Warsaw: COP19 explained

Misc on November 5, 2013

This is such a good summary of the upcoming UN climate talks in Warsaw (11-22 November 2013) that I just had to post it. After the failure of COP15 (Copenhagen, 2009) it seemed like the UN climate talks were dead on their feet. But the latest IPCC report has given a renewed urgency to finding a global solution to this global problem. To do that we need to listen to the voice of civil society in the majority world (“Global South”) and move beyond the failed paradigms pushed by the rich world. This is their perspective in a press release from Climate Justice Info dated 4 November 2013.


UN Climate Summit in Warsaw
Media Background Note
United Nations climate negotiations will resume at the United Nations Climate Conference in Warsaw, Poland, from the 11 November 2013 until 22 November 2013.

This is the annual “Conference of the Parties” (COP 19) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and its Kyoto Protocol (CMP 9), where “decisions” and “amendments” are agreed in order to set the international legal framework for responding to climate change.

“The conference comes at a critical time for international action on climate change. The science is clearer than ever that there is a limited emissions budget and we have to live within in it or face catastrophic consequences. Those consequences are hitting Africa first and hardest.” Augustine Njamnashi, of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) said.

“The UN climate talks must focus on how to share this emissions budget based on equity or, given current and historical emissions, we will face a hellish future where the current litany of climate change induced disasters will look mild.” Meena Raman, negotiation expert at the Third World Network said.

“We face a planetary emergency, the latest IPCC report suggests that unless we change our emissions pathway, the world is at risk of 5C of warming by the end of the century, which would be devastating for farming and food production.” Brandon Wu, senior policy analyst at ActionAid, said.

“Devastation to food production would be just one small part of potential loss and damage in the developing world, caused by climate change. This devastation is why the issue of a mechanism to address loss and damage is front and centre in Warsaw.” Azeb Girmai, of LDC-Watch, said.

“In order to live within a strict emissions budget, as proposed by the IPCC, there must be an immediate stop to the expansion of fossil fuel projects globally, a drastic reduction in the excessive consumption of energy by corporations and elites, and a shift to renewable and clean energy for people and communities as quickly as possible in all countries.” Lidy Nacpil, coordinator ofJubilee South, Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development, said.

“Global citizens are resisting tax-payer handouts to dirty energy corporations, scaling up local resistance to new dirty energy projects and highlighting the unfairness that condemns over a billion people to no access to any form of energy. Instead people are engaged in building real community energy solutions to the climate crisis. These peoples’ demands must be heard in Warsaw if we are to prevent climate catastrophe.” Asad Rehman, Head of International Climate at Friends of the Earth EWNI said.

At the UN, the timetable for a new international agreement on climate change to be concluded in 2015 requires significant progress at the Warsaw conference. This includes on both of the elements of the negotiations: enhancing action pre-2020 (known as ‘Workstream 2′); and agreeing a framework for action post-2020 (‘Workstream 1′).

The Conference itself will involve several parts including meetings of the subsidiary technical bodies of the UN Convention, the principal meeting of the Kyoto Protocol and ongoing negotiations in the two workstreams (pre and post 2020) of the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” which is mandated to conclude in 2015.

In this context, three key emerging stories at the Warsaw Conference will be:

1.    The choice between clean and dirty energy

2.    How to equitably determine each country’s level of effort in a new agreement

3.    How to finance climate action and the response to climate impacts, including ‘loss and damage.

1. Clean Versus Dirty Energy

The energy sector is the leading cause of human greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and so we will not be able to live within the remaining emissions budget without urgently transforming this sector away from dirty energy and toward local, community controlled renewable energy.

In Warsaw this choice will be particularly pertinent as governments discuss under Workstream 2 the possibility of a focused work plan on ‘energy’ and many governments propose a fund to support a ‘global feed in tariff‘ to drive investment in renewable energy at a community level.

These discussions will be contrasted with the Polish Government’s decision to hold a “World Coal Conference” on the sidelines of the UN talks (Nov 18-19), a decision that has drawn substantial criticism and is expected to draw significant activism.

The Warsaw Conference itself comes at the conclusion of a “Global Month of Action Energy” known as Reclaim Power, which included actions across the globe to resist dirty energy and push for people-focused solutions to the climate crisis. Organisations participating in Reclaim Power included: Jubilee South APMDD, La Via Campesina, Friends of the Earth International, GAIA, Push Europe, Greenpeace, 350.org, LDC-Watch, and the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance.

Reclaim Power will conclude during the Warsaw Conference with an international day of solidarity with environmental defenders, including the Idle No More Movement in North America, the anniversary of the murder of anti-oil activist Ken Saro Wiwa in Nigeria, and the “Arctic 30″ on the 10th of November; and a day highlighting community energy alternatives on the 11th of November.

