Highlights of the 19th Climate Change Conference

Summary

The Warsaw Climate Change Conference ended on November 23rd, after talks that were marked both by tough discussions and the reaching of several agreements. The plate of the member States is now full, as there is a lot of work to do until 2015 and the signing of an international climate agreement.

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From the 11th to the 23rd of November, the Climate Change Conference 2013 was held in Warsaw (Poland). It can also be referred to as COP19, as it was the 19th Conference of Parties to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is more rarely called CMP9: it also was the 9th session of the Meeting of the Parties to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. To better understand the context around this Climate Change Conference – and the stakes related to it –, it is in fact important to visualise the international framework within which it happened. The UNFCCC counts 195 parties, which makes it a framework with near universal membership. It is the parent treaty of the Kyoto Protocol, ratified by 192 members. As explains the UNFCCC, “the ultimate objective of both treaties is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.” The Climate Change Conferences are yearly events that bring together the parties to both treaties. They are held in order “to assess progress in dealing with climate change, and to negotiate the Kyoto Protocol to establish legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions,” states their Wikipedia page. At the end of each Conference, agreements are met and decisions are taken to keep taking the fight against climate change further. Here are the main highlights of the 2013 Climate Change Conference.

 

Walkouts, criticism…

 

In a press release issued on the last day of the Conference,

the UNFCCC proudly announced that it had “concluded successfully”

– even though the observers widely commented that the agreement was reached last minute. In fact, the Conference had to be stretched one extra day for lack of consensus. The main topics of discussion were the following:

 

* The event was actually a step towards a much more important milestone: the conclusion of a universal climate agreement that will be signed in 2015 in Paris. At Warsaw, the parties agreed on a “pathway” to get the governments working on a draft text that will be discussed at COP20 next year in Peru, before it is signed in 2015. The agreement was hard to reach, as several developing countries, such as China and India, demanded that developed and developing countries be treated differently regarding their commitment to carbon reduction. As the final text will come into force in 2020, the member governments are now in the process of getting ready to comply with their future obligations and to honour their contributions.

 

* Two other important texts addressed financial aid to Southern countries, and the creation of a mechanism to deal with the “loss and damages” inflicted upon poorer countries by climate change. While the developing world expected concrete and accurate promises (developed countries had previously said they would give 100 billion dollars a year), the final text only stated that developed countries should continue to donate money and increase the amounts over 10 billion dollars a year. Out of disappointment, 132 countries walked out of the talks about the “Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage,” as it is called.

 

* Faced with the blocking in the negotiations, several NGOs (WWF, Oxfam, ActionAid, the International Trade Union Confederation, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace) also refused to participate in the final talks. They issued a common statement: “Organisations and movements representing people from every corner of the Earth have decided that the best use of our time is to voluntarily withdraw from the Warsaw climate talks. The Warsaw climate conference, which should have been an important step in the just transition to a sustainable future, is on track to deliver virtually nothing.” They notably accused developed countries of not being willing to support more vulnerable countries as much as they need it.

 

… and agreements

 

In spite of these difficulties, the 2013 Conference and Climate Change did end with several agreements. A “significant set of decisions” were for instance taken to “help developing countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and the degradation of forests, which account for around one fifth of all human-generated emissions,” stated the press release. The instrument was named the Warsaw Framework for REDD+.

48 of the poorest countries also agreed on several plans that will help them “better assess the immediate impacts of climate change and what they need in the way of support to become more resilient.”

Governments also worked on the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN), whose mission is to “respond to requests from developing countries for advice and assistance on the transfer of technology.”

 

The organisers of the Conference now wish to present it as a step that leads to even more important ones: the COP20 in Peru in 2014, and the gathering that will be held in Paris in 2015 to officially present the universal climate agreement. In the meantime, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon invited governments and leaders from finance, business, local government and civil society, to a climate summit that will be held in New York on the 23rd September 2014. “I ask all who come to bring bold and new announcements and action. By early 2015, we need those promises to add up to enough real action to keep us below the internationally agreed two degree temperature rise,” he said. There seems to be work to do.

Photo: © Mateusz Włodarczyk