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23rd Feb 2019

Why are climate-conscious Europeans gathering in Lima?

  • The climate conference is being held at a military complex in Lima (Photo: UNclimatechange)

What do European commissioner Miguel Arias Canete, Dutch member of the EU parliament Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, and – possibly – British actress Emma Watson have in common?

They are all Europeans that are expected to attend the international climate change conference that started on Monday (1 December) in the Peruvian capital Lima.

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Watson has yet to confirm, but Peru's prime minister Ana Jara forced Watson's hand by announcing on Monday that the actress, known for her role in the Harry Potter films, had been invited.

US actor Leonardo DiCaprio and former US vice-president Al Gore, will also attend at some point during the two-week event, which is meant to produce the “foundation” of an international climate agreement to be signed in Paris in December 2015.

They are just five of the 15,000 negotiators, participants and observers expected to attend to the event so large, that it has to be held at a military complex. It is the twentieth so-called Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP.

The third COP, held in Japan in 1997, is most famous for producing the Kyoto Protocol. That treaty, which was not universally ratified, aimed at reducing emissions until 2012. A follow-up treaty is yet to be agreed.

The non-binding agreement that came out of the 15th COP in Copenhagen (2009) was widely regarded as a disappointment.

But optimism is slowly returning to those who hope for a new treaty that will curb the world's emission of greenhouse gases, which is increasing the rate the global temperature rises.

In the six weeks before the conference started, several large economies, including the EU, have announced how they want to address climate change after 2020.

“We are in a much more mature place, compared to before Copenhagen”, a senior commission official told EUobserver days before the Lima summit started.

Momentum, is the word on everyone's lips.

“Copenhagen was a complete failure and we needed a few years after that to recover”, Liberal MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy told this website.

Gerbrandy is going as an observer. He expects to find “a more positive atmosphere” in Lima. “You see that the momentum is coming back to do something against climate change.”

The opening plenary session of the COP took place on Tuesday (2 December) with opening statements by representatives of countries - a good deal of them ignoring the co-chair's advice to “please avoid general statements”.

But the second week, starting on Monday (8 December), is more interesting and politically important, when most of the negotiations on ministerial level will take place.

The framework of the Paris agreement should be set up and the Lima negotiators should decide on the format of the national contributions to fight climate change, so that pledges can be compared and added up.

What went wrong in Copenhagen?

What went wrong in Copenhagen according to Gerbrandy? "In Copenhagen, you had a few giants walking around, like China, Brazil, India, the US, and then 28 dwarfs - the 27 member states we had then, plus the European Commission - running around."

Gerbrandy: “The EU has to speak with one voice”.

That voice, according to the European Commission, is going to be the fast-speaking voice of Miguel Arias Canete.

However, the EU's commissioner for energy and climate action will not be the only EU voice. He will be joined by the Italian minister for environment Gian Luca Galletti, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

In addition, there will be the ministers of environment or their representatives of the other 27 EU member states present at the conference, which is held at the Peruvian Army Headquarters, known locally by its nickname Pentagonito, or little Pentagon.

Gerbrandy is one of twelve MEPs that will go to Lima. The delegation includes four members of the conservative group EPP and three of the socialist group. Maybe a few too many deputies, Gerbrandy admits.

The MEPs are after all not in Lima to represent European citizens, only to observe.

The European Commission is not worried that 'running dwarfs' will produce conflicting negotiating strategies. “The EU has a solid tradition of what lines to take”, the senior commission official said. Every morning there is an EU coordination meeting.

“Lima will be his first big test”, MEP Gerbrandy said of commissioner Canete. The Liberal notes that the one month that the Spanish politician is now in office, is short for a substantial judgement.

And although Canete was “strong” in his hearing in front of the parliament, Gerbrandy “found him less convincing” during the plenary debate in Strasbourg which was held ahead of the Lima conference.

Canete told MEPs on Wednesday (26 November) that “progress in Lima will be crucial to success in Paris”, in a speech which he read rather hastily.

“It's obvious that it's a topic that he cannot speak [on] without his notes yet. He will need time for that”, said Gerbrandy.

But in theory, Canete has what it takes to be a good negotiator.

“You need experience, persistence and you need to be persuasive. Sometimes you have to be able to be a bully. I think he has all those characteristics.”

One of the things that Canete will have to convince his counterparts of, is that the EU wants a “more nuanced approach” to the distinction between developed and developing countries. Under the Kyoto Protocol, for example China was still a developing country.

The EU wants "legally binding mitigation targets" for each country, the Commission's Elina Bardram said in Lima according to the Guardian.

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