Warsaw Climate Talks Produce Progress On Finance, Loss and Damage, Forests

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By Eric J. Lyman and Dean Scott  

Nov. 25 --A series of 11th-hour compromises Nov. 23 at the United Nations climate talks in Warsaw set the stage--and raised the stakes--for at least four multilateral forums in 2014.

The talks stretched more than 24 hours beyond their official close Nov. 22, with most of the action taking place in the overtime period, including a hard-fought agreement on compensation for loss and damage caused by climate change in developing countries and a working deadline for countries to submit post-2020 emissions reduction targets.

The deals were just enough to avert a collapse of the talks but left much of the heavy lifting for future negotiations. The Warsaw talks, which served as the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP-19) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as well as the Ninth Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (MOP-9), aimed to lay groundwork for a global agreement to be further refined at a 2014 conference in Peru and finalized at a 2015 conference in Paris.

March Meetings Scheduled

Delegates agreed to at least one new set of meetings in 2014, to be held March 10-14 near UNFCCC headquarters in Bonn. That will be followed by the midyear subsidiary bodies meetings in June in Bonn, a Sept. 23 summit of world leaders at UN headquarters in New York to focus in part on climate change and the December summit in Lima, Peru. An additional set of talks, most likely in October, could be added.

In Warsaw, the main negotiating track focused on the 2015 agreement was officially suspended, not adjourned, meaning the March talks can get under way without taking time to approve an agenda.

COP-19 President Marcin Korolec declared the 13 days of talks a success: “We came with three central goals, and we achieved all of them,” Korolec said, referring to agreements on a “loss and damage” mechanism, policies for financing adaptation efforts and creation of a pathway to the 2015 deal. But much of the work pushed details off until 2014, or in the case of the loss and damage mechanism to 2016.

Loss and Damage Debate

Negotiators launched the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage to begin next year to sort out how to help countries already affected by rising sea levels and other climate impacts.

According to the text, the mechanism is to be established “under the Cancun Adaptation Framework … to address loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change, including extreme events and slow onset events, in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.”

The text was approved after debate about the phrase “under the Cancun Adaptation Framework.” Fiji objected to the phrase, saying it would make it too easy for loss and damage funding to become a permanent subset of adaptation funding.

Fiji's objection was seconded by the Philippines, Nepal, Bangladesh, Nicaragua, the European Union, the Group of 77 developing countries, and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). The U.S. was among the countries insisting the phrase should remain intact.

“Loss and damage is not adaptation; it is specifically compensation for events impossible to adapt to,” Philippines delegation head Yeb Saño said in seconding Fiji’s motion. Saño’s country was devastated earlier in November by Typhoon Haiyan, the kind of weather event that would be covered by the loss and damage mechanism if it were operational.

In the end, the phrase was left in, although language was added allowing for a review of the loss and damage mechanism, including its “structure and mandate,” at COP-22 in 2016. Effectively, the mechanism was made part of the larger adaptation framework for three years. After that, developing countries can petition for it to be separated.

Stern Applauds Compromise

Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, said it was a “meaningful and practical” compromise that will allow the issue to be revisited once it is better understood.

Stern said developed countries had shown a genuine willingness to compromise on the demands of developing nations by agreeing to launch the loss and damage mechanism. He told negotiators in the last hours of the talks that the U.S. “recognizes the critical implications of loss and damage from the adverse affects of climate change, including those caused by sea level rise in particularly low-lying island states.”

Negotiators “have engaged constructively” to establish “for the first time under the [1992 framework] convention a mechanism to address loss and damage,” Stern said.

Developing nations argue that such compensation is in order, given that such climate impacts are happening now and are caused by emissions in the atmosphere, put there mostly by industrialized nations.

René Orellana of Bolivia, one of the main countries lobbying for “under” to be removed, said she could live with the compromise language. “What is important is that the loss and damage structure has been created,” she told Bloomberg BNA. “We have a baby now, and we have to give him time to grow.”

But environmentalists, many of whom walked out of the talks Nov. 22 in protest of the slow progress, were less pleased.

“Instead of establishing a system that could respond to new climate realities, they’ve established more talks and provided no real resources,” Lidy Nacpil, from the Jubilee South-Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development, told Bloomberg BNA. “This is reflective of a broader outcome that is still deaf to the needs of impacted communities and the urgency of this problem.”

Call for Pre-2020 Adaptation Financing

At the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, the U.S. and other industrialized nations pledged $100 billion a year in combined public and private funding for climate finance starting in 2020. But the Group of 77 developing nations and China came away empty-handed from Warsaw in their effort to get specific funding pledges for the period before 2020; one proposal called for a pledge of $70 billion a year beginning in 2016.

In addition to urging developed nations to ramp up pre-2020 finance, a decision approved in Warsaw and drafted by the high-level Work Program on Long-term Finance also asks developed countries to submit strategies for scaling up climate finance between now and 2020.

It calls for workshops to be convened on the issue and asks developing nations to submit ideas for a high-level ministerial dialogue on climate finance every two years, starting in 2014 and ending in 2020.

The summit also approved a decision urging the fledgling Green Climate Fund, a body created in previous negotiations, to ensure it is operational in time to begin receiving funds next year. The decision calls for “ambitious and timely contributions” by developed countries to the fund before the next round of high-level talks in Peru.

