Deal at Warsaw climate talks: something to cheer about?

Negotiators from some 190 countries reached a shaky agreement on a key aspect of the Warsaw climate change talks.

 Christine Ottery of Greenpeace reports from the World Coal summit, which coincides with the second week of UN climate negotiations in Warsaw

Working into overtime late into Saturday night, negotiators from some 190 countries made a shaky agreement on a key aspect of the Warsaw climate change talks – the roadmap towards agreeing post-2020 carbon emissions reduction targets at the Paris talks in 2015.

There were low expectations of the ‘coal COP’ before it even started, and fears and frustrations that the talks would not produce any meaningful results led several major NGOs to walk out of the talks.

Despite the climate science getting stronger – the IPCC released a video on the latest climate science to coincide with the talks – the talks have continued to be dogged by disagreement and controversy.

So the fact that the Warsaw COP has delivered even modest progress towards a global climate treaty being signed in Paris has been greeted with cautious optimism by some.

A two-year timetable has been agreed to start working out the finer details of the treaty, which will begin in Bonn in March next year with the aim to get a draft text of the treaty at the Peru talks in Lima in December 2014.

But as several commentators pointed out, the pathway to Paris (or should we say boulevard?) is pitted with challenges.

The Union of Concerned Scientists said the progress on the roadmap and pre-2020 pledges to reduce emissions was less than necessary, and added: “Unfortunately, they failed to agree on what process and criteria to use in evaluating the adequacy and fairness of each others’ proposed actions [at Lima]; they will need to work on this over the coming year.”

‘Watered down’ language

The Warsaw talks also saw continuing disagreement about the legal nature of the action different countries would take under a new deal. Some developing countries continue to be fiercely resistant to taking on binding cuts post 2020. As a result, members of the ‘Like Minded Group of Nations’, including China, pushed back against a proposal that would have seen all countries required to come forward with ‘commitments’, preferring instead to talk about ‘contributions’ without ‘prejudice to their legal form’.

This will be a critical discussion over the next two years, particularly since the Chinese have previously indicated some flexibility on the nature of their contribution, whilst the United States will not wish to be seen to take on any commitment which is different in legal form from that of its major economic competitor.

Matthias Groote, European Parliament delegation chair to the COP said he regretted the “rather watered down wording and deadlines”, adding that “we need clear and urgent commitments. Much is left to the next Cop meeting next year.”

Mixed bag for poor countries

Set against a backdrop of the super-typhoon Haiyan, and emotional appeals from the Philippines’ climate negotiator Yeb Sano, two key issues at stake for poor countries – climate finance and ‘loss and damage’associated with climate change – were even more poignant.

Although developed countries will not compromise on any mention of compensation for historical pollution in relation to future discussion on loss and damage, a consensus was delivered on a new loss and damage mechanism. It could help to co-ordinate aid and conduct research into the effects of climate change.

On climate finance, pledges towards additional work on forests and adaptation projects were made by a number of countries, including the UK, and the level of finance in the Adaptation Fund reached $100m.

But progress towards delivering the $100bn a year by 2020 promised at Copenhagen remained slow. Vulnerable countries and development groups are now hoping that a commitment towards the rapid capitalization of the Green Climate Fund will ensure significant scaling up from current levels during 2014.

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