Warsaw Climate Change Conference Goes Into Overtime


Warsaw Hallway
Ronald Bailey

WARSAW-"This COP is already locked in failure," declared Anjali Appadurai at a press briefing as the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP-19) of the U.N. Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) slouched toward its close on Friday night. She added, "This COP has delivered nothing." As it happens, Appadurai was one of the activists who participated in the "massive" walkout of self-styled civil society at the conference on Thursday, but there she was on the podium at as representative of the Third World Network. Never mind. The environmental ministers and diplomats are still at it trying shape some kind of deal.

So what would "success" look like to Appadurai and other climate change activists here at the Warsaw conference? First, the rich countries would have to admit their historical responsibility for damaging the climate and commit to cutting their greenhouse emissions by 40 percent below what they emitted in 1990. Currently, developed nations have committed to cuts amounting to about 18 percent by 2020.

Second, it is not enough that the rich countries promised in 2009 at the Copenhagen climate change conference to "mobilize" $100 billion per year in climate change funding for poor countries beginning in 2020. Meena Raman, another representative of the Third World Network, cited the demands from the Like-Minded Developing Countries for $70 billion in climate change funding by 2015. The poor countries are also adamant that the billions "mobilized" by rich countries should not come from the private sector: that's just way too uncertain. Poor country governments will accept only public funds in the form of grants.

Citing the awful devastation wreaked on the Philippines by Typhoon Haiyan, the poor country negotiators claim is that it's far too late to mitigate or adapt to climate change. It's now time to pay for the effects of climate change. So the third demand from poor countries is that the rich countries set up a separate funding mechanism in addition to the annual $100 billion already promised to compensate poor countries for the loss and damage caused by climate change.

The rich countries have been resisting all three of these demands. Instead, they are focusing on how to reach some kind of binding global treaty at the COP in Paris in 2015. Under that agreement all countries, rich and poor, are supposed to make nationally determined mitigation commitments. That is, each country is supposed tell the rest of the world how and by how much they plan to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions after the new treaty comes into force in 2020. Poor countries counter that they will not make any such commitments until the rich countries make firm climate change funding commitments.

The rich countries led by U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern would count the conference a "success" if it achieved two things. First, negotiators would establish uniform greenhouse gas mitigation performance standards that could be compared directly across all countries. Second, the conference would adopt a timetable in which each country is expected to make its initial mitigation pledges public and available for criticism, preferably by late 2014 or early 2015. The rich countries also do not want to create a new loss and damage bureaucracy, but have those issues handled under the already existing adaptation provisions of the UNFCCC.

The COP was supposed to close at 6 pm (CET) but the negotiations continue and are expected to run well into the night. My final dispatch from the Warsaw climate conference, reporting on what it delivered, if anything, will appear on Monday