2015 Deadline for Pledges?

In the third of the three main platforms Korolec identified, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) sought to establish a deadline for countries to state emission reduction targets for the post-2020 period--a main part of the pathway to the 2015 conference in Paris expected to produce a global agreement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for countries to consider the September 2014 summit at UN headquarters as a deadline for such pledges, and Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Peru’s minister of environment and the president of next year’s COP, said delegations should arrive in Lima in 2014 with emission reduction pledges in hand. But the U.S., Canada, Australia and other allies pushed for a later date.

In the end, the ADP agreed that “countries ready to do so” should submit emission reduction targets “well in advance of COP-21” in December 2015. It did not define “well in advance,” but the only date left in brackets for further negotiation was for targets to be submitted during the first quarter of 2015. A deadline as late as March 2015 would give parties only eight months to refine targets to compensate for the expected gap between their pledges and the level of cuts needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

“It’s a disappointment,” Pulgar-Vidal said in an interview after the close of the talks. “We’ll do our best to get some targets on the table in Lima and to have everything in order so we can publish the first draft text by May” of 2015.

Also in the ADP, mentions of reducing worldwide greenhouse gas emissions by between 25 percent and 40 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2030--the range prescribed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change--were removed from the text in the final flurry of activity. Delegates said they are now less likely to appear in the 2015 agreement.

Environmental groups were not pleased. “The blocking by rich, industrialized countries has been disgraceful,” said Meena Raman from the Third World Network. Asad Rehman from Friends of the Earth said, “Lobbyists [from the fossil fuel energy sector] should be delighted with their return on investment.”

Progress on Forest Protection

One bright note from the talks was the progress made to advance the UN forest protection program known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), including new funding pledges unveiled in Warsaw. Deforestation, along with other land-use changes and agriculture, accounts for more than 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Ultimately, the forest protection efforts could be funneled into the final global accord in 2015, providing credit for heavily forested developing nations for reducing emissions by curbing deforestation. But for now the Warsaw decisions on REDD offer incremental progress, setting rules for developing nations to measure, report and verify existing forest cover and measure progress.

The COP decisions on REDD also launched a new information hub to track emissions avoided through the program as well as any payments or credits provided to developing nations that participate in it.

In the end, forest protection was one of the few areas where new climate finance money was brought to the table this year. The U.S., Norway and the U.K. pledged a total of $280 million in Warsaw to launch a new multilateral body at the World Bank to target deforestation and support more sustainable agriculture.

Looking forward, environmental groups said the next step is to get the REDD program up and running in developing countries and to obtain far larger sums--an estimated $20 billion to $35 billion a year--that are needed to fully implement REDD efforts globally.

U.S.-Backed Language on HFCs Defeated

Gone from the final Warsaw agreement was U.S.-backed language in early drafts that would have had climate negotiators explicitly endorse accelerated action to cut hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide, under the Montreal Protocol.

The U.S. argues that agreement on ozone-depleting substances will bring quicker action on HFCs than the UN climate negotiations, which have been under way since the 1992 signing of the UN climate convention that first committed nations to a global response to climate change.

The Montreal treaty endorsement was never directly mentioned in earlier texts; the language called instead on other international “fora” to curb HFCs.

But many developing nations--which produce significant amounts of HFCs used in refrigeration and air conditioning--argue that the climate talks should address HFCs. India and Saudi Arabia “vehemently opposed” the U.S.-led protocol endorsement, according to Alden Meyer, strategy and policy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the language was removed.

“On the other end of the spectrum, the EU [European Union] didn’t think it was helpful to have wishy-washy language that didn’t even mention the Montreal Protocol directly,” Meyer said. The EU was supportive of the effort coming into the talks, according to its official positions outlined before Warsaw.

Environmental Groups Disappointed

Many environmental groups were disappointed in the modest progress made in the Warsaw talks, while other groups that closely monitor the negotiations said it produced a glimmer of hope that a global climate accord can be signed in Paris in 2015.

“The real need in Warsaw was to keep the talks moving forward, and they managed that, though just barely,” said Elliot Diringer, executive vice president for the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

Still, delegates said the final text helped avert an abject failure.

“We live to fight another day,” veteran Italian negotiator Corrado Clini said in a brief interview.

Connie Hedegaard, the European Union’s climate action commissioner, said afterward that the talks ended the way she had expected going in, providing modest progress that moved negotiations in the right direction.

“The COP delivered what it could and should, but some of us would have wanted to see something more ambitious,” Hedegaard told reporters Nov. 23. “But let us work with what is there.”

The Philippines’ Saño, whose tearful Nov. 11 recounting of the impacts of Haiyan on his country failed to change the tone of the negotiations, was philosophical afterwards. “It’s far from perfect, but at least it allows us to try again next year,” he told Bloomberg BNA.


To contact the reporters on this story: Eric J. Lyman in Warsaw at correspondents@bna.com and Dean Scott in Warsaw at dscott@bna.com

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

The COP-19 decision on the loss and damage mechanism is available at http://bit.ly/1g7Daxt.

The decision on the Green Climate Fund is available at http://bit.ly/1jxhLOa.

The decision on the Work Program on Long-Term Finance is available at http://bit.ly/1bPCsAM.

Other decisions adopted by COP-19 and the 9th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol are available at http://unfccc.int.

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