19th Climate Change Conference: Climate negotiations in serious danger

01 Jan 2014

Failure to make progress in 19th Conference of Parties (COP 19) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) would not have been fatal to climate negotiations but would have signalled the process was in serious danger.

Photo: UNFCCC

19th Conference of Parties (COP 19) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was organized Warsaw on November.

COP 19 was not expected to be a ‘star’ COP. Its mandate was mainly to accelerate preparations towards a universal new climate agreement, to be adopted at COP21 in Paris (December 2015) and come into effect and be implemented from 2020.

The conference convened just days after the destruction of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and in the shadow of a parallel ‘Coal and Climate Change’ summit that Poland was also hosting in Warsaw.  

At the same time, Japan made an announcement during the first week of the meeting that they are lowering their mitigation ambition from their current pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent below 1990 levels to a reduced target of 3.8 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. 

This news coupled with recent Australian domestic policy changes which also lower mitigation ambition, set a negative tone amongst negotiators. 

At the same time, the ratification of the Second Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol agreed last year in Doha is not on track.

Of the needed 144 countries only 3 have ratified to date.  Further, on the development of New Market based Mechanisms (NMM), a moratorium has been placed by Bolivia, supported by China, leading to no progress in this area.

Under such circumstances it was an achievement in itself that two plus weeks of negotiations stayed on track and COP 19, albeit well after its closing time, reached agreement on a range of important  outcomes that ensure the UNFCCC process lives to fight another day.

The lack of ambition and political will  was particularly evident as Parties continued their work towards (1) developing an universal climate agreement, to be adopted in 2015 and taking effect in2020, and (2) working to close the pre-2020 mitigation ambition gap (towards the 2 degree goal).

However, elements of three components limit the progress made:

(A)  The timeline to submit contributions remains flexible and quite weak, incorporating caveats such as those Parties “ready to do so” and not providing a clear and timely basis for international discussions on adequacy of commitments to reach the 2 degree goal.

(B) While the incorporation of “all” countries in the decision text is a step forward, the use of the word “contribution” instead of “commitment,” and the flexible deadlines articulated in the timeline are steps backwards.

(C) Furthermore, the indicative list of elements to be included in the 2015 agreement draw on previous ADP work related to  the basic headings of mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, capacity building and transparency of action and support.

The most important outcomes of COP19 helped to advance the technical aspects of implementation of climate-related actions on the ground. 

Several decisions are of direct relevance to UNDP’s work on the ground, supporting countries to address the climate change challenge, develop integrated low emission, climate resilient development strategies and be ready for climate change financing in a manner that also promotes poverty eradication and reduction of inequalities.

There was also explicit recognition of the importance of developing countries to establish Low-Emission Development Strategies (LEDS), Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) and Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) systems, which UNDP is already supporting countries to develop.

National Adaptation Planning (NAP) processes, which UNDP is supporting, were also recognized as a critical component of ensuring developing countries are resilient to impending climate impacts, and called on countries to scale up this work.

One of the most significant outcomes of the COP was a package for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks (REDD+).  

Significantly, REDD+ continued to be an area of substantial progress in the UNFCCC with agreement on the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ Action which puts in place a comprehensive technical package to enable scaling up of REDD+.

And lastly the Warsaw International Mechanism for loss and damage opens the door for a new mechanism to address the losses and damages caused by climate impacts, to which Parties are unable to adapt.  

For UNDP, the establishment of this mechanism provides a valuable opportunity to continue to engage and enhance work to address “loss and damage,” drawing on existing portfolios in adaptation, disaster risk reduction, early recovery, insurance, natural resource management, social safety nets, migration, and other areas. 

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