Spotlight on COP19

An overview of outcomes by Mr. Espen Ronneberg, Climate Change Adviser, SPREP

“Negotiators were able to agree on what could be described as a modest package of decisions at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Warsaw.  The negotiations are still on track”.   However the decisions underscore the challenges as parties work toward bridging their differences to reach a new global agreement in Paris in 2015.

This Conference of the Parties (COP) was the midpoint in the programme of work launched two years ago in Durban to reach a new global agreement.

Usually at these COPs there are a myriad of issues that require in-depth decision making, however a central focus of the Warsaw conference was defining a clearer path for the final two years of the Durban Platform negotiations.

The talks ran a full 30 hours longer than planned, and a loose timeline was set by parties for proposing their “intended nationally determined contributions” to the 2015 agreement: by the first quarter of that year for those “ready to do so.”

This decision language was crafted to very carefully avoid prejudging the ultimate shape of a Paris accord, and can be seen as less ambitious than the Kyoto Protocol language of commitments.

Other equally major issues in Warsaw were demands from the Pacific and other developing countries for increased levels of climate finance and easier access to resources, and for a new mechanism to help the most vulnerable cope with unavoidable “Loss and Damage” resulting from climate change.

The latter was a particular concern for the Pacific Island Countries and for the Alliance of Small Island States, who were seeking to build on a proposal initiated in the negotiations as early as 1991.

It had been agreed a year ago in Doha that Warsaw would make decisions on “Loss and Damage”, and the issue took on extra magnitude against the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines just days before the conference.

Developed countries, having at previous COPs in Copenhagen and Cancun promised to mobilise a total of $100 billion a year by 2020, refused in Warsaw to set a quantified interim goal for ramping up climate finance.   In addition, the new “Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage associated with climate change impacts” fell well short of what the Pacific had expected.

It does establish a new forum to provide information and expertise, and to consider further steps, but makes no promise of additional funding. Nevertheless there is hope that in working through the issues on “Loss and Damage” the resources necessary to take action will be identified.

The final agreement represented a great compromise on behalf of the Pacific in that it places the issue of “Loss and Damage” under the framework of Adaptation, whereas the Pacific had argued that “Loss and Damage” should be dealt with separately from adaptation, because in their view it transcends adaptation, and that it is ‘beyond adaptation’.  That said, these arrangements will be reviewed in 2016.

In 2009, the Copenhagen summit produced a comprehensive political agreement among leaders that a year later was translated into formal COP decisions in Cancun.

A pivotal package deal the following year at COP 17 in Durban kept the Kyoto Protocol alive through 2020 and launched the Durban Platform round to negotiate a successor agreement.   COP 18 in Doha delivered the formal amendment needed to legally establish the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period. By comparison, the progress achieved in Warsaw was largely procedural.

As a view of what the Pacific can expect in the next two years of negotiations leading to Paris, the Warsaw COP underscored the tremendous distance between groups of parties on core issues such as the legal character of a new agreement and the differentiation of developed and developing country obligations.

The outcome effectively preserved the vague but delicate balance struck on those issues in Durban.

The one significant new substantive element was the indication that countries’ individual contributions to the Paris agreement will be “nationally determined”, which for some commentators could result in targets that are not sufficiently ambitious or that rise to countries actual capabilities.

The Pacific negotiators showed a lot of perseverance as well as good technical expertise in Warsaw, and SPREP was pleased to provide technical support and advice. We are committed to assisting the Pacific in the negotiations so that they can attain an agreement at the end of the day that meets their very real concerns”.

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