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The diplomatic dimension of Warsaw

by Kennedy Graham

As week 2 of UNFCC-COP 19 gets under way in earnest, the question hanging over the conference is whether it will deliver the minimum necessary to do justice to Typhoon Haiyan and Yeb Saňo’s historic appeal, or not.

Warsaw is proving different from previous UN climate conferences of my experience.  There is more ‘space’ here – a low-key, quieter conference with less fanfare and hype – a feeling that, in the wake of the global storms of the past year, if not the fires, floods and heat-waves of the past decade, governments must take things seriously and with urgency.

And a seeming belief from civil society here that the governments need more space to achieve and accomplish.

Climate change is too important for politics.

Can it be that we are maturing on global climate policy?  Time will tell.

Certainly, work is purposeful when it comes to the critical issue – mitigation, pre- and post-‘20.  A draft resolution is already circulating from the ‘two ADP work-streams’ – jargon for commitments on emission reductions for the current decade (2014-20) and the long-term (2021-50).

On the face of things, it looks potentially good, but as the experts explain, much remains buried in the text, and it is too soon to know whether that is a necessary down-payment for successful delivery by the weekend, or is yet another kick of the can down the road into 2014.

The resolution says all the right preparatory things.  The conference of the parties warns that climate change represents ‘an urgent and potentially irreversible threat’ to human societies (does it have to be plural?) and the planet.

It underlines its grave concern about the ‘significant gap’ between current pledges and a ‘likely chance’ of holding temperature rise to 2°C (or 1.5°C).

It expresses its determination to make the transition to a low-emission world that is resilient to climate change, noting that the key challenge is mobilising the political will to ‘align economic incentives’.

So then, what will it do?  Well, it resolves to ‘raise ambition significantly’ in the 2014-20 period.  For those parties that have entered commitments under Kyoto-2, they should ‘increase their level of ambition’.  This is a bit rich, given the parties are simply European, which have far outstripped all other developed countries in both emission reductions to date and commitments entered for the future.

Just to be even-handed, the same requirement is made of the other developed countries that are staying outside Kyoto-2: they must take a commitment under the Framework Convention and also increase their ambition levels…  This, incidentally, applies to New Zealand, with its refusal to enter Kyoto-2 and its modest 5% unconditional target for 2020.  So, it will be interesting to see whether New Zealand cheerfully signs on to this self-admonitory language, and then cheerfully ignores it as soon as the ink is dry.

And what of the long-term – the post-2020 agreement that Mr Groser keeps telling us is all that matters?  The Conference of the Parties affirms its determination to adopt a global legal agreement of some kind. And what’s more, each Party is invited (that’s as strong as it gets here) to intensify its preparation of commitments.  They are to ‘intensify their high-level engagement’ with a view to building momentum for a ‘strong political signal in favour of enhanced ambition’.

The draft can be interpreted in two ways – as a ritualistic beating of the chest for the global public in advance of producing a whimper at the weekend; or as a strong set of benchmarks to which the Parties are determined to live up to.  I am optimistic enough, for the moment, to go for the second, having regard to the ‘space’ I described above.

The resolution contains an annex with ‘indicative elements’ for a 2015 agreement – on mitigation, adaptation, financing, technology transfer and capacity-building.  And beyond that, on common threads and transparency.

What remains buried?  The tension among Parties between pre-‘20 and post-’20 that could yet scupper a substantive step ahead at Warsaw.

What is unaddressed, as yet?  Several questions:

  • whether the post-’20 agreement will contain legally-binding commitments or not;
  • whether there will be enough commonality among the commitments to even be able calculate if the combined global commitment will deliver – prove sufficient to ‘prevent dangerous   anthropogenic interference with the climate system’;
  • whether, accordingly, enough progress will be made, here in Warsaw, to keep the flame of Paris-’15 alive.

Three days of climate negotiations will answer this.

11/20/2013 – 14:55


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