There were only ever modest expectations of the latest round of UNFCCC talks, but wracked with distrust and bad faith, the negotiations failed to meet even these. Halfway along the road to Paris, and in a year when the impacts of climate change have never been more obvious, this does not bode well. However, there were a few faint signs of progress and hope. Here’s a look at where some key issues stand in the aftermath of Warsaw.
Mitigation (emissions reductions)
On mitigation, the main expectation for COP19 was to move forward on the content of the 2015 agreement, in particular to define a path on how parties’ obligations are to be determined, and also to make progress on pre-2020 ambition. However, results were few and far between.
Parties decided to “initiate or intensify” domestic preparations for their post-2020 “intended nationally determined contributions”. Essentially, countries are being asked to do their homework. The last-minute replacement of the word “commitments” in favour of “contributions” leaves open questions about both the legal character of the obligations, and the nature of differentiation between countries. Countries agreed to announce their intended contributions “well in advance” of COP21, and “by the first quarter of 2015 for those in a position to do so.”
The issue of differentiation – or burden-sharing – was left unresolved; a proposal by Brazil for differentiation on the basis of historical responsibility gained some political traction early on in the talks, but was quickly ruled out by developed countries. A hoped-for pledge-and-review mechanism also did not materialise. Parties delayed a decision on what information countries have to provide when putting forward their contributions until next year’s negotiations in Lima. The agreement seems to be on track for a purely “bottom-up” arrangement where states delineate the extent and nature of their contributions.
With parties meant to complete a negotiating text for 2015 agreement at COP20 in Lima, there is a lot of work ahead in the March, June and December meetings of the ADP – the body tasked with coming up with an agreement in 2015.
In addition, there was no concrete outcome on pre-2020 ambition. We still have a huge emissions gap to fill to stay within a 2 degree global average temperature increase, but COP19 saw no increase in ambition – indeed, the conference ended with less ambition than when it began. Japan announced it had revised its pledge to a 3.1% increase from 1990 levels, compared to its previous promise of a 25% cut. In addition, only four countries have ratified the Doha Amendment – which locks in the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, and needs 140 more ratifications to enter into force –although China and the EU also announced their intentions to ratify.
All eyes are on Ban Ki-moon’s summit in September 2014 as the next opportunity for countries to step up their ambition.
In 2009 countries made a commitment to fund the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to the tune of $100 billion per year by 2020 – but as yet those commitments have failed to materialise.
This COP was billed by many parties as a “finance COP”, but financial issues proved fractious, and ultimately developed nations rejected any targets, commitments, or timelines on how to scale up to the $100 billion. The text merely “requests” developed countries to prepare biennial submissions on their updated strategies and approaches for scaling up climate finance.
This further diminishes and undermines trust in the international climate process amongst many developing countries, and the lack of clarity or predictability makes it difficult for developing countries to plan mitigation efforts.
Not much new happened on adaptation in Warsaw – although that’s fine, because it wasn’t a priority. In a small victory, seven European governments contributed to the Adaptation Fund, which now contains US$100 million. This sum is a pittance in comparison to the $100 billion needed for the GCF, or indeed in comparison to the scale of adaptation need, but it’s a start.
Loss and damage
With Typhoon Haiyan at the forefront of everyone’s minds, loss and damage – from slow onset or extreme weather events that cannot be addressed by mitigation or adaptation – was high on the agenda for negotiators and civil society alike. In a last-minute agreement, cemented in an infamous huddle, parties created the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage.
However, the text is weak. Developing countries pushed for loss and damage as a “third pillar” of the Convention, separate from mitigation and adaptation. However, the US and other developed countries, in a display of questionable logic, insisted that the mechanism be established under the existing Adaptation Framework, although there was a cursory recognition that loss and damage “includes, and in some cases involves more than, that which can be reduced by adaptation”.
The mechanism provides for enhancing knowledge, action and support for loss and damage, as well as strengthening dialogue among relevant stakeholders. It is unclear how it will be funded – the decision merely “requests” developed countries to provide developing countries with financial support.
Parties will review the mechanism – including its function, mandate, and location in the system – at COP22 in 2016. Three years will pass before the mechanism can be strengthened, and this implies loss and damage will not be included in the Paris deal. The mechanism is a step forward for communities suffering from climate change impacts, but is it too little, too late?
In the completion of nearly 10 years of negotiations, parties finalised the rules of a multi-billion dollar framework to tackle deforestation (REDD+).
The system will give “results-based payments” to developing countries that halt deforestation or increase afforestation. This means that countries will have to show that have reduced carbon emissions and provide information on safeguards for local communities and biodiversity before they can receive any money.
The GCF will play a key role in channelling finance for projects to host governments, who in turn must set up national agencies to oversee the money. The decision also includes rules on how to measure and verify emissions reductions.
This is a significant step forward, although work still remains in terms of financing.
This area is technical, but nonetheless crucial to transparency and effectiveness – and COP19 saw significant advances. Details were finalised on how countries’ emissions reductions will be monitored, reported and verified. This framework only covers pre-2020 emissions, but it should provide a base for the post-2020 arrangements.
Needless to say, these conclusions aren’t good news for young people and future generations. Without commitments to reduce emissions that will keep average warming under 2 degrees, we’re likely to inherit a world where the likes of Typhoon Haiyan are common-place, where low-lying islands no longer exist, their communities scattered, and where poverty is exacerbated by droughts, floods and food shortages. What’s more, without adequate funding for adaptation to the already changing climate, and without an effective mechanism for countries to deal with loss and damage, young people will continue to suffer. While the negotiators set their sights on a 2015 agreement for actions to start in 2020, the 45% of the world’s population who are under 25 years old are left waiting.