Sunday, December 1, 2013

Talks necessary but plagued by foot-dragging

Dhanesh Wisumperuma


The Nation, 2013-12-01 (Lens, p. 4)


Another global summit on climate change is over, this time in Warsaw, Poland. Officially it was the 19th conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It was expected to be the platform for a discussion of the proposed global agreement and yet there was very little optimism in the run up to the summit. According to what was agreed a few years ago, a new, universal and legally binding agreement is to be signed in 2015 in Paris, one which will come into force by 2020. What was agreed upon during the prolonged final session of this two week long summit nevertheless needs to be considered carefully.

The new timetable

The most important outcome of the Warsaw summit is agreement on roadmap or a time frame towards the new global treaty. According to this, all nations who are parties to the UNFCCC are now required to submit their emission reduction targets and plans by the end of first quarter of 2015. This is a crucial step towards a future treaty –- now there is a deadline for all countries to complete domestic negotiations and announce national targets.

These targets are not ‘commitments’, but ‘contributions’ a word used to satisfy the developing countries who opposed this word, due to the fear that it might place them alongside the developed nations whom they believe should accept responsibility for climate change. The developed world has now found an exit from this by blaming the emerging economies of the developing world, especially China and India who are the 1st and 4th greenhouse gas emitters of the world respectively.

This however is a far cry from a total solution. The time remaining for an agreement is just a few months from the date of the targets and there will be little time for negotiating these. The present situation is not the best. The new emission targets recently announced by Japan are worse than what they had originally set for itself. This itself is ominous. Nevertheless, the decision to prepare a new draft text to be discussed in Lima, Peru next year is also a step forward.

Compensation claims

A key and a relatively novel topic discussed during this year’s climate summit was the issue of paying compensation for the victims of weather-related catastrophes in the developing world. This grabbed the attention of the summit which was held immediately after the Philippines were hit by a debilitating hurricane. The developing countries requested a proper compensation mechanism for the welfare of the most vulnerable communities during situations associated with climate change, including extreme events as well as slow-onset events.

The proposal was for a new mechanism and institutional arrangement for handling these compensation claims. The developed countries objected to a separate mechanism. Finally it was agreed that this mechanism to be launched as ‘Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage’ under the Cancun Adaptation Framework. Work on this is to commence next year. It was also agreed to review it in 2016. 

Paying for forest conservation

Another topic that was taken was the payment procedure for the reduced deforestation in developing countries. Known as the REDD+, this is intended to provide payment to developing countries that protect their forests from being cleared. This is an important point as deforestation and the degradation of forests amount for nearly one fifth of global greenhouse emissions. According to what was agreed it will be a result based payment system, where countries have to show what was protected. This seems to be the finale of this process which ran for almost a decade. This is a mechanism that has been widely discussed, as it provides other benefits such as biodiversity conservation. The ‘Warsaw Framework for REDD+’ is agreed upon now and is backed by pledges of funds from the US, Norway and the UK. 


However there are setbacks in some fronts too. There was no development in the long term financing mechanism for climate adaptation. The developing world has promised to raise a sum of US $ 100 billion annually by 2020, for adaptation activities in the developing nations with respect to climate change. Unfortunately there is no clarity on how this will be achieved and no agreement was reached in Warsaw in this regard. Developed countries have refused to specify a schedule for the raising of this fund.

All things considered, Warsaw seems to have generated just that little bit of hope to keep things moving. Whether all parties abide by the agreement is left to be seen. There is also the question of speed. We are after all facing a dangerous situation considering the predicted 2 degree Celsius rise in temperature. In this context it is worthwhile reflecting on a statement made by the climate economist Nicholas Stern. “The actions that have been agreed are simply inadequate when compared with the scale and urgency of the risks that the world faces from rising levels of greenhouse gases, and the dangers of irreversible impacts.” Right now it looks like there’s no way out apart from this process, flawed and vague though it is. For now it looks that there’s no way around talks, discussions and negotiations with all their pitfalls.

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