents get from the trucks that constantly career about the local roads. Dogs lap from the open containers. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in the water.
"You can see the effects of the way the water is being stored in the kids' health," says Daniza.
She has moved on from the blue barrel and is now the owner of a more effective and efficient water tank that she has bought through the efforts of Alternativa. However, as she still gets water directly from the delivery trucks, she has to pay significantly more than her neighbours.
Daniza says she pays 120 Nuevo Soles (£26; $40) per month for the precious water. This is about 10% of her household income. Those who are connected to the main water grid pay just 6-12 Soles per month.
These are big sums of money and the differences can be a source of friction between neighbours. Despite these problems, those who work with the people in Nuevo Pachacutec say progress is being made. It's really a story of local self-empowerment.
"Even if they are not perfect, they have bettered considerably," says engineer Osvaldo Caceres who works with Alternativa. This infrastructure is managed by them, for them. The local population know what they want, but they know and understand they have to participate to get it.
Plug and Pay
"When we first got here it was all desert -- there were no roads, it was pure sand," says Ycella Bonilla a resident of Nuevo Pachacutec.
She stands proudly in the doorway of her recently built bathroom cum laundry room, completed with the help of microfinance. Ycella calls it her "unit of dignity".
Despite this advance, Ycella and her family are still paying heavily for water. She has a hose and a key that allows her family to plug into a water point. For this she pays 80 Nuevo Soles a month (£18; $27) a month.
Despite the gripes over cost, Ycella recognises that water is the bedrock of development for the community.
The struggle for development and the need to have resources like water to empower that development is not just on the minds of those in Nuevo Pachacutec.
An hour down the road in Lima itself, UN climate negotiators are struggling with that same dilemma. How to balance the burgeoning needs of a growing population, with the need to limit those same enriching activities because they threaten the future of the planet.
Osvaldo Caceres says that as in solving the water stresses of Nuevo Pachacutec, the climate battle can be won, by everyone playing their part now. It's no use passing the buck down the generations.
"Every actor in this chain must take responsibility for what they have to do," he says. "The governments, the authorities, and obviously the people, they all need to act."
"There is no other way."
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