Al Gore, Alex White and the Peruvian Irish - Wednesday at the Lima climate talks, by John Sweeney
Posted by John Sweeney on December 10, 2014 at 11:25 PM
In the aftermath of the disaster that was the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 (COP15 in the jargon, the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN climate treaty), there were those that thought the COP meetings would gradually dwindle to insignificance as austerity and powerful vested interests conspired to de-prioritize concerns about climate change in many developed countries. Increased awareness of the appalling human costs of extreme events in the developing world and of the major economic impacts of such events in the developed world have however resurrected sensitivities. This has been further heightened by the growing scientific evidence of the IPCC and the championing of aspects such as climate justice by enlightened individuals such as Ireland’s Mary Robinson. European leadership during the dark days was also important in sustaining the faltering steps of international efforts such as the Kyoto Protocol. As the COP meetings of recent years have built an architecture which may yet lead to a comprehensive global agreement next year, so also have the annual meetings become foci for increased activity.
Some 10,700 participants are now present at COP20 and the logistics of catering for such numbers are proving resilient, robust and sustainable, a vocabulary more often used in the negotiations themselves. Keeping track of what’s happening can be difficult given the multiplicity of side events taking place apart from the negotiations themselves. If you blinked yesterday you might have missed politicians like John Kerry, Segolene Royal, or senior IPCC people like Rajenda Pachauri, Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, EU Commissioners and Ambassadors or a host of people whose names rang bells but were interesting to see in the flesh wandering around. Fortunately, several hundred people did not miss an inspirational lunchtime lecture by Al Gore. As someone frequently accused of ‘powerpoint overload’, I could but marvel at his polished and professional presentation of amazing animations and graphics which brought the audience to their feet in large numbers at the end of the hour.
The day was also the day for national politicians to present their report cards to the world community. Since Minister Kelly had a few local problems connected with water, Minister Alex White was dispatched to bat for Ireland. Although it was disappointing that some of the damage to Ireland’s international reputation from its failure to pledge a contribution to the Green Climate Fund could not be publicly undone, it was clear that the Minister did not have a mandate to do so, and in a meeting beforehand he was supportive of suggestions to look into the matter, as well as taking on board concerns regarding the inadequacies of the soon-to-be-published Climate Bill. Despite a large number of agreed recommendations for this Bill emanating from the Oireachtas Environment Committee, only a few appear to have survived Minister Hogan’s tenure of the Department. Key amendments are clearly necessary if it is not to prove an ineffective instrument in tackling Ireland’s current likely failure to comply with its long agreed international obligations.
Lima has a small but active Irish community and the Irish Chamber of Commerce here hosted a reception for their Irish visitors. Even after 30 plus years in Peru, the Galway or Donegal accents were still strong and as with all migrant groups, awareness of what was happening in the country they still called home was impressive. Held on the 21st floor of a luxury hotel in the upmarket suburb of Miraflores, the contrast for those of us staying elsewhere in the poorer parts of city where it is not safe to venture outside after dark was a reminder of just how big the contrasts in affluence can be in this city of 10 million people.
As to the negotiations themselves, the hardened media people refer to Thursday as ‘Deadlock Day’. One suspects sometimes the stories change little regarding this day from year to year as ‘make your mind up time’ for the negotiators draws near. Already there are ominous signs that Friday will stretch into Saturday and even beyond as arguments continue over wordings and ‘bracketed’ clauses. Leaving countries to indicate their INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) by spring next year inevitably provides for everyone making themselves a special case (rather like Ireland at the 2030 EU negotiations). The early indications, however, are that while an agreement may eventually emerge, it will be unlikely to be adequate to achieve the desired objective of avoiding dangerous climate change. But it may provide some breathing time for the planet.