After COP 19 in Warsaw – Checkmate for International Climate Politics

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An analysis of the meager outcome of the recent UN climate change conference

December 6, 2013
Lili Fuhr, Liane Schalatek, Katarzyna Ugryn, and Wanun Permpibul

New hopes for a legally binding global climate regime were up again when in Durban 2011 Parties agreed to negotiate by 2015 latest a global agreement to enter into force after 2020. And the newly created Ad-hoc working group on the Durban platform for enhanced action (ADP) established a workstream II that is supposed to deal with scaling up ambition before 2020 – the crucial time period during which global emissions need to peak (namely in 2015 according to IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri) and adequate and predictable finance is needed to secure low carbon development in the North and South. The UN climate conference in Warsaw, however, was the COP with the lowest expectations ever – and lived up to that in every respect.

The devastating effects of typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines and surrounding countries right before the beginning of COP 19 also touched both delegates and observers. Yeb Sano’s (Philippine delegation) emotional appeal not only turned him into the only hero of COP 19 but also soon let many to join his voluntary fasting in solidarity (some media reported it as a hunger strike) – a first time for a UN climate conference and probably a clear signal that climate change has already overtaken the multilateral negotiations’ ability – absent political will and trust – to urgently address its anthropogenic causes as well as to provide the necessary collective support to those countries and people most affected. Yeb Sano and a growing number of followers have even pledged to continue fasting on the 13th of each month in remembrance of the COP 19 fasting.

But while climate change is here and now, this sense of urgency seems lost to the minds of policy makers in the EU and other Annex 1 countries, who are self-absorbed with their problems of sliding ever more deeply into a structural economic and financial crisis of global impact and seem to have relegated multilateral climate action as a distant “other issue” on their political agenda.   

While expectations were low for Warsaw, those with an optimistic mind nevertheless hoped for some implementation progress at the halfway mark for a new agreement by 2015, specifically routing for at least the following things to happen:

  • agreement on a clear (and tight) timeline for delivering mitigation pledges by all Parties for the 2015 deal;
  • agreement to measure the pledges or contributions against a set of clear set of indicators to ensure both ambition and equity;
  • concrete numbers and pathways to scale up climate finance after the fast-start finance period post-2012 toward fulfilling the commitments of USD 100 billion by 2020 annually and – at a bare minimum – replenish the financially starved Adaptation Fund;
  • to establish an international mechanism for loss and damage as agreed in Doha;
  •  concrete decisions on ways forward to close the gigatonne gap that remains when looking at 2020 pledges and pathways to stay within the 2 °C or even 1.5 °C target.

Unfortunately, Warsaw saw only incremental progress on this already paired-down list. Many interpretations exist as for who should be blamed for the bad results. Here are some obvious culprits:  The Umbrella Group managed to turn COP 19 into the first climate conference ever that saw a scaling down of mitigation pledges by developed countries. Canada had already performed its part by leaving the Kyoto Protocol last year when it became clear that tar sands production would prevent it from even reaching its target under the first commitment period. Australia’s newly elected government announced a few weeks before the COP that it would cancel the already quite weak climate legislation of its predecessors. And Japan topped it all when it dared to announce a weakening of it 2020 target in the first week of the COP, using Fukushima as an excuse for non-action – an argument that Japanese NGOs were quick and ready to dismantle right away. The new target now actually allows for an increase of emissions of 3.1 % by 2020 against 1990 levels.

The outrageous and self-righteous behavior of these three countries made the USA – the usual target for developing countries’ anger – look like a nice guy in comparison. Even though some of the Warsaw failures (like the weak timeline for the 2015 agreement or the disagreement over technology transfer) can easily be claimed as US negotiation success. And even the EU was able to hide its internal issues with Poland and its block-wide lack of both emissions reductions ambition and scaled up financial commitments fairly well. Understandably, developing countries were angry and not willing to compromise. And so at least the first full week in Warsaw was lost by simply restating existing positions on all sides without any hope for progress.

Click here to read the full analysis (12pp PDF).