The Warsaw climate conference was expected to be the stage for only low-key negotiations with little of the drama involved in some of the previous annual climate conference. The UK energy and climate secretary suggested for instance that one could only hope for “modest progress on modest objectives.” However discussions between key negotiating blocks soon revealed as tensed as feasible in this UN forum. While governments argued over financial transfers, timelines and the terms of a compensation mechanism, representatives from civil society added to the tension, protesting regularly against the hypocrisy of the Polish government and staging an unprecedented walk out from the talks just as negotiations heated up.
Now as the dust settles down, many issues emerge as being part of the COP19 legacy, either resulting in epic rhetorical arguments in plenaries, attracting the ire of observers or consisting of small progress forward.
First, the negotiations confirmed the status of the roadmap towards a Paris agreement, long term finance and the compensation for loss and damage as the most sensitive negotiations items.
- 1. “The more things change the more they remain the same.” (2015 climate agreement)
- 2. “Money makes the world go ’round.” (Long Term Finance)
- 3. “What comes around, goes around.” (Loss and Damage)
While the previous three themes resulted in battles of “fireworks” in plenary sessions, two issues made progress allowing governments to (almost) close two discussions launched in Durban (2010).
- 4. “Money does(n’t) grow on trees.” (REDD+)
- 5. “What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done.” (Transparency of action, aka. MRV)
In addition, gender and cities advocates obtained breakthroughs for their issues, bringing a much needed breeze refreshing the heavily state-centric context of the talks.
- 6. “Gender isn’t just what’s between your legs, it’s what’s between your ears too.” (Gender sensitive policies)
- 7. “City air makes you free.” (Local governments’ actions)
During COP19, three industrialized countries competed for the role of “climate villain of the year”, distastefully backtracking from urgently needed action.
- 8. “People that live in glass houses shouldn’t throw big rocks.” (Poland: an inconvenient host)
- 9. “You can never have a good show without a good (couple of) villain(s).” (Australia & Japan backtracking)
Reflecting back on the outcomes of COP19 but also on the dominating narratives, it seems that a groundswell has displaced short-term ambition as a priority of these negotiations.
- 10. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” (Short term ambition)
- 1. The more things change the more they remain the same. (2015 climate agreement)
Warsaw constituting the halfway milestone on the road to the global climate agreement expected in 2015, the “Durban Platform” negotiations were expected to deliver a crucial roadmap to allow governments to enter into “full negotiations mode” towards the 2015 agreement. These discussions revealed more heated than many had expected, in particularly revealing a wide difference in the interpretation of the negotiations mandate. In the negotiations reset operated in 2011, many saw the end of the infamous “firewall” that divides countries into two categories based on the 1992 membership to the OECD. Meaningful climate action, so the argument went, could only take place in the context of action by both industrialized countries and emerging economies.
While the African group made proposals to operationalize a more subtle differentiation between the obligations of diverse countries, China, India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Singapore (with others less vocal) made it clear that they read the Durban Platform differently, still expecting the 2015 to build on a black-and-white vision of today’s world – thus taking the negotiations back to the dynamics prevailing several years ago. The refusal by lead emerging economies to accept legal obligations under the new agreement led to the replacement in the final decision of the key concept of “commitment” by the much vaguer term of “national contributions”. India found itself in a particularly awkward position, vocally rejecting references to the concept of equity, despite having put all its weight for the inclusion of the concept in the 2010 compromise (I strongly encourage reading this great analysis of India’s struggle by Lavanya Rajamani, arguing that India should wield equity as a sword rather than as a shield).
- 2. Money makes the world go ’round. (Long Term Finance)
Many developing countries had highlighted expectations that COP19 would be a “finance COP”, warning that progress on long term finance would be a prerequisite for constructive negotiations. In Copenhagen, industrialized countries committed to providing 30 billions $ of “fast-start finance” between 2010-2012, and to scale up this effort to reach 100 billions annually in 2020. While industrialized countries claim to have fulfilled their initial commitment, their failure to scale up funding since 2012 – or even to explain how they intend to reach the long term goal of 100b $ – has growingly frustrated negotiators from developing countries.
