GBM Blog

Reflections on COP20 in Lima: A Call to Action

January 6, 2015 - 03:20PM
Published by Emanuela Piccolo

This blog was writtend by Francesca de Gasparis, GBMI-Europe Consultant.


The Annual Climate Change Conference (COP20) is over, and there has been a lot of press this week about outcome and the Lima Call to Climate Action. After very good news for climate action in recent months: the US - China agreement and the UN Climate Summit in September, COP20 did not lived up to expectations. Achieving a binding agreement by Paris next year in order to prevent runaway climate change later this century is looking far less likely than when we arrived in Lima at the end of November. There are a number of good articles and analyses of what the Lima agreement impact will be.

Climate Change COPs are a fascinating mix of contradictions: an interplay of vested interests, monied grand top-down visions, shiny new ideas, speaking truth to power, civil society actions, and of course the ongoing international negotiations on how to reach a fair, legally binding and ambitious climate deal. I had not been to a “COP” for two years, so from my perspective this COP in Lima had some interesting developments, things had moved on, even if the science tells us not nearly far enough...

The COP in Lima was smaller than previous ones, though still enormous by conference standards with over 10,000 people attended, and I felt that the commitment to do something is far more tangible, if not in the final outcome of the government negotiations than definitely in the many associated sessions. However, in the effort to do something, human rights abuses are featuring far too highly. A number of projects focussed on protecting standing forests are also being accused of human rights abuses against indigenous peoples living in the forests. While the COP host, Peru, announced a new initiative providing $300M to protect forests in September as a part of the Bonn Challenge, that same month three men were killed trying to protect their forests after a ten year battle to have land rights recognised in Saweto. 

Their widows spoke powerfully at the COP about the challenges they have faced. In Peru alone, 57 forest activists have died since negotiations on climate change began in 1992. These tragic events highlight one of the most compelling issues facing the global community when we try to tackle climate change, how do we ensure we reach those in greatest need of support, who are actively trying to protect and restore their forests, and who stand at the frontline of climate change? Like the rural women in Kenya who the Green Belt Movement works alongside. These women depend directly on the forest, like over two billion others worldwide, for fuel wood, water, fodder for their livestock. Unless their primary needs are met as we strive to reduce deforestation, then we will not be changing their dependency and human rights violations will continue.

From GBM’s perspective it does not have to be a choice between people or forest, and with climate change already being felt in Africa and many parts of the world, it is an issue of climate justice that we ensure people receive the resources, information and support they need to adapt to climate change. GBM makes a compelling argument for rural women to be at the centre of our climate change response in its latest climate change report. Many speakers at COP20 spoke of how deforestation remains a massive driver of climate change with up to 20% of global emissions coming from deforestation. However in the shadows of COP20, as with all the COPs, not formally invited to attend COP, are corporate interests. In reality, power and money still lies mainly in the hands of men in suits, and ultimately the success of the climate change negotiations lies in how the balance of power and resources start to shift to a more equitable and sustainable future. In Kenya, there is a lot of hope for the newly devolved county government which will allow for investment at a jurisdictional level in climate action plans and an integrated landscape approach. So while an ambitious binding agreement on climate change remains desperately needed, action is already happening in many places around the world that cannot wait for governments to provide leadership.

Another development at the COP, since I last attended is the inclusion of language around gender equality, recognising officially in Doha that women are disproportionately affected by climate change, and not represented sufficiently at decision making tables. I witnessed some of the government negotiations discussing gender language and how it almost was derailed at the last minute by a lack of consensus, however Mexico with its strong history of gender equality, managed to find language that was accepted by all. This was in a nutshell the challenge of consensus building with 196 countries represented government representatives try to compromise while maintaining their sovereignty and national interests.

Also new is the Green Climate Fund, which managed to reach its minimum threshold of $10 billion at COP20, and while this is good news, like most COP news it still falls hugely short of what is needed- $100 billion per annum has been agreed is needed to address climate change. So, yes there is definitely a call to action that has come from Lima from governments to themselves to raise their ambitions and get serious about addressing climate change.

On a more positive note, COPs draw interested participants from around the world, which results in a seemingly endless calendar of events, parallel sessions, press conferences, and protests. Often three, four or more of equally interesting and important events occur at once. As an NGO attendee or “observer” pacing yourself is a part of the challenge, our aim was to be able to attend as many events as possible going on day and nights. GBM does not follow the negotiations as closely as some policy NGOs who attend and record all of the open sessions and help ensure text that relates to expert policy and legal information on the issue being agreed. Our aim at COPs is to track outcomes in our areas of interests: reduced emissions from degradation and deforestation (REDD) - the UNFCCC’s main effort to reduce deforestation in developing nations, gender and adaptation (including loss and damage).

We aim to share our experiences of implementing climate finance projects at the grassroots, for example in our report from 2011 we looked at what impacts forest carbon funding has had on communities and forests in Kenya. In our 2014 report, we explain how we focus on building climate resilience in communities through an integrated landscape approach. We show that if communities, and particularly rural women, are empowered to make informed decisions about their forest and watershed resources, and can create sustainable livelihoods with clean energy options than funding mean to support people, forests and climate actions can be effective.

One of the great opportunities of COPs is to meet with partners and learn about what others are doing to address climate change now. At COP20 there were a number of impressive initiatives launched, including the 20x20 initiative by World Resources Institute (WRI). We are excited to be exploring new projects with WRI and Sustainable Tropics Alliance. We share a commitment that for there to be a net gain for climate initiatives, human rights need to be at the centre of our efforts. Studies have shown that indigenous peoples and local communities are often best place to protect forests. Ensuring forests are recognised for their true value as ecosystems and life sources for those who live in and around them means not commoditizing them.