Bridges Warsaw Update #2 | Loss and Damage Control in Warsaw

24 November 2013

As expected in the lead up to the UN Climate Convention's Nineteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 19), the issue of financing stole the spotlight in Warsaw, Poland. Wide gaps over how to pay for the move toward a low carbon economy and the catastrophic effects of climate change - largely between developed and developing countries - were so pronounced that developing countries staged a walkout on 20 November in protest.

In the end, countries managed to squeak out a deal on the evening of 23 November, after more than 38 hours of straight negotiating. Many involved in the process were critical of the final deal, as it required dramatic compromise and ambiguous language to allow key players in the negotiations to sign off.

The 195 countries that are Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) gathered from 11-22 November in Poland to move negotiations closer to finalising by 2015 binding international rules on combating climate change, which would take effect by 2020.

A day after the developing country exodus, several major green groups followed suit, including Greenpeace, WWF, Oxfam,, and Friends of the Earth. Symbolically handing back their badges to the UN on their way out of the stadium in Warsaw, the civil society groups said the slow speed and lack of ambition in the talks will not produce a deal in time for COP 21, to be held in Paris in 2015.

The notably quiet and sombre atmosphere following the departure of most civil society groups was interrupted on Friday night when a small group of remaining green groups began chanting in protest over the slow pace of negotiations. The noise, which made it difficult to hear the discussions in the plenary, coincided with a serious breakdown in negotiations, which many said were at that point headed toward a weak but conclusive ending.

Venezuela's outspoken delegation head Claudia Salerno censured EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard for comments she made to the media. Hedegaard had pointed out that small island states, many African countries, and even the United States were participating constructively, but was critical of the Like Minded Group (LMG) of developing countries - which includes China, India, and Venezuela - saying that they would like to re-establish a "firewall" that has already been deconstructed.

"By going to the media and attacking negotiating partners the EU chief is responsible for damaging seriously the atmosphere of confidence and trust," Salerno said. "We are forced to answer her accusations to the media, because of the serious allegations she has made. If this process is damaged on this last day because of the incredible outburst by Connie Hedegaard, she has to take the responsibility of damaging this conference."

Cooler heads ultimately prevailed - possibly due to fatigue in the marathon-like final negotiating session - and countries approved a deal that requires all countries to prepare and come forward with national targets by the first quarter of 2015. The national target issue was a key requirement by the United States and other developed countries, which wants to be sure that all countries are prepared to take part in reducing national emissions in any global deal. China, India, Venezuela and several other developing countries were staunchly opposed to targets for developing countries into the final moments of the talks.

"Red lines" on loss and damage

One of the key stumbling block in Warsaw was the issue of "loss and damage," which was slipped into language of the Doha Package at the end of COP 18. The text calls for the establishment of unspecified "institutional arrangements" to help developing countries cope with the results of extreme weather events - such as Typhoon Haiyan. The disaster in the Philippines was referred to constantly during the Warsaw talks as an example of the increased frequency and severity of weather-related disasters.

Developing countries insisted that the loss and damage issue was a "red line" for them and that including a mechanism for compensation was essential for moving forward. Developed countries, most notably the US, counter that they will not agree to any mechanism that holds rich countries responsible for the effects of natural disasters.

Watered down language in the final deal gave enough wiggle room for compromise, but many negotiators acknowledge that it is not ideal. Countries that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change expressed their deep concerns over the lack of a deal on the issue.The new "Warsaw international mechanism" will aim to enhance action and support to address loss and damage, improve knowledge, and strengthen coordination - but it is not yet clear how the mechanism will work.

Good news for forests

Positive news from Warsaw came in the shape of a package of measures that will provide results-based payments to developing countries for preserving forests. The deal marks a great leap forward after years of work on the issue, where donors have been looking for appropriate rules that would allow them to verify the emissions reductions they seek through the scheme.

Germany, Norway, the UK, and the US agreed to a financing package worth US$280 million aimed at sustainable land use. The plan, dubbed the BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes, aims to encourage sustainable land use by ensuring fewer forests are lost to agriculture. The Fund aims to kickstart efforts geared toward Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries and additional forest measures (REDD+), which have been under negotiation for more than six years, but never implemented.

In the final hours of the conference, countries also managed to clinch a deal that will help establish a framework for REDD+ to move forward. The Warsaw Framework for REDD+, as it has been called, essentially completes the much-need rule book that is needed to implement the scheme.

Response measures forum extended

An "in-session workshop" on the Forum on Response Measures - co-facilitated by Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) Chair Richard Muyungi and Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) Chair Thomasz Chruszczow - took place on Tuesday, 12 November.

The two-year mandate of the Forum, established at COP 17 in Durban to discuss the unintended impacts of measures countries take to mitigate climate change, was the focus of discussion in Warsaw. While Parties differed somewhat on the most appropriate form of the Forum, all agreed that it served a useful function and should continue.

However, the final text put forward to the COP President in Warsaw was ultimately rejected by the G77 and China, which wanted mention of a "mechanism." The inclusion of a mechanism would, in theory, function as a tool to compensate countries adversely affected by mitigation actions, such as countries facing higher export costs resulting from the inclusion of aviation in Europe's emissions trading scheme.

Developed countries, however, see the Forum as a place only for discussion of such issues. Lack of consensus on the future of the Forum means that the issue will be kicked forward to the next meeting of the UNFCCC subsidiary bodies - most likely the UNFCCC's mid-year Bonn intersessional in June 2014.

Workshop draws out agriculture issues

A workshop on the technical and scientific aspects of how climate change could affect adaptation in agriculture, scheduled at this year's Bonn intersessional meeting, took place during the first week of the Warsaw meet. Some experts have been urging the UNFCCC to bring agriculture issues, such as potential threats to food production, into the talks, but so far the issue has remained on the sidelines.

The 12 November workshop saw substantive engagement on issues of agriculture and food security, although trade issues were largely absent in the discussions. Presentations were made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and several government delegates.

While discussion revealed a broad range of technical and analytical sophistication, countries appeared to be moving gradually beyond their polarised positions. .

Next steps

Next year will reveal much about the chances of a 2015 deal in Paris. Parties will now have to head back to their capitals and prepare their national targets, which will likely be a long and drawn out process.

Parties will meet next for formal negotiations at their regular mid-year meeting in Bonn, Germany. The UN will then hold an extraordinary Climate Summit with world leaders in September at the request of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Recognising the slow pace of progress toward meeting the deadline, Ban aims to kick-start the big push toward COP 20 in Lima and the final stretch toward Paris 2015.

Peru's Environment Minister Manuel Pulgar-Vidal Otalora said COP 20 will be different in spirit to COP 19. Pulgar-Vidal noted that his country has no plans to hold a fossil fuel summit on the sidelines - a veiled criticism aimed at coal-dependent Poland, which scheduled the World Coal Association's international summit to coincide with this year's UN meeting in Warsaw.

ICTSD reporting.

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