While a record of seven decisions on climate finance were adopted in Warsaw, developed countries prevented the adoption of a mid-term objective, developing countries having proposed to refer to 70 billions $ by 2016 as a mid-term objective. The current decisions thus establish a process forward but continue to lack an intermediary number. Consequently, the issue of long term finance will remain as the Sword of Damocles over the process, threatening at any point to affect the little amount of trust remaining between developed and developing countries.
- 3. What comes around, goes around. (Loss and Damage)
As part of the Cancun agreements, the most vulnerable countries were successful in securing a decision to consider under the convention the issue of loss and damage resulting from climate change. Developed countries having failed to reduce their emissions adequately, so the argument went, they should compensate most vulnerable nations for the ongoing impacts of climate change. After two years of technical negotiations, the same countries successfully obtained last year a mandate for a dedicated mechanism to be established in 2013. COP19 being so clearly seen as a deadline for the conclusion of these discussions, countries opposing a meaningful loss and damage mechanisms attempted to weaken as much as possible the new mechanism rather than to oppose its establishment frontally.
Consequently, vulnerable countries were successful in securing the establishment of a loss and damage mechanism in Warsaw. This mechanism lacks however the financial resources to support the communities and countries most severely affected by climate change and will therefore mainly be limited to the facilitation of exchange of expertise and to support further research. Furthermore, the US firmly resisted the adoption of the mechanism as a stand-alone instrument, obtaining that the new mechanism would be located within the frame of adaptation. As a result, any financial implications of loss and damage will compete with the limited resources currently available for adaptation (at least until the review of this arrangement in 2016).
- 4. Money does(n’t) grow on trees. (REDD+)
When negotiations towards a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol were launched in 2007, countries agree on the importance to establish “policy approaches and positive incentives” to promote the reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries. While a political agreement was reached on the matter three years later as part of the 2010 Cancun agreements, three more years were necessary in order to discuss the details of this framework.
Thanks to additional negotiating time being available to cover this issue (due to the “great Russian freeze” preventing work on other issues), the REDD negotiations made much progress in June 2013, setting the stage for a adoption of a “Warsaw Framework for REDD Plus” which establishes a mechanism for “results-based payments” to developing countries in the context of the demonstrable protection of forests. Importantly for local communities, governments agree in Warsaw that countries should demonstrate that the REDD+ environmental and social safeguards have been applied and respected before they can apply for such funding. Finally, the US, UK and Norway provided 280 millions $ to enable the prompt implementation of the REDD+ framework.
- 5. What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done. (Transparency of action, aka. MRV)
In Cancun, countries also accepted that the implementation of national pledges prior to 2020 would go through an international review process – to Measure, Report, and Verify (MRV) emissions – to ensure transparency of action. The Kyoto Protocol included a much stronger “compliance mechanism” to ensure that governments would respect their national targets. As countries decided to move away from such a stringent model, the MRV framework is all that remains to provide an incentive for countries to respect their own engagement as well as to gain confidence that others are doing their share. In Warsaw, negotiators finalized some of the technical aspects of this review, allowing for its full operationalization.
- 6. Gender isn’t just what’s between your legs, it’s what’s between your ears too. (Gender sensitive policies)
While the UNFCCC already acknowledged the importance of gender balance in decision making in 2001, statistics have shown that little progress has been made at the climate negotiations over the past decade. Last year, gender advocates were successful in obtaining the adoption of a “gender decision” which brought the issue back on the negotiations’ agenda. However, the 2012 decision focused primarily on gender balance, failing to address adequately to the more important issue of the need for gender sensitive climate policies (see a great blog post highlighting why gender balance is not sufficient).
The Warsaw conclusions on gender and climate change constitute a further important step forward as parties better recognize the importance of gender sensitive policies in responding to climate change as well as suggested further steps to be taken, including the adoption of a framework on the issue.
