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Warsaw climate deal finalised as deadlock broken

Warsaw climate deal finalised as deadlock broken

Published on the BusinessGreen website on Saturday 23rd November 2013

By James Murray, Jessica Shankleman


Agreement reached on loss and damage mechanism, despite opposition from developing nations

The Warsaw Summit closed with an agreement late on Saturday evening, after a last-ditch deal was reached on plans for a loss and damage mechanism designed to help developing nations cope with climate change impacts.

Forty-eight hours of tense negotiations including a stand-off between the US and developing nations culminated in a compromise deal that set out a timeline for discussions in the run up to the Paris Summit in 2015 and commits countries to a new loss and damage mechanism.

“Warsaw has set a pathway for governments to work on a draft text of a new universal climate agreement so it appears on the table at the next UN climate change conference in Peru,” said Marcin Korolec, who presided over the talks on behalf of the Polish government. “This is an essential step to reach a final agreement in Paris in 2015.”

The so-called “Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage” will from next year commit developed nations to providing expertise and potentially aid to countries hit by climate-related impacts.

Yeb Sano, the Filipino diplomat who had been on hunger strike for the past fortnight in protest at the lack of action, successfully argued that the new institution should sit outside of rather than “under” an existing UN scheme dealing with adaptation.

However, the vague wording fell short of the kind of detailed commitments on additional funding and avoided a commitment to compensation that many developing nations had been seeking.

Christiana Figueres, head of the UN climate change secretariat, said progress on loss and damage was essential in the wake of more frequent storms, such as the super typhoon Haiyan which tore through the Philippines earlier this month killing more than 5,000 people.

“Let us again be clear that we are witnessing ever more frequent, extreme weather events and the poor and vulnerable are paying the price,” she said.

Earlier in the day, countries reached a compromise on a new work plan to run through to the Paris Summit in 2015.

A number of nations, including the US and EU, had been calling for a clearly defined timetable through to 2015 that would see countries make clear climate change “commitments” by a deadline of early 2015. However, China led a push back by a group of developing nations, arguing for more flexibility for poorer nations – a move that drew an angry response from the US which accused China of rolling back a previous agreement to ensure all nations make some form of commitments through the 2015 treaty.

“I feel like I am going into a time warp. That is folly,” US lead negotiator Todd Stern was quoted as saying by Reuters.

The eventual agreement resulted in a draft text that requires countries “who are ready” to make “contributions, without prejudice to the legal nature”, ideally by early 2015 at the latest.

The wording represented a significant watering down of earlier proposals for “those in a position” to deliver a climate “commitment” by early 2015.

However, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey, maintained the UK’s key objective for Warsaw had been met. “All nations have now agreed to start their homework to prepare for a global climate change deal in 2015,” he said.

“The world now has a work programme, with timetables. While the long negotiations in Poland showed there are many tough talks ahead of us, the determined diplomacy of the UK and EU achieved our aims, building alliances with our friends across the world.”

He told the website RTCC the deal represented an effective compromise that would deliver a clear timetable for the talks running through to the Paris Summit. “Would we have wanted more? Yes, but this was always going to be a foundation COP,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure we’ve got the nuts and bolts, and that’s what we’ve done.”

The deal builds on earlier progress that saw an agreement on new rules to govern financing for forest protection schemes and standards for measuring, reporting, and verifying national emission reductions.

The summit once again saw tensions between developed and developing nations laid bare, with poorer countries responding angrily to moves by Japan, Australia and Canada to water down previous climate commitments.

There was also frustration at US opposition to the loss and damage mechanism and the failure of industrialised nations to make fresh emission reduction and climate financing commitments. Developed countries have agreed to prepare statements once every two years on how they are planning to scale up climate finance to deliver $100bn per year by 2020.

Earlier in the week around 800 people representing civil society groups, quit the summit, walking out in a mass protest at the reduced ambition from some countries and the Polish government’s decision to host a coal industry conference in parallel with COP 19.

Green groups today condemned the final agreement for failing to make sufficient progress towards an ambitious new climate treaty in Paris in 2015. Asad Rehman, head of international climate at Friends of the Earth, said fossil fuel lobbyists “would be delighted with their return on investment today”.

Nicholas Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at London School of Economics and Political Science, said progress made in Warsaw was “simply inadequate” compared to the scale and urgency of the risks of climate change.

“If the world is to have a reasonable chance of avoiding dangerous levels of global warming, which it is generally agreed would occur of there is a rise in global average temperature by more than two centigrade degrees compared with the late 19th century, annual emissions of greenhouse gases will need to be cut at a much faster rate than is currently planned by countries,” he said.

However, Jonathan Grant, director at PwC’s sustainability and climate change team, said that the deal could yet lay the foundations for an ambitious new treaty in two years’ time.

“By taking us to the brink of collapse, looking over the edge and then pulling back, we come away feeling delighted that any progress has been made at all,” he said. “A victory was always expected, but like the England football team, the COP made this a lot more dramatic than it needed to be. The ‘talks about talks’ phase is now over, as countries agreed the agenda for the negotiations and the timeline for coming up with some numbers.

“With the increasing complexity of these summits now, there are a host of decisions, on finance, loss and damage, and the carbon markets that will take time to digest.”

Observers will be hoping the new framework will ensure that detailed climate commitments are made by each of the world’s largest economies in early 2015, providing the basis for an international treaty that will be finalised at the Paris Summit.

However, concerns remain that differences over the key issues of climate financing and the way in which emission reductions should be shared between the world’s largest polluters, such as the US, China, the EU, and India will continue to dominate the long running negotiations

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