2. Setting fair and effective emission cut targets

The current pledges of emission reductions by countries by 2020 are drastically below the level needed to be on track to prevent catastrophic climate change. Some rich countries, such as the European Union, are proposing that they have higher domestic emissions in 2020 than they have today.

In fact, Warsaw will open with developed countries pledging to take less climate action than developing countries.

Hence, a key focus of the Durban Platform Workstream 2 is how to raise developed countries’ targets, in line with what the science and a fair sharing of effort suggests is required (domestic reductions of at least 40-50% on 1990 levels rather than the 0-12% currently proposed).

In light of the IPCC’s findings that in order to limit warming to below 2C or 1.5C, humanity must respect an “emissions budget”, which represents the total amount of GHG emissions since the industrial revolution, it is expected that governments focused on effective solutions to the climate crisis will force consideration of this issue at Warsaw.[1]

Similarly, under Workstream 1 (the post-2020 agreement), governments will need to divide up the mitigation effort required to live within the ‘emissions budget‘ in order to ensure the internationally agreed temperature target is met.

Current proposals on the table by the United States and the European Union suggest they want each country to merely ‘pledge’ what they intend to do, without reference to whether that individual effort is sufficient or fair, or whether the aggregate effort ‘adds up’ to what is needed.

Experts and civil society are calling for a process where indicators, such as total historical emissions and current GDP per capita, are used to determine fair shares of effort for each country, and to ensure the total ‘adds up’ to the total cut in emissions needed to stay within an emissions budget.

The framework for the process by which countries make commitments in the post-2020 agreement could be a major outcome from the Warsaw conference.

3. Finance for climate action and loss and damage

A key obligation under the UN climate convention is for developed countries to provide finance for climate action and adaptation to impacts in developing countries.

Warsaw will host a ministerial level meeting on the issue of finance, with the need to determine goals for climate finance in the midterm (pre-2020) pressing.

There is serious concern that the US will try to advance proposals to count ‘private finance’ (i.e. investments from the private sector, not finance contributed by governments) toward the internationally agreed target of $100 billion in climate finance a year by 2020. Observers are concerned that counting private finance could be used as an excuse from developed countries to avoid their obligations to provide scaled-up, new and additional climate finance.

This discussion will be particularly contested given studies that suggest as little as 10% of previously provided ‘climate finance’ was actually new , and not merely existing aid or loans repackaged.

These talks will take place as negotiations continue on the issue of ‘Loss and Damage‘, which emerged as an important outcome of the last UN climate conference in Doha.

The issue of Loss and Damage reflects that given the projected levels of climate change caused by the lack of leadership in reducing emissions by developed countries, many communities will suffer impacts that are ‘beyond adaptation’ and so an international mechanism is needed to support communities to address these impacts.

A failure by governments to agree on stronger emission reduction targets and finance levels to support substantial mitigation and adaptiation action in developing countries will intensify the political pressure on the issue of loss and damage at Warsaw.

4. Other technical issues at the Warsaw Conference

Technical work will also be undertaken on negotiators on reviewing and ensuring that governments have ratified (converted into domestic law) the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocolwhich was agreed in Doha.

Similarly, governments will consider the need for ‘new’ carbon market mechanisms against the backdrop of the current collapse of the price of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) credits and lack of demand in the EU system. The price collapse is driven by the lack of strong emission targets by developed countries and could be intensified if more sources or supplies of credits are made available.

It is not expected that much progress will be made on these mechanisms, or on a proposed ‘framework’ body to count the transfer of various carbon market units, while developed country emission targets remain so low and the efficacy of ‘carbon trading’ so questionable. This may contrast with discussions on “Non Market Approaches”, including carbon taxes, regulation, technology transfer and a fund for a global feed-in-tarrif.

Forests will also be a contested area and there will be discussions on rules to deal with non-permance of land use projects in the CDM. Efforts by some countries to weaken the current rules on non-permance (which means temporary credits are issued for forest projects which must be re-validated) are driven by a desire to create fully fungible forest credits which can be traded on international carbon markets. Given the current low prices and lack of demand in carbon markets, revisions to rules which lower environmental integrity in order to increase supply will be resisted by many countries and civil society observers.

The Conference will also see consideration of procedural changes, to address concerns that Russia, Belarus and the Ukraine used at the last climate meetings in Bonn to block discussion on many issues, with some risk that procedural blocking by these countries will continue, holding up the talks in their preliminary days.


[1] Discussion of the IPCC’s proposed ‘emissions budgets’ and their relation to commonly discussed ‘emissions pathways’ for 2C and 1.5C can be found in this recently released Stockholm Environment Institute discussion brief.

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  1. November 11, 2013
    17:59

    COP19 Warsaw: A Climate Justice take on UN climate talks:

    [...] from [Earth in Brackets]. Our colleagues at climate-justice.info have also issued this useful media background briefing covering the basic issues from Poland, alongside some snappy [...]

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