- 7. City air makes you free. (Local governments’ actions)
This year consisted a long expected breakthrough for those hoping to see the UNFCCC better acknowledge the major role played by provinces, regions and cities in mitigating and adapting to climate change. Up to now, and except for a small reference in the 2010 Cancun agreements to the role of sub-national governments, this message had difficulties to find an echo in the UNFCCC process, a space so strongly dominated by state-driven interests.
During COP19, the climate negotiations hosted an unprecedented “cities day” to hear from the experience of mayors and discuss opportunity to better leverage commitments from local governments (the Carbonn Cities Climate registry, despite having only recently being launched, already records over 4000 commitments from cities for short term climate action). Rachel Kyte, Vice President for Sustainable Development at the World Bank, referred to one of the cities event as the ‘can do room at the can’t do summit. Governments consequently agreed to organize a forum on the issue within the context of the workstream on short-term ambition.
- 8. People that live in glass houses shouldn’t throw big rocks. (Poland: an inconvenient host)
The country hosting the COP receives additional leverage to promote its agenda but also comes under additional scrutiny, with both its climate diplomacy and its domestic policies exposed. For two weeks, Poland thus became the centre of public attention. But instead of exercising the balanced facilitation expected, the Polish government opted for a desctructive exercise of rock throwing. From the invitation of some of the most conservative business representatives to take actively part to a ministerial meeting to the sacking of the COP president just as his role became more important to facilitate a compromise, the Polish government did certainly not run out of creativity in its attempts to scupper this year’s climate conference.
But the most damaging moves by the Polish government consisted in the sponsoring of the conference by big climate polluters and the hosting of a “climate and coal summit” parallel to the COP. Both revealing perhaps a little too obviously the level of corporate capture of this year’s conference. These two provocations acted as the proverbial straws that broke the camel’s back, contributing greatly many civil society representatives to walk out of the COP19 in the middle of the proceedings.
- 9. You can never have a good show without a good (couple of) villain(s). (Australia & Japan backtracking)
While governments represented in Warsaw struggled to find new ambition for climate action among industrialized countries, Japan actually announced on the first day of the negotiations that its government had reconsidered its 2020 target and would replace the current objective of a 25 percent emissions reduction (as pledged under the Copenhagen agreement) by an increase of its emissions by 3 percent. Not even the disputed replacement of nuclear by coal after the Fukushima accidents could explain such an increase of Japanese emissions over the coming decade.
However, Australia managed to exceed Japan’s misconduct, emerging as the most obstructing actor of this conference. Firstly, the newly elected government had announced prior to the Warsaw conference a comprehensive program to dismantle all significant climate policies from its predecessor: including the repeal the carbon price, removal of support for renewable energy, dismantling of the independent Climate Change Authority and a U-turn on a long term target of reducing carbon pollution by 80% by 2050. Secondly, the Australian negotiators prevented progress on several key issues, adopting a particularly obstructive stance on climate finance for instance. Overshadowing Canada as 2013′s chief climate villain, the delegation sent by Prime Minister Abbott received the “Colossal Fossil” anti-award attributed by NGOs to the most unhelpful country at this year’s conference. Adding insult to injury, the Australian delegation faced the wrath of developing countries’ negotiators for its disrespectful attitude during the conference. The government of Tony Abbott already achieved a great blow to the reputation of Australia as a credible international actor.
- 10. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. (Short term ambition)
When the decision was adopted in Durban to postpone the entry into force of a global climate agreement to 2020, the most vulnerable countries only accepted this deal on the condition that the need for short term action remains on the agenda of the negotiation with equal attention. These countries knew only too well that the delay embedded in the Durban compromise would turn into a death sentence if governments would not succeeded in increase mitigation ambition before 2020. Judging by the outcomes of the Warsaw conference, but also by the narratives used by many actors, short term ambition seems to have been washed off the negotiating table…
I shared more thoughts on this last issue in a guest post for iisd Climate-L series. Read more here on what I perceive as the most unnoticed, yet perhaps most worrisome COP19 outcome…
About the authorSébastien Duyck
Passionate environmental advocate, PhD student (Human Rights and Environmental Governance). Following particularly UNFCCC, UNEP and Rio+20 processes