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Shedding Light on Lima: The Recent Climate Talks and the Urgency of 2015

Shedding Light on Lima: The Recent Climate Talks and the Urgency of 2015

By the Rev. Fletcher Harper and Paul Kaufman

For most of us, understanding the United Nations climate change negotiations is like trying to read an unknown foreign language in the dark.  In an effort to shed light on the process, we’ll share brief reflections on last week’s UN meetings in Lima, where Fletcher represented OurVoices, the international, multi-faith campaign for a strong climate agreement.

See 8 short videos – one for each night of Hanukkah – linking climate change to the holiday.

UN Atmosphere and Local Color

It’s an amazing experience to be at major United Nations meetings. The feeling of global community is real and there’s a wonderful diversity of voices present, from high level government officials (Fletcher heard John Kerry speak at a press conference) to well-dressed corporate lobbyists, UN technocrats, and grassroots activists.  In Lima, the faith community was not well represented.  Of all the traditions, Christianity was the most visible, with little Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist presence. Towards the end of the talks, a group of Catholic bishops, primarily from the global south, issued a strong statement calling for decisive action on climate change.

Lima itself is a city of 9 million, on the coast with a mountainous backdrop. The city is sprawling.  Traffic is unbelievably heavy. Smog is ever-present. Peru as a whole is an amazingly ecologically diverse country. In addition to part of the Amazon jungle and its related bio- and cultural diversity, the country is home to 70% of the world’s tropical glaciers, which are rapidly shrinking. Its coastal fisheries are among the world’s richest, and are also threatened by climate change. I spoke with the Anglican Bishop of Peru, who told me about an 80,000 person town at an altitude of 18,000 feet in the heart of the Andes where lead poisoning is rampant due to its unmonitored use in mining operations.  The rich-poor gap is huge.

Understanding the UN Talks

Each year, government representatives meet at UN-sponsored talks in search of a meaningful climate deal. After a devastating failure at Copenhagen in 2009, momentum has built towards reaching an international agreement at the UN meetings in Paris in December 2015.

This makes next year decisively important. To stabilize the climate below a disastrous level of temperature rise, governments must reach a strong treaty next December. Such an agreement will leave much to be done.  It will not be a cure-all. But if our leaders don’t make strong commitments in Paris, we are essentially guaranteeing a catastrophe for coming generations, while undermining confidence that our international institutions can meet the climate crisis.

There’s a great deal at stake.

Voluntary Commitments and Closing the Emissions Gap

At Lima, it became clear how the world’s governments plan to move towards Paris. By late spring, governments will submit voluntary emissions reduction commitments, allowing a global tally to take place. These commitments will not approach the level needed to stabilize the world’s climate.  There will be a substantial gap between what’s needed and what will be volunteered.

A process has been set up within the UN negotiations to try to close this gap. The results of this process will determine the strength of the agreement. The tensions in the negotiations during 2015 will reflect the difficulties that this parallel process poses. One initial tension is that language supporting funds for a “just transition” from a fossil fuel to a clean energy economy was dropped from the treaty language in Lima, endangering the well-being of large numbers of workers whose jobs will inevitably be relocated or eliminated as economies shift.

The urgency of the climate crisis and growing public pressure, exemplified by the People’s Climate March, have awakened hundreds of millions of people to the need for action. But to save a healthy and safe future, we need to do much more.

During 2015, I urge us all to make a commitment to become involved in OurVoices. As people of diverse spiritual and religious backgrounds, we must make the case repeatedly, with compassion and moral firmness, that we must act now to protect the future of life.  Sign the OurVoices call to action.  Please join this growing campaign.

The Rev. Fletcher Harper (left) is Executive Director of GreenFaith and Coordinator of OurVoices.net. Paul Kaufman (right) is GreenFaith’s Director of Advocacy and a member of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism. This is the first blog in a two-part series on the UN conference in Lima and looking towards the Paris conference in 2015.






Published: 12/23/2014

Categories: Social Justice