Climate change negotiations: A cold week in Warsaw

Intergenerational Inquiry event at COP 19/CMP 9
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Intergenerational Inquiry event at COP 19/CMP 9

UN negotiations over climate change in Polish capital Warsaw are expected to create a roadmap of international treaties that all parties are expected to sign in 2015, in Paris. All participants agree that the first week of the 19th COP has shown “modest progress”.

Warsaw – Yesterday in the Polish capital the first week of the 19th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 19) came to an end, and as with previous UNFCCC-organized conferences these initial proceedings were characterized by a chilly atmosphere and a lack of decision-making, especially since the majority of minister-led government delegations only began arriving in Warsaw towards the latter end of the week, amid hopes that the second week would prove more fruitful.

Observers spoke of “modest progress” towards the goal of reaching an agreement by 2015, at the conference scheduled to be held in Paris that year, against a backdrop of an obsessive focus on economic development that has led experts’ warning of rising temperatures to be disregarded. According to data published by the UN-affiliated World Meteorological Organization, 2013 witnessed a number of grave climactic phenomena, and is close to becoming one of the seven hottest years since records began. The WMO said that the first nine months of the year were the equivalent to the same period in 2003, which is the seventh hottest year on record, with the land and sea surface temperatures rising 0.48 degrees from average temperature for the period from 1961 to 1990. This nine-month period was also hotter than its equivalent in 2011 and 2012, which were cooler due to the El Nino phenomenon. Experts explained that “the average sea-level reached a record high in 2013 […] rising 3.2 mm in the course of the year, twice the average annual rate of rise for the 20th century as a whole (i.e. 1.6 mm per year).”

Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines, also cast its shadow over proceedings. Non-governmental organizations used the disaster to highlight the importance of reaching a binding agreement that could reduce the impact of climate change on the lives of millions. Four days after one of the most violent storms in memory, with winds of over 300 kilometers per hour and gigantic waves over five meters in height, with homes flattened and trees uprooted, particularly on the two islands of Leyte and Samar, Typhoon Haiyan is still claiming victims and wreaking destruction.

The UN Scientific Committee stated that such storms may become even severer in certain regions by 2100, as global temperatures rise, and UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said that, “the new generations will have to fight a great battle and gambling today in this stadium is not a game,” a reference to the Warsaw Stadium where the conference is being held. Figueres warned that, “there are no winners or losers here. Either we all win together or we all lose.”

In his opening speech, Polish environment minister Marcin Korolec said that the disaster in the Philippines was a “wake-up call”, while visibly affected Philippines delegate Nadarev Sano announced that he would fast for the duration of the conference: “In solidarity with those citizens trying to obtain food […] I will begin a voluntary fast for the environment. I will take no food during this conference until such time as it has produced tangible results.” He went on: “What has happened in my country is madness. The climate crisis is madness. We can stop this madness here, in Warsaw. […] My country strongly rejects the idea that there have to be thirty or forty conferences held just to solve the problem of climate instability.”

Speaking to Al Akhbar, the head of Climate Action Network International (CAN), Wael Hmaidan, announced that he was going to fast in solidarity with the victims of Typhoon Haiyan to send a message that millions of people around the world have been turned into climate refugees searching for shelter, food and drink as a result of these destructive storms.

Even as various parties have been negotiating over raising the ceiling for pledges at the Warsaw conference, Japan has been defaulting on promises it has already made regarding reducing emissions by 25 per cent from its 1990 levels, and has even aired the possibility of increasing its emissions by 3.1 per cent.

Kimiko Hirata, the international director of Japanese climate NGO the Kiko Network said: “It’s just a bad joke. This announcement will have a negative effect on negotiations and is a direct insult to all those suffering from the impact of climate change around the world.” She added: “It seems that Japan doesn’t understand the negotiation schedule. We were expecting something better from the country that is classed as the world’s third biggest economy. It’s unacceptable, especially for those who live in countries exposed to the dangers of climate change and future generations everywhere. They have to review the step they have taken and make new pledges regarding the reduction of emissions.”

Australia is another state that brought a number of obstacles and difficulties to Warsaw. Last Tuesday it declared that it was in the process of overturning previously ratified and successful climate legislation.

Global temperatures have risen by 0.8 degrees since the industrial revolution and are headed towards the two degree mark, which is the target limit agreed on at a previous COP summit. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) chief Rajendra Pachauri, said, “It is highly probable that man is the dominant cause of the rise in global temperatures recorded since the mid-20th century. When we say “highly probable” we mean a likelihood of 95 per cent or more […] This means that human behaviour has a huge impact on the climate of this planet.”

Elliot Diringer, executive director of American research foundation, The Centre for Climate Energy Solutions, said, “we cannot expect a major agreement to solve all these problems in one go.” The best hope for the 2015 agreement was, Diringer explained was for the major powers to agree on restrictions to the gas emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere and devise a mechanism to monitor and support these restrictions going forward.


First publish in Arabic in Al Akhbar on 16 November 2013. Translated from the Arabic by Robin Moger