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Warsaw climate talks leave much work to do for 2015 deal

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 25 Nov 2013 13:30 GMT
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A man holds documents as he listens to statements during the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw, on November 23, 2013. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In the wake of the Warsaw climate talks, policy experts and activists agree there is a lot of work still to do if an effective global climate deal is to be reached in 2015.

Most environment and development groups - some of whom last week left the meeting in frustration - criticised backsliding on targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by Japan and potentially Australia, as well as a lack of clarity on how emissions reductions and large-scale climate finance are to be ramped up in the coming years.

Many gave a cautious welcome to the establishment of a new international mechanism to help vulnerable countries cope with losses and damage caused by more extreme weather and slower climate-linked changes such as creeping deserts, rising seas and ocean acidification.

Other bright spots were a framework to help developing countries raise money by reducing emissions from deforestation, the green light for a network of climate technology centres, and pledges to the U.N. Adaptation Fund that enabled it to meet a $100 million fundraising goal.

But overall the mood after the talks finished on Saturday evening was sober, with a general sentiment that governments must now roll up their sleeves and get down to defining the contributions they will make to tackling climate change, both before and after 2020 when a new deal is due to take effect.

“Country representatives now need to return home to make significant progress on their work plans and national offers that can become the backbone of a new climate agreement," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy programme at the Washington-based World Resources Institute. "It’s important for countries to present their offers as soon as possible and in an open and systematic way. These commitments need to be driven by science. They should be both ambitious and equitable."

Christiana Figueres, head of the United Nations climate change secretariat which leads the talks, acknowledged on Saturday that while the world remains on track for a new climate agreement, it is not on track to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius - the limit beyond which most scientists believe dangerous climate change will occur.

"We're caught in a very difficult contrast between the urgency of science, and the pace of policy development," she told journalists. International policy on climate change "is necessarily a gradual and progressive process" and can't produce "one magical solution overnight", she added.

Nonetheless, she insisted the Warsaw talks had taken a "firm step" towards the next annual conference in Peru in 2014, and the crucial gathering in Paris the year after.

'RACE TO THE BOTTOM'

Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), described the Warsaw outcome as "a mixed bag”.

“Negotiators provided the bare minimum to move forward on the climate deal," he said. They failed to agree on what process and criteria to use in evaluating the adequacy and fairness of each others’ proposed actions to mitigate climate change and "will need to work on this over the coming year", the UCS noted in a statement.

There was also some scepticism over the use of the word "contributions" rather than "commitments" with respect to limiting emissions in the Warsaw decision. This was compromise language, enabling developing countries like India - which do not want to be forced into setting numerical targets - to approve the text.

"What remains unchanged is the fact that industrialised countries with a large historical responsibility must take the lead, but that doesn't mean everybody else is off the hook," Figueres said. "Everyone must contribute - certainly in a differentiated fashion, and certainly at differentiated levels, and perhaps even with differentiated timings."

The Warsaw outcome called on those nations able to do so to put forward their plans for curbing emissions by the first quarter of 2015 - to give time for a review before the Paris summit at the end of the year. This is in line with what the United States and some large emerging economies wanted.

But it did not satisfy aid groups who work with the poor communities already suffering the worst impacts of droughts, floods and storms like the super typhoon that devastated the Philippines' eastern islands right before the climate talks began.

"The United States, Australia, Japan, Canada, China, India, Brazil and others have pushed through a blueprint for a new climate deal which will allow countries to choose their own weak emissions reduction targets," said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam. “Very few countries can leave Warsaw with their head held high. We have witnessed a race to the bottom in these negotiations and it’s the world’s poorest people who stand to lose the most.”

Others also urged much greater efforts over the coming year to make possible a satisfactory accord in 2015. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will hold a high-level summit on September 23, 2014, with the aim of spurring political will to address the climate problem.

“I ask all who come to bring bold and new announcements and action," he said in a statement. "By early 2015, we need those promises to add up to enough real action to keep us below the internationally agreed 2 degree (Celsius) temperature rise.”

Sven Harmeling, climate change advocacy coordinator for CARE International, called for "a rapid rebuilding of trust between all governments and significantly increased commitment to tackle the climate crisis".

"If countries don’t urgently step up their ambition ahead of Ban Ki-moon’s high-level summit next year, and (the climate talks) in Peru, the chances of achieving a meaningful climate deal by 2015 and avoiding dangerous climate change are looking increasingly unlikely," he added.

NO NUMBERS ON FINANCE

One stumbling block to stepped-up efforts by fast-developing countries like China and India to limit their rising emissions has been a lack of clarity on how much financial assistance the richest nations will provide in the run-up to 2020. They have promised to scale up funding to help poorer states lower their emissions and deal with climate impacts to $100 billion a year by 2020.

In Warsaw, a few governments did give information about the amount of climate aid they are planning to provide in the next two to three years, but there was no collective interim target - a demand of developing states, which wanted to set a goal of $70 billion for 2016.

Instead, the talks in Poland asked developed countries to prepare biennial submissions on their strategies for scaling up finance for mitigation and adaptation in poorer nations between 2014 and 2020.

“The Warsaw conference did not bring...the necessary clarity on the financial commitments of developed countries, and without this it will be difficult to convince developing countries to engage in a new legal (emissions reduction) regime that would lead to obligations for them too,” said Corinne Lepage, a French politician and member of the European Parliament's delegation at the climate talks.

Developing nations have also complained bitterly that the fledgling U.N. Green Climate Fund, intended to be a major channel for climate finance, remains more or less empty. At Warsaw, it was agreed that the initial process for mobilising resources for the fund should be underway by the end of 2014, and that this should reach "a very significant scale". But again, no figures were mentioned.

"The ratcheting up of pre-2020 action is an equally important outcome of these negotiations, and yet countries led by the U.S. refused to have any specific numbers included on pollution targets and finance," said Meena Raman, negotiations expert at the Third World Network. She called that “an abysmal moral failure by the richest people in human history”.

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