Economic differences bog down climate change negotiations in Lima

Developed nations have donated just 10% of the target amount for the Green Climate Fund

Ban Ki-moon (right) and COP President Manuel Pulgar.
Ban Ki-moon (right) and COP President Manuel Pulgar.C. BOURONCLE / AFP

The climate change conference in Lima is nearing its end without an agreement being reached as questions arise about who gives the most money, when and how.

The fight against climate change has already become – like almost everything else – an economic issue that divides and pits rich countries against poor nations. Developed countries have promised to provide financial assistance to poorer states through the Green Climate Fund as a way of acknowledging the fact that they bear most of the responsibility. But they are still far from meeting that commitment. The $10 billion agreed upon accounts for just 10 percent of the target amount of $100 billion per year starting in 2020.

The air of optimism with which the conference began is dissipating as the days pass

Leaders and delegates from 195 countries arrived in the Peruvian capital on Tuesday to try to move forward on negotiations, or sign off on a new failure. The meetings were held in a military building that had been turned into an engine of the anti-climate change machine – but one that just couldn’t seem to get started. As the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) enters its final phase, its goal – which is far from for being achieved – is to lay down the foundations for a global agreement to be signed in 2015 in Paris. The new pact will replace the obsolete Kyoto Protocol.

After listening to the science, participants assumed it was time for the politics but now the air of optimism with which the conference began is dissipating as the days pass. The economic debate has slowed the momentum that the talks picked up after the United States and China, the world’s largest polluters, announced a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. “We have to define the manner in which to obtain those $100 billion. I urge developed countries to meet and exceed that target,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said after his arrival at the conference.

Participants and perspectives

- G-20: Industrialized nations, major emitters of greenhouse gases. Some of them have already donated funds to help developing countries.

- Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC): China, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela, among others. These nations have large reserves of fossil fuels and are critical of developed countries. They represent about 50 percent of the global population.

- Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS): The countries most affected by climate change. They ask the conference to provide urgent measures to guarantee their survival.

- Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC): Its goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. This group includes Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, Colombia, Chile and Peru.

Different views on the same problem:

- Some countries consider that investing in mitigating or reducing greenhouse gas emissions is the priority in order to lower costs and long-term damage. According to these nations, each government should decide how its country adapts to the effects of climate change.

- Countries and communities affected by the adverse effects of global warming, however, say that financial assistance should focus on adaptation, meaning on contributing to reducing the immediate impact of the problem.

- The executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres, supports the carbon tax, a fee based on measurable and legal carbon emissions.

- Think tanks and research centers in Asia, Europe and the United States say it is impossible to fight emissions without fighting poverty at the same time.

No one in Lima wants to repeat the spectacular failure of the last sessions. But there is still no clear way of resolving the opposing viewpoints. “The developed ones are the major culprits of climate change. We, the developing countries, are being used as a pretext so the big ones can keep doing the same thing since we established this sham of a negotiation,” Bolivian President Evo Morales said in a fiery speech delivered before the plenary meeting.

Most political leaders have distanced themselves from the Bolivian president’s words in their remarks, looking instead toward the “hope” of successfully redirecting negotiations. Yet Morales’ comments highlight a situation that no one dares to hide any more. “Developing countries will not accept an agreement that does not include rich countries’ commitment to fulfill their promise to give $100 billion. Developed countries, on the other hand, are pushing to remove any reference in the final text that would commit them to giving financial assistance to the poor ones,” Oxfam said in a statement.

NGOs have already done their own evaluations and are questioning the target amount for the fund. International subsidies to fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, carbon) are worth $600 billion per year, six times more than the target amount for the Green Climate Fund. Santiago Lorenzo, head of Green Finance at the World Wildlife Fund, said that meeting the $100 billion target would “improve morale” in talks between countries, though that amount would only be “minimal” support given the actual needs of the planet. No one disputes the claims that the consequences would be catastrophic if worldwide temperatures increase by two degrees, and that poor countries are the most vulnerable to the impact global warming has already had. The problem is how and who will pay the bill.

Translation: Dyane Jean François