COP20: A text without ambition to win over all countries

This story has been translated from French.
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EnvironmentGreen jobsClimate change

After two weeks of negotiations and 30 hours’ overtime in Lima, Peru, COP20 produced a limited text.

The overriding sentiment at the close of the final session, which ran into the early hours of Sunday, was that a compromise deal had been reached.

"It was emptied of all its substance so that each and every country would agree to sign it," underlined one of the delegates.

An illustration of the litany repeated by many speakers in the plenary session: "We cannot go away empty handed."

And so, one by one, the key elements of the text were taken out by COP20 President and Peruvian Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar Vidal.

In the absence of a clear schedule, a race against the clock has now begun for the signatory countries.

Each of them will have to present their "intended nationally-determined contributions" (INDC) towards reducing carbon emissions before November 2015.

But neither the boundary, the content nor the ways of assessing these projects have been defined.

Nor is there any idea where the financing will come from for the 100 billion dollars in annual aid to be received by developing countries as of 2020.

Only ten billion in pledges have been confirmed for this commitment dating back to 2009 in Copenhagen.

The only positive point is the reaffirmation of the "common but differentiated responsibility" principle, whereby developed countries acknowledge their historic responsibility for climate change.

With just a year to go to the Paris conference, the likelihood of reaching an agreement that would limit the rise in temperatures to two degrees Celsius – the threshold deemed dangerous by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) scientists – now seems like a real challenge.


Multinationals top the bill

French Environment, Sustainable Development and Energy Minister Ségolène Royal spoke to Equal Times in Lima about wanting to place "civil society at the heart of the debates through numerous events".

The same principle was reiterated by Manuel Pulgar Vidal and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at the last press conference given during the conference.

The French minister made reference on three occasions to the mobilisation of "towns and cities, regions, companies and non-governmental organisations".

Yet, according to civil society organisations, it is above all the corporations that are being given a voice.

"These negotiations are not for the people. They have no voice, unlike the multinationals, which are completely at home here," Pascoe Sabido, a researcher at the Corporate Europe Observatory, told Equal Times.

To draw attention to this, a protest was held against the COP20 side event sponsored by Chevron, at which a spokesperson from Shell was invited to speak.

"These two companies have an appalling record in terms of pollution. They have no place here. We should erect an iron curtain between them and our governments," concluded Sabido.

The European Union’s contribution was not any better, as revealed by the French daily Libération: "The meeting hosted by the European Union on ’How to finance the global climate agreement?’ speaks volumes. A technocrat, a banker, a Swedish financier and a company vice president (Alstom) spoke at length about the importance of market mechanisms and investment in decarbonised fuel to mitigate emissions."


Citizen mobilisation

"I do not feel represented by COP20. I need to make my voice heard, to defend my people, my land, my way of life," says Sixto, a member of the Paltas community in Ecuador, shouting loud and clearly at the protest held by the Cumbre de los Pueblos on 10 December, International Human Rights Day.

Like him, around 15,000 to 20,000 people travelled to Lima to try to breathe new life into these negotiations that seemed destined to fail.

Ruth Buendia, the head of the Central Ashaninka del Rio Ene, who received the Goldman Environment Prize this year, is unable to hide her disappointment. "We have barely been able to take part in the debates. It wasn’t for us and we have no hope that anything positive will come out of it for indigenous peoples," she says.

Her only consolation was that she was "able to voice the demands and needs of indigenous communities".

The same sorry conclusion is drawn by the trade unions.

"We have been working hard for several months, not only with our affiliates but with other organisations. The Peruvian unions have been really successful in mobilising their troops," underlines Ivan Gonzalez, policy coordinator for the Trade Union Confederation of the Americas (TUCA), after taking the podium at an event where indigenous leaders, students and non-governmental organisation presented their perspectives.

According to Anabella Rosemberg, Environment Officer for the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC): "We didn’t have very high hopes for Lima but the text is devoid of any ambition, not only environmental but social. There is absolutely no commitment from the states about the idea of a just transition, which the trade union movement has been supporting for a long time now."

Stéphane Aguitton, founding member of the alter-globalisation organisation ATTAC, concludes:

"We expect to see hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets in Paris. It’s the only way we can put pressure on the governments and make them understand that it is not the climate that has to change, it is society."