Warsaw gets serious – the ups and downs of global climate negotiations

by Kennedy Graham

It does not help when the president of the conference is dumped from Poland’s cabinet in the middle of week 2 as a result of an inter-party dust-up.  That really signals solidarity to the cause of inter-generational equity, as the UN-COP 19 climate conference enters its critical final stages.

But life’s too short for national niceties when global needs are at stake, or at least the conference is.  So the delegations grind the evenings out with purposeful exchanges and deal-makers in the halls and the side-rooms.

It is not plain sailing. Three main issues, and each is bedevilled.

Pre-‘20 ambition is suffering from the twin scourge of importance and imminence.  The scientists indicate that global emissions must peak this decade to avoid dangerous climate change.  That does not stop the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, each of which has endorsed the stated objective of avoiding dangerous climate change, from playing chicken with one another.  After you, Alphonse is not the time-honoured way of collectively avoiding an approaching disaster.

But in response to UNEP’s annual report on the ‘global emissions gap’, not one country has entered a new pledge for 2020.  Japan has seriously down-graded its target, which was 25%. It has shifted the goalposts, the way you do, by changing the base-line date forward to 2005, but its latest target means a 3% increase on 1990.  Japan cites the woes of Fukushima. Experts calculate that Fukushima would justify one-third of its down-grade.

Pre-’20 finance is struggling – the pledges for the $100 b. per year came in for 2009-12 but have stopped for the post-’12 period.  And the Adaptation Fund is suffering. Where is the Umbrella Group when it is needed?  That, incidentally, includes New Zealand, always out to please.  Nowhere to be seen.

Then there is post-’20 – the global legal agreement meant to be finished by 2015.  Still in the stages of abstraction – discussion on principles of ‘bounded flexibility’ and a thousand others, and even on the nature of a legally-binding document.  The US, for example, wishes not to have a binding agreement.  What happened to the soaring Obama rhetoric of June?  Even the EU is downplaying the language – from ‘finalising commitments’ in 2014 to ‘preparing’.

The stand-off between pre-‘20 and post-‘20 is a metaphor in a way – for the end of the structural division of the world between rich and poor, North and South, historical emitters and future emitters.  It is true, there is a dawning recognition in officialdom, that the world, or at least the global carbon economy, is one, and that there has therefore to be a single coherent solution to the problem of global emissions.

The trouble is, while that applies to post-’20, it does not really apply to pre’20.  But the North, minus EU, is pretending it does. So the critical decade of mitigation, 2013-20, suffers.  So does CBDR – the principle of common but differentiated responsibility. So, as a result, does the precautionary principle.  So, as a result, do the kids.

And, with the searing images of Haiyan fresh in delegates’ minds, loss-and-damage is proving to be a deal-breaker.  If the South do not get something out of this, it could scupper Warsaw.  China et alwalked out at 4.00 am the other night. They are not impressed.

Then there is ratification of the Doha Amendments to the Kyoto Protocol.  Things get technical and complex here – to do with 1 commitment period targets and emissions, and the role of Russia and Ukraine, and the EU with Poland as Trojan horse. The down-graded conference president has his work cut out.

So do we all. We are becoming numbed, by the sheer repetitiousness of the annual conferences which grind away at national interests, times 195, before, a tsunami of global need.

If you do not look up, you do not see the storm approaching.  You may sense it, but you do not look up.

11/21/2013 – 08:35


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