Inside the Lima Climate Change Summit: 5 Reasons to Be Hopeful

The United Nations just concluded environmental conference COP20, and it might actually result in change for the better

Thousands of protesters participate in the Peoples Climate March in Lima, Peru, where UN conference COP-20 recently took place and left many feeling hopeful Credit: EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images

For two weeks in December, Lima, Peru, normally a city known for its amazing Ceviche, insane traffic and great surfing, became ground zero in the fight against climate change as 10,000 government officials, UN staffers, environmentalists and others gathered to start pulling together a new global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This United Nation’s summit, known as COP20 (the UN loves acronyms) is more important than many past talks because this is the last big show before the great big show scheduled for this time next year in Paris, France. At the Paris climate change summit (COP21), heads of State from all over the world will be expected to show up and sign on the bottom line to lock in a new long-term global carbon reduction agreement.

1) People Marching in Street

Marching in New York with 400,000 of your closest friends is one thing, but marching in the streets of Lima under the heavy eye of armed military really is next-level activism. On the second Wednesday of the Lima negotiations, more than 10,000 South Americans marched through the traffic-choked streets of Lima to call for climate action. According to 350.org this was the largest climate march in the history of South America. One negotiator I talked to in Lima told me that the main obstacle to getting a deal done is not a technical one – everyone at the table knows what needs to be done. What is missing is the political will, and the largest climate march ever in South America is a great start.

2) No More Carbon After 2050

This is a biggie, and as of Sunday when the Lima COP concluded, the "Elements for a draft negotiating text" still contains one line that should give everyone a feeling of hope that the world will come together in Paris and we will see a meaningful agreement. The line reads simply that the world will aim for "zero net emissions by 2050.” Whether this succinct but powerful statement remains in the final text, we may not know until the last night of talks in Paris. It is a line worth watching closely over the coming months.

3) Obama’s $3 Billion Dollar Move

Just prior to the Lima climate talks, President Obama announced that the United States would pony up $3 billion towards the Green Climate Fund (GCF) – this fund is part of the UN climate negotiations and its purpose is to help developing nations move to a renewable energy economy, instead of one powered by coal and oil. Historically, funding to developing nations has been a key sticking point in climate negotiations; on more than one occasion delegations representing developing nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America have gotten up and walked away from the negotiating room, refusing to participate if the issue of financing is not taken seriously.

President Obama’s $3 billion dollar commitment gave the Lima climate talks momentum on the financing issue and saw a wave of new commitments from other Northern hemisphere countries. Even total laggards like Canada and Australia announced GCF commitments of $300 million and $200 million, respectively. Not nearly enough for the oil giant to the North and the coal barons down under, but it’s a start. All in all, the GCF now stands at $10 billion in commitments, which is nothing to sneeze at, but still a long way from the $100 billion that countries had agreed was their goal.

4) Tuning Out the Deniers

Climate deniers have long tried to create a circus sideshow at UN climate events. This year, when the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) – a well-oiled, highly funded fossil fuel stink tank – showed up, barely anyone engaged. Only two journalists were at their press conference, and one of them was even caught on tape making the outrageous claim that “delegates from poor nations are showing up to the international climate accords just so they collect a per diem and take a vacation with their families.” And so the climate deniers were a bit of freakshow this time around in Lima and garnered only negative attention. We just need to be careful and remember that they’re still out there, they’re still getting paid and they’re actively working on their next attack.

5) Divestment Movement Has Fossil Fuel Companies Running Scared

Even though fossil fuel companies are publicly dissing divestment with a dismissive wave of the hand, behind closed doors the growing movement seems to be making them nervous. In Lima, there was to be a panel, sponsored by Shell called “Why Divest From Fossil Fuels When a Future With Low-Emission Fossil Energy Use Is Already a Reality?” Except, it never came to be. After catching wind that divestment advocates were going to protest the event, the organizers changed the panel to the more innocuous “How Can We Reconcile Climate Targets With Energy Demand Growth?” And it’s not just in Lima that fossil fuel powers are getting defensive about divestment. In Australia, two universities that announced plans to divest were met with threats of legal action. ExxonMobil’s VP of government affairs called divestment “simply...out of step with reality.”

Expect to see more and more defensive maneuvering, as divestment becomes an even more formidable force. On February 13th, divestment advocates around the world will celebrate the first ever Global Divestment Day.

So coming out of these talk in Lima, do I remain hopeful? I do, as do many people I know who are involved in these global climate negotiations. Hope is the key, because with it people from around the world will continue to fight and put the necessary pressure on political leaders to do the right thing.