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COP20 is a forum for regional green policies not just global climate targets

 

Indigenous Peoples in Peru

UN climate talks begin in Lima – on December 1, Monday – part of a region already badly hit by climate change. Photograph: Mariana Bazo/Reuters

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “COP20 is a forum for regional green policies not just global climate targets” was written by Julian Hunt in London and Joy Pereira in Kuala Lumpur, for theguardian.com on Monday 1st December 2014 09.25 UTC

 

The 2014 UN climate conference began on Monday in Latin America, a region where climate change is already having substantial impacts. The summit in Lima will not just be a chance to agree global climate targets, but will also present the opportunity to discuss regional green policies.

But, as usual, the former will get most prominence. This is not surprising as by the next climate conference in Paris in late 2015, the deadline will be up for the international community to agree a new global treaty based on targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Following the recent US-China announcement to reduce carbon emissions, there seems to be greater encouragement for other nations to present their own specific commitments.

But early indications suggest that at least some major emitting countries – such as Canada and Australia – will not make concrete commitments at Lima or indeed next year, despite universal agreement in Copenhagen in 2009 that policies should be directed towards limiting global average temperature rise by two degrees Celsius.

A climate deal would be more likely if governments based their policies and negotiations on October’s IPCC report, which concluded that at present rates of total emissions increase, the two degrees Celsius ambition will be exceeded. This judgement is based on objective review of scientific, technical and societal knowledge about climate change, and has been endorsed by government representatives following consensual UN decision making process.

However, since only English language publications were considered in writing the IPCC report, localised impacts of climate change can only be better understood if there are more local studies included in the future. Particularly pressing is research focusing on community-level inputs needed to identify how irreversible changes in the biosphere are developing. There needs to be much more focus on highly populated coastal and riverine regions where flooding and/or saline penetration of food growing areas will make these places increasingly uninhabitable.

In Latin America, the impacts of climate change in the region vary considerably between mountain communities where snow and glaciers are retreating, and those in the Amazon basin where variations in river flows are disrupting agriculture and wider economies. The health of millions of people migrating into growing urban areas in the region is at risk because of rising temperatures and air pollution, despite the rapid introduction of buses and other means of public transport. Around coastal areas, variations of ocean temperature are disrupting fisheries and wider industries.

Lima will therefore provide a valuable forum for the discussion of regional green policies, and the UN, national agencies, and regional expert networks will explore more effective ways of implementing green growth strategies.

Some middle income countries in Latin America and beyond are fulfilling pledges made in 2009 and have shown that economic growth is compatible with intensity of emissions falling. However, this comes at a cost where finite national resources – such as forestry and hydro power – have to be diverted from sustainable development initiatives.

The importance of Lima as a forum for discussion of green policies in Latin America is also underlined by the fact that net effects of climate change policy in the region are in the balance. On one hand, the promotion of biofuels to replace carbon and the mining of copper (which provides the essential ingredient of electrical networks for distributing low carbon electricity) contribute to the mitigation of emissions. But rainforests continue to be depleted, and the carbon released into the atmosphere due to this constitutes 15% of global emissions?

A key development here is the growth of innovative green programmes by local individuals, communities and businesses in developing regions, including Latin America. Examples of such schemes include efforts to reduce energy consumption by producing more goods locally – carbon emissions from shipping are now 15% of total global emissions and rising. Other programmes are based around creating new materials and efficient and environmentally-secure designs; such as new physico-chemical lighting, and composite bricks and walls to help cope with temperature extremes and frequent flooding.

 

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