THE BLOG
12/02/2014 11:13 am ET Updated Feb 01, 2015

A Force Awakens

December 2015 seems so far away. I just can't wait that long. I need a little peek. A sense of what the final version will look like next year; the key elements of the story. But most importantly, I need to know - because I've been burned before - should I really pay attention and put my heart into it again? This time, are they really going to do it right?

At last, this week has arrived. The desert scene stretches out in front of us, and we start to get some answers. Like, will there be a strong ex ante review for INDCs?

Wait .... what?

Okay so, negotiations over a new global climate pact won't break the internet like the new Star Wars trailer. But maybe they should. We are now one year away from the deadline for a new agreement to slow the growing climate crisis. Here in the planet's second-largest desert city (Lima, Peru), the wonky world of the UN climate talks becomes dangerously real. Thanks to water shortages as the Andean glaciers disappear, Lima will begin to face water shortages as early as 2020. The warming, acidifying ocean at Lima's doorstep threatens the fishing industry that is so woven into the culture, and economy, of this ceviche capital of the world.

As local threats become more real to communities (I'm looking at you, Miami), one question is trending: How do we stop this? The answer has two parts. First, we can't. Not entirely. Our slow response over the past two decades - as our scientists have yelled themselves hoarse with warnings - means that there's a lot of danger ahead that we can't stop. But we can get ready. And I'm not talking about sandbags and rowboats. Communities can weave new data about what's coming into smarter city planning, early warning systems for severe storms, and measures to make shrinking water supplies go further. Poorer communities and countries need support to take this up, and fast.

But no one city, no single country - not even two countries as large as the US and China - can stop the runaway train we're on. And that train is headed toward a future so different from today that we can't adapt to it. To change course, we need all of us, acting together. The atmosphere doesn't read maps nor keep track of where pollution originates. So, part two of any plan is collective action.

And there's only one place where all of the nations of the world face each other across a (very big) table to work to shrink our collective carbon footprint. For the next two weeks, that place is Lima. The good news is that we arrive here with momentum. New pledges by the United States and China to cut climate pollution have put the spotlight on other countries, ahead of a March 2015 deadline for new targets for the Paris deal. Nearly $10 billion in initial finance for the new Green Climate Fund last weekend sent a positive signal that helping poorer countries will remain a key part of the talks.

Who will be the new stars?

Although I'm intrigued to see a septuagenarian fly the Millennium Falcon, the burning question is who are the new stars? Here in Lima, it could be Latin America itself, which as a whole is extremely vulnerable to climate disruption but also leading a new wave of climate action. Mexico passed one of the world's strongest climate laws, after hosting these negotiations in 2010. Two months ago, Chile enacted a carbon tax. Costa Rica has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2021. Both Peru and Colombia have pledged to end deforestation, their largest source of climate pollution, by the end of the decade. The list goes on.

Do. Or do not. There is no try.

Let's face it, even with recent political breakthroughs, the aftertaste from Copenhagen lingers. Few have faith that a strong deal in Paris is likely. So what needs to happen in Lima to show the world that this time things can be different? In short, governments need to prove that they aren't just trying to reach any old agreement in Paris, but are focused on protecting their people. That means an agreement that doesn't just add up whatever pledges countries put on the table and call it good. If there is a gap between those commitments and a path to a safer future, tell us the truth, own up to it. And then work together to close that gap. In Lima, we need a first draft of that kind of agreement. Without it, we won't get what we need in Paris.

A Force Awakens

In the streets of New York two months ago, a new force awoke. Our leaders saw that we were paying attention. So don't stop now. In Lima, our sisters and brothers from Latin America will keep the flame burning with another climate march. And you can join a worldwide vigil - Light for Lima - next week to stand with others around the globe calling for a good outcome here.

A strong climate pact in Paris is possible, but it must start in a desert city, far, far away.

Stay tuned...