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High Hopes and Challenges at the UN Climate Conference (COP20) in Lima

High Hopes and Challenges at the UN Climate Conference (COP20) in Lima

As you may have seen on various social media, delegates from nearly 200 countries have been gathered in Lima, Peru over the past two weeks for the 20th session of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP20). Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, opened the proceedings on December 1st by warning, “2014 is likely to be the hottest year on record and emissions continue to rise. We must act with urgency.”

The urgency for the delegates is clear. The next big climate summit will be at the end of 2015 in Paris. That is seen as the last chance for an international agreement which would avoid the 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of temperature increase that scientists say would enable us to dodge the worst effects of global warming.

So, we are excited to see what nations and organizations attending COP20 specifically propose to do to cut their emissions before the 2015 meeting. Ms. Figueres challenged the participants to outline the technical processes behind their proposals, and explain how they’re going to build capacity and finance the work.

And finally, the implication is that next December, participating countries will to ready to sign an agreement creating a new universal UN-backed treaty, updating the 1997 Kyoto Protocol agreement.

This is certainly a tall order, but people around the world are hopeful. Sure, we can expect contention, hedging and finger pointing, but there is reason to be optimistic. Hopefully the recent agreement between the U.S. and China to start taking climate actions, together with the European Union’s recent plan to reduce emissions by 40% from 1990 levels, will put greater pressure on other countries like India, Russia, Brazil, Japan, Australia and Canada to make meaningful commitments of their own.

And in the wake of the Lima conference, there will still be a host of challenging issues that need attention. Among them are: how to deal with loss and damage associated with climate change impacts – especially in areas where these impacts are already occurring. And of course, how these actions and commitments will be funded is an ongoing discussion. Though the Green Climate Fund met its $10 billion dollar goal, there are still questions about how these funds will be used or disbursed.

There have been a lot of UN climate-related summits over the years, but this one could be different, both because of its urgency, and because there are real possibilities for measurable accomplishments. Acknowledging the urgency and keeping the pressure on, Christiana Figueres said, “We must stimulate ever-increasing action on the part of all stakeholders to scale up the scope and accelerate the solutions that move us all forward, faster.”

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