COP19, between weak commitments and tiny successes – by Carlo Carraro

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Professor Carlo Carraro, Director of the International Center for Climate Governance (ICCG), summarises the key points from the 19th Conference of Parties (COP19) (originally published in December on his ICCG blog).

Typhoon Haiyan, which cost the lives of thousands of people, struck just two days before the opening of the UN Conference on Climate Change, which began its work on November 11, 2013. As if to remind us of the urgency of a meaningful global agreement on climate, the second week of negotiations of the 19th Conference of Parties (COP19) at the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), the decisive one, was inaugurated on November 18th with the news of cyclone Cleopatra which hit Sardinia.

No great expectations had been framed for this edition of the conference, whose aim was to outline a roadmap to the twenty-first COP, to be held in Paris in 2015. It is there that, by way of the COP20 in Lima (Peru) next year, governments will be obliged to reach an agreement on the “post -2020” period, when the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol (2013-2020) will run out. Notwithstanding the modest expectations, it wasn’t easy to arrive at a convergence of the various governments’ positions. The negotiations which were supposed to wind down by the evening of November 22nd, ended only on the evening of the 23rd,  after a night of non-stop work to reach an agreement on each of the texts on the agenda for the different work groups.

There was no shortage of discontent on the part of environmentalists and Non-Governmental Organizations,  which in the last days called for more decisive action on the part of governments. After leaving the Conference Thursday afternoon, the activists wanted to make themselves heard during the closing plenary session on Friday night. From the pavilions where the negotiations took place protesters could be heard shouting, “Stop Climate Madness!”. The chorus was inspired by a speech of the Philippines delegation chief on the opening day of the Conference. That day Yeb Saño began his hunger strike to ask for concrete action to reduce greenhouse gases, citing the case of Typhoon Haiyan as an example of the devastating consequences of global warming. But what was decided at the COP19 in Warsaw?

REDD +, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation.

The only real success of the Conference was achieved on REDD +. The acronym REDD + (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) includes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, as well as forest conservation and sustainable management. About one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions is attributable to deforestation, which, second only to the energy sector, exceeds that of transportation in terms of contribution to global warming. It is an area on which action is needed to bridge the so-called “mitigation gap, i.e. the gap between current mitigation commitments of the Parties to the commitments required in order to avoid exceeding emission concentrations which would lead to a temperature increase of over 2 ° C.

The Warsaw COP19 will be remembered for having at least reached an agreement in the field of forest conservation. After 7 years since the issue was first placed on the UNFCCC agenda, an agreement was finally reached that led to the foundation of the “Warsaw Framework for REDD +“, a formal mechanism for establishing reference levels, recognizing appropriate actions for mitigating, and creating funding mechanisms based on the actual performance of countries in this matter. In fact, the agreement, backed by a $280 million funding commitment from the US, Norway and the UK, is an effort to assign an economic value to the carbon stored in forests and to incentivate developing countries to invest in a perspective of sustainable development.

Loss and Damage

The impacts of climate change are already under way, as we have seen in recent days. At the National Stadium in Warsaw, which hosted the Conference, the 12,000 people present showed their unstinting solidarity with the Philippines disaster victims by raising funds and devoting attention to the stricken population.

The loss and damage associated with climate change impacts includes loss of human lives and increasingly greater economic losses, especially in the developing world Countries. Climate change is a global problem with global causes but local impacts. The request to aid the countries most exposed and/or vulnerable, in the form of compensation for the damages provoked by climate change impacts, was raised for the first time in 1991 by the AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island) countries. Lately the Conference’s interest in this aspect has been reinforced, leading to the decision at the COP18 in Doha to institutionalize the issue through the creation of an ad hoc mechanism under the UNFCCC. In fact the Warsaw Conference saw the establishment of the “Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage” for improving the protection of vulnerable countries against damage and losses caused by extreme events. The work of the “mechanism” will begin next year. But it is a very bland agreement, empty of content, directed essentially at exchanging information and expertise, while devoid of any concrete financial commitments.

Climate Adaptation Fund

The costs and benefits of adaptation to climate change were also discussed at the Side Event “Costs and benefits of adaptation to climate change and the sustainability of public finance in the EU”, organized by Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei and the Ca ‘ Foscari University of Venice (download presentations here). Despite the fact that only the financial perspective was discussed, to the exclusion of all the other benefits (environment, health, human life…), it was shown that investing time in adapting to the impacts of climate change is absolutely economical, and that not to do so means inflicting further damage to our economies and worsening public finances.

In Warsaw $100 million were allocated to the Climate Adaptation Fund by Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and SwitzerlandThe Climate Adaptation Fund was established in 2008 with the aim of contributing to adaptation actions in developing countries, in order to compensate for the historical responsibility of the developed countries. Poor countries ask those who have historically contributed to a greater extent to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to provide economic aid to the areas most exposed and vulnerable to the impacts of climate change (such as the rise in sea levels and the intensification of extreme events) to facilitate the creation of infrastructures for damage prevention or minimization.

Long term finance

Despite whether the COP19 should be “the COP of finance”, no financial commitment was made ​by the more ambitious Green Climate Fund, one of the mechanisms aimed at mobilizing $100 billion per year by 2020 from the Developed countries to help poorer Countries on the issue of mitigation and adaptation. The chapter on long-term financing was therefore the COP19’s big disappointment.

Durban Platform

As part of the work on the new agreement which must be reached by all Parties in Paris in 2015, and which will be in force in 2020, the Countries agreed to begin or intensify work on determining their national contributions for reducing emissions. The text adopted was the result of compromise and 36 hours of non-stop negotiations by delegates, and is more “watered down” and less ambitious than expected. “The countries that are ready to act on it” will present their “contributions” (a word  replacing “commitments” in the previous version of the text) within the first months of 2015  for the reduction of greenhouse gases to be included in the new agreement. Meanwhile, the next meeting of the work group on the Durban Platform is scheduled in Bonn from March 10th to 14th, 2014.

In Warsaw, UN Secretary General Ban Ki -moon renewed his invitation to governments and leaders in the world of finance, businesses, local governments and civil society to attend the Climate Summit in New York on September 23, 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”.

As the Climalteranti explain in their post, the big obstacle that came up in the negotiations was to settle on a balance that respects the equity principle: the nearly 200 Countries that are negotiating agreements have differentiated responsibility (also linked to their level of development) concerning the current concentrations of greenhouse gases, and each has a different ability to contribute to its solution. Nonetheless, the responsibility is to be shared, also in relation to the prospects of future emissions. Despite significant progress on the front of forest protection, we are still far from achieving a level of commitment and resources sufficient to ensure a satisfactory agreement in 2015. And the time that separates us from the Paris COP21 is very short.

Carlo Carraro, Director of the International Center for Climate Governance (ICCG), is President of the Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia, where he is also Professor of Environmental Economics and Econometrics and President of the Ca’ Foscari University Foundation. He has written more than 200 papers and 30 books on the international coordination of monetary policy, the coordination between monetary and fiscal policy, coalitions and group formation in economic systems, international negotiations and the formation of international environmental agreements, monetary and fiscal problems in open economies, monetary policy coordination in Europe, the econometric modelling of integrated economies, dynamic modelling of climate-economy interactions, sustainable development.

He is Editor of the FEEM Series on the Economics of Sustainable Development and his books with Edward Elgar include: International Environmental NegotiationsGoverning the Global EnvironmentFirms, Governments and Climate PolicyThe Endogenous Formation of Economic Coalitions,Game Practice and the Environment and Climate and Trade Policy.

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