Warsaw talks a failure, but there is still hope for climate change cooperation

By Vikas Nath Source:Global Times Published: 2013-12-8 17:53:01

Negotiators from over 190 countries gathered recently in Warsaw to lay the framework for a global climate agreement that is expected to be signed in 2015 in Paris. Warsaw was an opportunity for negotiators to narrow their differences, and increase their ambition for long-term action on climate change.

Unfortunately they failed to reach a common understanding on the shape of the new agreement, the level of cuts needed, how they should be divided up, long-term financing needs of developing countries, and providing assistance to those suffering losses and damages from climate change.

While the climate issue has moved high up on the political agenda, and the platform on which negotiations take place is multilateral, the interests pursued by negotiators remain firmly rooted in domestic concerns. Countries have consistently refused to look beyond their boundaries and interests to deal with an issue that cuts across borders.

Rich countries have to lead the way in cutting emissions and providing support. But developing countries also need to contribute if the warming limit of 2 C is to be maintained.

Unfortunately the UN multilateral climate forum is capable of keeping the negotiations alive without yielding progressive outcomes. We may end up at the 2015 summit in Paris without any bold ambitions and actions to bring down global emissions.

Climate talks so far have distinguished between richer and poorer countries. Richer countries are those who have polluted their way to economic growth and development and are responsible for the bulk of historical emissions. While poorer countries are latecomers to industrialization, their emissions are increasing as they need to grow and lift their population out of poverty.

The Warsaw talks saw a major push by developed countries to remove the fire wall between rich and poor countries so that all countries take on binding commitments to reduce emissions. But developing countries challenged that these commitments were contingent on developed countries playing their role and providing climate funds and clean technology at concessional rates, and that this was not happening.

Most developing countries maintain that since the Durban decision was under the UN Climate Convention, the responsibilities to reduce emissions remain differentiated.

The negotiating parties ultimately agreed to go back home and initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended "nationally determined" contributions to reduce emissions without being legally obliged to do so. Countries ready to do so will submit clear and transparent plans by the first quarter of 2015.

The plans will be assessed by other countries to determine if they are ambitious and fair, and whether they will be collectively effective in preventing climate catastrophe.

Developed countries know that financing is needed urgently by developing countries, and they use it as a tool to pressurize developing countries to make firm commitments to cut emissions. Putting conditionality on financial assistance by linking it up with commitments does not make it assistance any longer.

Under the climate talks, richer countries are required to provide financial assistance, and this should be free from conditionality.

One of the few positive developments from the Warsaw talks was the "Warsaw International Mechanism" to provide leadership, improved coordination, expertise and technical assistance, and possibly financial support to help developing nations cope with loss and damage from extreme events such as heat waves, droughts and floods, and creeping threats such as rising sea levels and desertification.

This was one of the few areas where developing countries were "Agenda Setters." They put in a lot of effort and coordination in pushing the issue through and have it accepted within the framework of the Climate Convention. But its success was limited.

The political and economic realities of bringing down carbon emissions are a complex process, and the Warsaw talks failed to overcome them.

There is still an opportunity to salvage the trust and ambitions lost at Warsaw. A commitment to interim financing would be a good trust-building gesture, and it will also give momentum to get the accord ready by 2015.

This has to be followed by concrete efforts to close the pre-2020 ambition gap before an agreement can be hammered out for post-2020.

The author is the associate director of Future UN Development System. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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