World gets a yellow card

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It’s cold and raining in Warsaw. As I leave the Polish city, I do not hope much from the ongoing climate talks under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The outcome, it appears, will be as gloomy as the weather. It is unlikely that the talks will end on Friday, November 22, as scheduled. There will be the usual last-minute rescheduling of tickets, as talks stretch to Saturday, even Sunday perhaps. Countries have, after all, not been able to agree on anything so far, neither finance, nor loss and damage. The road to the 2015 deal is fraught with uncertainties. But for all the tags to Warsaw being a procedural Conference of Parties (COP), leading up to the 2015 deal, the second week is witnessing some rather unusual events.

Consider this. The first day of the second week, the Polish Environment Minister Marcin Korolec gets sacked. Korolec is also the COP president. Some say the change is part of government reshuffle. He will be replaced by a minister who is involved in deciding the tax structure for shale gas in Poland. The only saving grace is the Polish government’s decision to allow Korolec to continue as the COP president. But what interest will a former environment minister have in getting a meaningful deal?

The next day, G77+China—a group of over 130 countries—decide to walk out of the loss and damage negotiations. They have been demanding a separate mechanism to compensate for loss and damage arising out of the compelling and now more established impacts of climate change. They want to reinforce the point that loss and damage is beyond adaptation. That those who have no scope to adapt would eventually bear the loss and damage and must be protected under a mechanism.

Developed countries, on the other hand, do not want such a mechanism. Many, including the US and Canada, have insisted that loss and damage must be addressed under existing mechanisms like the Adaptation Framework set up under the 2010 Cancun Agreement. This way, special status need not be accorded to loss and damage negotiations. But this is not just about developed and developing countries. Within G77+China, there have been differences.

India has done a volte-face. Before the country’s environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan reached Warsaw, Indian negotiators had taken a position that funding for loss and damage was possible through the Green Climate Fund. This fund was established to coordinate climate finance. But Natarajan saved the day by affirming that India supports the G77+China position of a separate mechanism.

Climate renegades

In Doha, developed countries had agreed on the second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol. So far only three countries have come forward to ratify the amendment that will allow the second commitment period to take effect. It gets worse than this. Countries have even started to renege on their past commitments, with Japan and Australia leading the climate renegade group. Under the 2010 Cancun Agreement, Japan had announced that it would reduce its emissions by 25 per cent by 2020 relative to the 1990 levels. It sprung a surprise in Warsaw by saying that it would reduce its emissions by just 3.8 per cent from its 2005 level by 2020. This is actually an increase of 3.1 per cent over the 1990 levels.

Australia had said it would reduce its emissions by up to 25 per cent with respect to the 2000 levels by 2020 if countries like India and China pledged mitigation actions. India and China have put forward their pledges, but Australia now wants to reduce its emissions by only 5 per cent.

Then there is the European Union that has already achieved its emissions reduction target of 20 per cent by 2020, relative to the 1990 levels. It refuses to raise its ambition, unless other countries do so. The US, unsurprisingly, has decided not to do much and keep its target of reducing emissions between 0 per cent and 3 per cent below the 1990 levels by 2020. Such positions are making developing countries nervous and vitiating the atmosphere of the negotiations.

Bridging gap v transferring burden

Developing countries want developed countries to step up their emissions reduction targets and close the gigatonne gap. The gap represents how much countries have pledged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and what science demands to avoid catastrophic climate change. In fact, India wants developed countries to reduce their emissions by 40 per cent below the 1990 levels by 2020. But that is not going to happen.

Raising ambition before 2020 is under workstream 2 of the negotiating track called ADP, or Ad hoc Working group on Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. Unless developed countries increase their ambition in the pre-2020 period, developing countries are not likely to do much on increasing their mitigation targets before 2020. So far, it is clear that the weak mitigation pledges will not bridge the gigatonne gap and that workstream 2 will not make much progress in Warsaw.

Work on workstream 1 of ADP, mandated to work out a deal by 2015, to be implemented by 2020, on mitigation, finance, technology, adaptation and capacity building, is also stuck. Here, developing countries face the wall.

In the first negotiating text put out by the co-chairs of ADP, the key principles and provisions of UNFCCC do not find mention in the preamble of the text. The text gives common but differentiated responsibility and respective capability (CBDR-RC)—the bedrock of the climate negotiations—a convenient miss. Developing countries are expected to fight and are, in fact, fighting to keep the firewall between developed and developing countries alive.

Will Warsaw deliver?

As I leave Warsaw, my reading is that the talks will deliver what Poznan did in 2008. In the Poznan COP the world agreed to make the Adaptation Fund operational. This fund was to give money to developing countries for adapting to climate change. The fund was to get 2 per cent of all the money generated by selling carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism. Today, the carbon market is dead, and so is the fund. My fear is Warsaw, too, will give the world a mechanism on loss and damage. But like the Adaptation Fund, it will just be a mechanism with no money.

I also believe Warsaw will further dilute the differentiation between the developed and the developing countries. Developed countries will not raise their ambition before 2020 and try to push the burden of mitigation and adaptation to the developing countries in the post-2020 deal. To not allow this to happen, the negotiating strategy adopted by countries such as India must change.

Warsaw will leave the world divided. Differences shall not be reconciled here. I hope these differences do not go to Paris when we are negotiating the 2015 deal. Otherwise, we will see a repeat of Copenhagen in 2015—marked by secret deals, deep distrust and no consensus.

Published in: Down to Earth