Beyond the headlines: What’s actually happening at the UNFCCC COP20

We’re now well into the first week of the UN climate talks in Lima, Peru, where governments are negotiating a new global climate treaty to be adopted next year in Paris. On the face of it, you’d think that change is in the air.

The global climate marches in September, the commitments to curb emissions from the big three (the EU, US and China), public pressure in Peru - including from our own Oxfam activists - and the fact that the new UN climate fund almost met its initial fundraising target all seem to have given the negotiations the push they need. The media for the most part, have taken a positive view of the start of the negotiations too but how are things actually going so far in the conference?

Draft climate treaty text

The host country kicked things off by throwing down a challenge, saying  they hope the outcome of the next two weeks will be an actual draft text for the Paris climate treaty. It’s great that Peru is upping the ante but it’s hugely ambitious to think that in two weeks countries will be able to iron out enough of their differences to settle on an actual draft text.

What’s needed from these Lima talks is a common format for each country’s commitment in the new agreement, standardising what they will look like when they are put forward in a few months time. This may sound like a formality but it’s hugely important if we are to avoid a hodgepodge of offers – with different baselines against which to reduce emissions and end-years for doing so, and a varying scope of what to include in these pledges. Eventually, we need to be able to add all these commitments up to calculate how far they take us towards the overall goal of avoiding dangerous climate change.

The implications of a weak agreement that puts us in a world where temperatures increase by 3.5 degrees celsius (which is what we are on track for at the moment) would have devastating implications for the poorest people on the front lines of climate change - making it infinitely more difficult and costly for them to protect themselves from climate chaos.  If there is to be any chance of pressuring governments to improve their offers after Lima, we need their commitments to be comparable, so those who are dragging their feet can be easily identified and called out.

Climate finance

Another important issue that is the cause of much disagreement here at the talks is climate finance. Rich countries are doing their best to avoid the question of how poorer nations will be supported under the new treaty. This is especially unfair given that this time around even the poorest countries are being asked to commit to reduce emissions - without the corresponding assurance that the support they need for this will be delivered. This is a bit like asking someone to climb a ladder then knocking it out from under their feet.

Developed countries are playing hardball, saying that the recent Green Climate Fund (GCF) pledges (hardly any of which is new money) is all that developing countries are going to get, with no further clarity how rich countries are going to ramp up support to poor countries to the promised $100 billion a year by 2020. Some developed countries have even threatened to veto the whole thing if they are asked to make financial commitments as part of the new climate treaty!

Why we’re here at COP20

With such crucial policy decisions being made, Oxfam is here in Lima to take our campaign for climate justice straight to the heart of decision making. In our curtain raiser report, we’ve called for three key things:

  • An agreement which is ambitious enough to be a turning point in curbing runaway climate change
  • Each country doing its fair share to stay within the shrinking global carbon budget
  • The promised climate finance to flow to where it is needed  

Governments need to make headway on all three points here in Lima if next year’s climate summit in Paris, where the new treaty is to be signed, isn’t going to be another disaster like the last attempt to craft a global climate deal five years ago in Copenhagen.  If we’re going to limit the impact of climate change, we need to see action now.


What you can do

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UN Climate Conference in Lima: what's happening and why it really matters - by Frank Boeren, Country Director of Oxfam Peru

Climate change is not just about the climate, it is about our lives - by Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam International Executive Director

With the press? Get your COP20 Daily Download here.

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