COP19: What does it all mean?: Key Issues & How Policymakers Delivered at This Year’s UN Climate Talks

By Ute Zischka and Rosaly Byrd-

To say that international cooperation on climate is complex, is probably an understatement. Yet, the issues at stake in the negotiation rooms have huge implications for people around the globe, their economies and the environment. Now that the recent UN climate talks have ended, we are taking account on expectations, outcomes and what they mean moving forward.

  • Roadmap to a universal and binding agreement by 2015:
    • Two years ago, negotiators agreed to develop a universally binding agreement by 2015 with envisioned emission reductions starting in 2020. After the 2012 negotiations ended with the decision to review existing international agreements as potential models, the design of a process and timeline for the submission of “national offers” was one of the key agenda items during this year’s climate talks in Warsaw.
    • Although countries like China, India and Venezuela bitterly opposed signing on to a timetable with the request of more flexibility for developing countries, a compromise was reached in overtime last Saturday. While governments agreed to determine core elements of “national offers” during the CoP 2014 in Peru to be submitted in early 2015 , the negotiating text fell short of a clear roadmap for the timing of submissions and their review process.  For instance, there was no agreement on the level of cuts needed, or how the cuts should be divided. Countries also failed to agree on an evaluation process to judge adequacy of proposed emission cuts.
    • What does this mean for the prospects of reaching a globally binding agreement by 2015? Firstly, national governments have agreed to prepare their national offers, which is a small, but important first step as governments signal their willingness to reach a deal in the future. However, it would have been important for emission cut proposals to be known early on in order to evaluate and ensure adequacy of proposed reductions. In the absence of reduction targets and clear guidance on content, talk is cheap and time is running out. By postponing some of the key elements to 2014, the international community has once more taken a baby step that requires a huge leap forward during the 2014 and 2015 climate talks. Time is a powerful negotiation tool, but likely inadequate to reach meaningful emission reductions that limit global warming by 2 degrees Celcius.
  • Climate Finance, in particular the Green Climate Fund & the $100 billion dollar target:
    • Countries failed to determine how rich countries would provide the $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries move to a low-carbon economy and adapt. Although Norway, the UK, EU, US, Republic of Korea, Japan, Sweden Germany and Finland agreed to provide climate finance assistance, what is still missing are the strategies these countries will use to scale up finance between 2014 and 2020.
  • Damage and loss assistance:
    • The topic of damage and loss assistance was brought up last year in Doha and governments knew that this year the issue of funding would have to be addressed, especially after the timing of Super Typhoon Haiyan and Filipino delegates’ demand for something to be done. Although information was leaked regarding the US’s opposing position towards this assistance, in the end countries were willing to agree on the creation of a committee called the  ”Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage associated with climate change impacts” to coordinate funding to help poor nations stricken by climate change.
  • REDD+:
    • REDD+ was seen as the having the most success this year, as delegates finally decided on various details of the program such as technical and financing decisions. The program, that will provide financial incentives to keep countries from deforesting,  is now up and running. Also, the US, Norway and UK agreed to provide  $280 million in finance for REDD+.
  • Measurement, Accountability and Verification (MRV):
    • Along with REDD+ financing, the MRV guidelines were agreed on at this year’s climate talks. The MRV systems are intended to measure emission reductions and track countries’ performance in the REDD+ program. Forest monitoring and verification is especially important to ensure proper financing for these countries’ efforts in reducing emissions from deforestation.
  • Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN):
    • This program designed for technology transfer is now up and running.
  • Agriculture workshop:
    • Agriculture was taken off the table this year, again.  The World Farmers Organization has been asking for a workshop program on agriculture under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), to provide help in regard to food security, adaptation and mitigation. Yet further talk of this workshop was blocked due to procedural issues at the SBSTA  opening plenary.

Environmental organizations including Greenpeace, 350.org and Friends of the Earth, as well as many members of civil society walked out of talks at the end of last week, frustrated with stalling negotiations. 350.org said that they were walking out because lobbying from fossil fuel companies was impeding progress. Cities and local governments stepped up this year at the conference, showing their work in mitigation and adaptation efforts. Lastly, there was also a lot of talk about coal this year, as a coal industry summit was held in Warsaw at the same time as beginning UN plenaries.  As a response to this, executive secretary to the UNFCCC, Christina Figueres repeatedly said “leave [coal] in the ground” and that the “coal industry it can and must radically change and diversify.”

Some individual countries made headlines at the conference, but not for progressive actions. Australia, Japan and Canada took a step backwards in cutting emissions, with Japan stating that they would be emitting 3% more due to the Fukushima disaster. Australia’s new government has repealed carbon legislation and Canada has “applauded” Australia’s actions. Poland,the host of this year’s conference, highlighted the role of coal in its energy production and opposed more ambitious reduction targets from the EU. The US and China have made some progress domestically on climate issues, but President Obama’s call for tougher action on climate change and China’s ban on coal-fired power plants need to be matched with global commitments that have been missing so far. German environment minister Peter Altmaier has expressed that in order for a substantial international agreement in 2015, US and China must set binding national climate targets as soon as possible.

If you want some more detailed information on the final days of the conference, check out PwC’s debrief or the UNFCCC’s press release.

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