Typhoon Brings Renewed Attention to Damage Issues at Climate Summit

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By Dean Scott  

Nov. 12 --International negotiators have begun meeting in Poland in hopes of making progress on a global climate change agreement, even as a devastating typhoon in the Philippines triggered renewed calls for wealthier industrialized nations to help vulnerable ones adapt to the effects of climate change.

The head of the Philippines delegation, Yeb Sano, told other delegates at the Nov. 11 opening plenary that the damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan, including an estimated 10,000 or more deaths in central Philippines, illustrated why more funding is needed to help developing countries adapt to rising sea levels and other effects of global warming.

Head of Delegation Launches Fast

Sano said he would protest the lack of international action by fasting until there is “meaningful” progress on climate change at the United Nations summit in Warsaw, which brings together representatives from more than 190 nations from Nov. 11-22 .

The Warsaw talks serve as the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 9th Meeting of the Parties (MOP) to the Kyoto Protocol .

Aiming for Agreement in 2015

Climate finance plays a key role in the negotiations that over the next two years are supposed to conclude with an agreement in Paris that would commit developed and developing nations to cut global greenhouse gas emissions beginning in 2020. The U.S. and other industrialized nations have pledged $100 billion a year for climate finance beginning in 2020, but developing nations say those pledges are vague and do not address the loss and damage incurred by nations already feeling the effects of climate change.

Marcin Korolec, Poland's environment minister and president of the COP in Warsaw, told reporters at a Nov. 12 news conference that the “loss and damage issue is part of the imminent political discussion” at the summit. He said he was “confident we will have a decision … by the end of the conference next week.”

“Although the positions of different countries today are quite different [there is] room for consensus” on loss and damage as well as other climate finance issues, he said.

Decisions on 'Mechanism' Needed

Negotiators agreed at last year's climate summit in Doha, Qatar, to settle on an “international mechanism” to address loss and damage when they conclude this year's talks in Warsaw.

One template for that approach is the fledgling Green Climate Fund, which is headquartered in South Korea and overseen by a 24-member board representing various countries. International climate negotiators agreed to launch the fund at the 2010 summit in Cancun, Mexico, and it will ultimately direct the $100 billion a year promised by industrialized nations to aid developing nations in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change.

Developing nations say adaptation funding efforts thus far fall short of compensating them for the loss and damage they are likely to bear from global warming that is already occurring largely due to greenhouse gases emitted by richer industrialized nations.

Kelly Dent of the Oxfam International environmental group told reporters Nov. 12 that the damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan is the latest indication that “extreme weather events are only going to become more certain and more intense” as global temperatures increase. “What happened in the Philippines is beyond adaptation,” Dent said at a media conference at the talks. “People who are dead cannot be brought back--this is loss and damage to an unprecedented scale,” she said.

UN Official Cites 'Sobering Realities.'

Environmental groups are calling on negotiators to launch an international loss and damage mechanism complete with specific funding pledges from industrialized nations by the end of the Warsaw talks. Such funding could be used, Dent said, to provide early warning systems for local populations in the event of typhoons and other severe weather events.

Christiana Figueres, who oversees the Warsaw talks as UNFCCC executive secretary, told delegates in the opening plenary that the damage to the Philippines has drawn attention to the “sobering realities of climate change and the rise in extreme events that climate science has long predicted.”

Negotiators in Warsaw “must clarify” the role climate finance can play in helping “the entire world to move towards low-carbon development” and must launch a new “mechanism” to help vulnerable populations assess the risks and respond to damages caused by climate change, Figueres said.

More broadly, Figueres said, negotiators need to conclude the talks with an agreement on at least the broad elements of the 2020 global deal; provide “an effective path” for cutting emissions before then; and make sure the three institutions launched at the 2010 Cancun talks--the Green Climate Fund, the Technology Mechanism and the Adaptation Committee--are all made “fully operational” by the final decisions made in Warsaw.

U.S. Touts Increase in Climate Funding

The top U.S. climate negotiator, Todd Stern, told reporters just days before the opening of the Warsaw talks that the U.S. continues to demonstrate its commitment to helping developing nations on adaptation and emissions mitigation. Speaking to reporters Nov. 8 at the National Press Club's Foreign Press Center, Stern announced that “provisional” data show the U.S. is projected to provide $2.7 billion in total for such climate finance efforts in fiscal year 2013, up from about $2.3 billion in fiscal 2012.

Stern said the funding increase demonstrates continued U.S. commitment to climate finance four years after it joined other industrialized nations at the 2009 summit in Copenhagen in pledging $30 billion in “fast-track” funding between 2010 and 2012 for developing nations' efforts.

The $2.7 billion in total funding for fiscal 2013 “should address the concerns of some countries that after the so-called 'fast-start' period ended … our climate finance efforts would sort of tail off,” Stern said. “Just the opposite is happening,” according to Stern, who will lead the U.S. negotiations in Warsaw in the final days of the summit.

Stern emphasized that the global 2020 deal will include “obligations” for all countries, including developing nations, to address their rising greenhouse gas emissions, but said the U.S. is “completely sensitive” to concerns that there are “different circumstances and capabilities” among nations that may determine what actions they can take.

Negotiators launched the negotiations toward the 2020 talks at the conclusion of the 2011 U.N. summit in Durban, South Africa, where they committed to developing “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” to be agreed to in Paris in 2015.


To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

More information on the UN climate summit in Warsaw is available at http://unfccc.int/2860.php.

A transcript of the Nov. 8 comments by U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern is available at http://fpc.state.gov/217311.htm.