12/10/2014 8:15:39 PM

Report from COP 20: Understanding What Makes These Talks Tick

Christopher J. Carter reports from the COP 20 climate change talks in Lima, where he is representing PBI. 

It seems counter-intuitive to fly to South America to sit in a military installation to negotiate climate change action, but so it goes in the world of the United Nations Climate Change negotiation process.

As a delegate of Polar Bears International and the Youth Arctic Coalition, I am following the 198 parties of the convention into negotiation rooms in Lima this week for the 20th meeting of parties (COP 20). Their task is to prepare a draft text for Advancing the Durban Platform (ADP), with a goal of creating a binding agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions. 

As an advocate for Arctic environments and self-determinism of its people amidst rapid change, my interest is to understand what makes these talks tick, why it has taken so long to reach a binding agreement, and why this year matters more than previous years. 

We understand what is at stake for the Arctic and worldwide ecosystems and why action at the highest political level matter, but entering the complex of circus-like tents, portable buildings, and hundreds of negotiators from around the world in suits of all makes and models it is easy to lose sight.

Entering negotiation sessions is like taking a dive into an alphabet soup with acronyms like INDCS, LDS, SIDS, and the ADP flying through the air. Lost yet? With dialogue focused on responsibilities of the developed (generally big greenhouse gas emitters) and the developing (generally low greenhouse gas emitters) world, it is hard to see where the Arctic is represented. Do the hundreds of negotiators and organizations present know the rate of change that the Arctic's 13 million residents and delicate sea ice habitats are undergoing?

The goal is to have a draft binding agreement ready for COP 21 in Paris; this will have a positive impact on Arctic regions. A rise in two degrees centigrade from preindustrial levels is at the core of the mitigation negotiations. Crossing this threshold represents a threat to climate-driving sea ice, polar bear populations, and human settlements.

While climate negotiations at this level have been ongoing for decades, it is easy to become disenfranchised as the talks have yet to produce any effective binding agreements. However, a binding agreement at this level will set the tone at the highest scale and will reaffirm that nations around the world take climate change mitigation and action seriously.

As of today, high level dialogues have begun. With China and the United States, the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters, at the table for the first time in years, ambitious action is possible. As now full rooms of negotiators review and discuss documents line by line, make positions known, and critique words like "shall" and "should" for hours, the pace is slow, but hopefully steady.

As an observer, I have done a lot of watching, listening, and learning. I have however, been able to offer a few small insights in climate adaptation working groups with the Congress of Indigenous Peoples and Small Island Developing States, namely around social vulnerability and UNDRIP best practices amidst climate change in coastal regions. They are working to develop robust language around consent and human rights protection around impact in the Advancing the Durban Platform (Mitigation) and the Nairobi Work Plan (Adaptation). Learning from these groups and watching the negotiations, I hope to walk away with an understanding of how people find shared value and make good climate action policy.

At smaller scales, cities, researchers, designers, families, and individuals have been making major contributions to keeping polar regions cool, especially in the resource-consuming global north. While I opted for a lift to Lima Peru in a 757 aircraft (last minute) over a multi-month bike tour (preferred) what I am learning about how policy is crafted and the power paradigms at play in terms of representation is very informative. In a time of rapid change in the Arctic, a timely agreement at this level to curb warming and funding adaptation counts.

You can get involved, too. Polar bears can't walk to the climate change talks in Lima this December to ask for help. You can speak up for them by signing our Petition for Polar Bears. Help us reach our goal of 25,000 signatures—we're at 20,000 now!

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