Warsaw Climate Conference writes first letter of new agreement

COP 19/CMP 9 welcoming ceremony
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COP 19/CMP 9 welcoming ceremony
Negotiators are into the second and final week of the climate change conference in Warsaw, yet have been unable, so far, to set down even the first letter of the international agreement which is due to be tabled in Paris in late 2015.

The background to the debate currently taking place in Poland revolves around the best way to include developing nations in the new agreement and obtain promises from these countries to reduce emissions in exchange for funding from advanced nations. The developing nations, meanwhile, are more interested in adjusting to the impact of climate change and are seeking funding for these adjustment processes, without such funding being tied to emission reduction targets.

These issues first came up at Durban, in an attempt to strengthen cooperation and debate the obligations of developing countries to reduce emissions in the knowledge that the Kyoto Protocol made no demands on them, and was only binding for advanced industrialized countries.

Therefore the background to the negotiations, which began a week ago in Warsaw and are due to run on for the next two years, are solely concerned with the best way to reach a workable agreement that is binding for all parties by 2015. This includes developing countries, which are to sign on in exchange for commitments by developed nations to “transfer technology”, provide “regular and additional funding” and to otherwise enhance the capabilities of less developed countries.

The schedule in Warsaw included issues such as agriculture and adjusting to climate change policies. There was also discussion of compensation for earthquakes and other environmental disasters. The Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) looked into developing a mechanism to oversee signatory nations’ implementation of their obligations, how best to distribute aid to ensure both the reduction of emissions and that it reached all developing nations, and raising the emissions ceiling so that it might fall in line with post-2020 obligations, as well as discussion of long-term funding.

On the issue of determining the size of losses incurred by climate change, and the related issue of compensation and a mechanism for providing compensation, the United States refused to discuss the issue before the alternative of property insurance had been explored (i.e. putting pressure on the global insurance companies that for years have maintained a high profile presence at climate negotiations). There was discussion of the best way to regulate the role and operations of compensation funds such as the Green Climate Fund, which remains empty despite being created several years ago in Copenhagen. There was also debate over the best way to include this and other already extant funds within the framework of a new agreement. Sources from negotiating parties reported that the debate over compensation funds had run its course in Warsaw and would resume at the COP 20 in Peru.

Coal conference

Moving on, one observer described Warsaw as the “coal conference”.

A second, parallel, coal summit is being held alongside the COP 19’s main proceedings, since Poland is nearly 90 per cent reliant on this energy source, which has been at the forefront of climate change since its widespread adoption during the industrial revolution. The Climate Action Network (CAN) staged a protest against the coal summit, which was held in the Economic Ministry’s headquarters in the Polish capital. A model representing the planet’s damaged lungs was erected on the roof of the ministry building, to highlight the effects of using coal to generate energy.

The most notable development in Warsaw to date has been Brazil’s proposal—backed by the Group of 88 and China—to create a mechanism to calculate historical responsibility for the carbon dioxide emissions which have accumulated in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution, and to incorporate this data into the new agreement.

A second and more worrying development was the failure of an advanced industrialized nation such as Japan to abide by its obligations to reduce emissions and fund climate change-related issues, particularly following the Fukushima disaster and the decision to reduce reliance on nuclear power that led to a drop off in use of its reactors and nuclear powered industries. It appears that Japan is set to turn back to coal power as an alternative to nuclear energy, which would constitute a huge setback to hopes of reaching a binding agreement by 2015.


First published in Arabic in As-Safir on 20 November 2013. Translated to Arabic by Robin Moger