Warsaw Conference: Any real progress?

warsaw cop

The Warsaw conference this year once again battle lines drawn between the climate-vulnerable countries and the blocking high-emitters.

Japan announced that their emission reduction pledge would now be an increase, while Australia continued to block, based on domestic dis-interest.  Countries failed to agree on a roadmap to scale up climate finance.

Structural inequalities and geopolitical power dynamics continued to pose a blockage to a fair climate treaty.  But was there any progress?

A corporate COP: A dangerous sign?

This was the first climate change conference to be sponsored by companies.  Was this a decision to ‘save money’ or a deliberate attempt by the Polish hosts to undermine the process?

NGOs heavily criticised the decision of the Polish hosts to hold a Coal Summit in parallel with the conference.  As well as being an awful decision on the ‘PR’ front, the decision shows how little commitment Poland has on climate change. One only wonders why they were chosen to host the conference in the first place.

Poland itself subsidises coal producers with public funds, showing that they choose to commit public funds to fossil fuels, but not for climate action.

The infiltration by fossil fuel lobbyists also led to a prominent stall for the petroleum industry at the front of the exhibition centre. Was this a deliberate attempt to undermine ambition?

Meanwhile research from LSE shows that we need to leave two-thirds of fossil fuels in the ground to have ANY chance of keeping the warming to the level of 2 degrees.

Parallel meetings: A tactic to limit participation

The issue of ‘parallel meetings’ came up in the finance talks. As negotiations went on through the night, developing-countries delegates argued that Green Climate Fund discussions should not run in parallel to Long-Term Finance.  It seems to be a deliberate tactic to limit participation by developing countries.

Developing-countries delegates explained many of them had only a few delegates, and also had to deal with loss and damage.  There were only one or two delegates from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) participating in the finance discussions.

The United States deliberately tried to call for both the finance meetings (GCF and LTF) to run in parallel together.  Why?  Other countries were angry.  The EU took a compromise position, and eventually the talks were held at separate times.

Finance negotiations and the UNFCCC budget

Once again, small island states brought up the issue of the scarcity of funding for participation in UNFCCC negotiations.

However, the issue of the UNFCCC budget was side-lined from the conference. It emerged only quickly at the end, before the final text was adopted.

Fortunately, there is an invitation for the United Nations General Assembly to consider meeting the conference expenses from a regular budget.

This would be a good idea, reducing the opportunity for the climate conference to be taken over by anti-climate interests.

Lack of transparency: a growing issue

Transparency of finance for climate change was on the agenda.  Developing countries highlighted concerns that Fast Start Finance has not been transparent.

A side event by the Overseas Development Institute highlighted a lack of transparency in the finance commitments by developed countries.  Only a few organisations are able to try to track what is going on.

However, the irony is that the finance meetings themselves were also non-transparent.  Most of the important meetings went on behind closed doors so that the high-GHG-emitting blockers can represent their agenda but hide from media and NGO criticism.  Knowledge is power.

Developing countries highlighted the fact that “transparency of decision-making is very important” and that the Adaptation Fund has the highest transparency.  The Standing Committee on Finance (SCF) is mandated to review finance.  Philippines, representing G77, highlighted the importance of tracking the transparency of finance “support provided and received”.

Ultimately, countries will only have trust and confidence in the process if there is transparency about what is going on and vulnerable developing countries get support to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.   This will be a key for an effective global climate treaty in 2015.

With little progress being made at Warsaw,  responsibility for action now rests on the Climate Summit being organised by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon next year.

Bolivia at the UN climate talks: “We need to stop going in circles”


In the Bangkok session this week, developing countries expressed frustration at the slow progress of the UN ‘informal’ talks on climate change.

In Monday’s LCA (Long-term Cooperative Action) talks, Columbia asked the delegates to discuss the concerns of developing countries.  United States, however, said that discussion of these concerns this would “pre-empt” the discussions next week by the Adaptation Committee.  They then proceeded to read out the agenda.

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Christiana gets it…

Christiana Figueres reading the report 'Levelling the Playing Field'

I hope we haven’t left you waiting for an update from Bonn for too long. The lack of reporting fortunately does not mean we have been inactive, in fact, the opposite is the case. Conny has been in Bonn since Monday, and Isobel, Isabel , Lena and Sophie have joined her tuesday night.

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from under the firewall

The atmosphere at the UNFCCC conference in China seems to be quiet and subdued, compared to the chaos at Copenhagen. Delegates comment that the negotiations are “slow”. One Kenyan delegate commented with frustration that the room full of lawyers had spent 45 minutes arguing about the definition of one word. He said that there were too many lawyers, and not enough scientists in the negotiations.

In addition, the Great Chinese Firewall has blocked access to many NGO websites (including this one!) which may hinder the access to information. Although the UN conference is supposed to be international and independent, even the UN conference computer room is subject to the firewall!Initial results from the ‘Filling Information Gaps’ Survey have found that some country delegates did not know that the ‘webcasts’ of meetings were provided on the UNFCCC website. It seems that access to information is clearly unequal.All delegates interviewed so far have been extremely interested in this project. Some different suggestions have been made for making the UN fairer; one suggested that there should be a limit to the number of delegates that are allowed, and a few suggested there needs to be more translations in the smaller meetings.

Transparency is still an issue, too. Most of the meetings are closed to observers. That means that only government delegates and the observer states are allowed in. Actually, there seems to be more meetings labelled with ‘CLOSED’ than there was at the previous talks in Bonn in June. I do hope this is not a growing trend. Unfortunately, at this crucial stage in the talks, with so many closed meetings it is still difficult to work out exactly what is going on.



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Who controls the numbers? Small Island Survival, 350ppm and 1.5C

What difference can a degree or two make? Well the answer, as I’m sure that you will know is a lot. The image below taken from the IPCC’s fourth assessment report (AR4) gives a simple (although now out of date) picture of what a degree means.

The impacts and extent of climate change is subtle and effects unevenly distributed, a degree for one country such as the UK or the US may not be an existential crisis but for people living in small island developing states (SIDS) is certainly is. These states, drawn from all oceans and regions of the world: Africa, Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, Pacific and South China Sea make up 5% of the world’s population and a great proportion of the worlds cultural diversity. It’s no secret that these states are the most vulnerable to climate change but for these countries the numbers that are negotiated literally in no uncertain terms mean the life of death of their homeland, and their culture. At Copenhagen some of the most moving and courageous speeches were made by these states and I would urge you to take a look at the following two speeches by Tuvalu and The Maldives who have fought the corner for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) for a long time.

These are some of the issues such states have to deal with:

  • Sea level rise, many islands are only a few meters above sea level with precious little fresh water. Coasts are only able to adapt so slow levels of sea level change.
  • Many islands are made exclusively of coral reefs on top of old sea mountains (Atolls). These islands rely on coral reefs for food (Fish) and protection from erosion. When corals are physically stressed they kick out the algae that feed them and die. This is known as bleaching and happens when they are too hot, or don’t get enough light. In addition corals skeletons rely on how acidic the oceans are. Changes in the oceans from increased CO2 in the atmosphere may stop skeletons of corals growing (see this great animation by Leo Murray) or even cause them to dissolve.
  • Many islands in the Caribbean the Indian and the Pacific Ocean lie in tropical storm track (hurricanes =Atlantic, typhoons = Indian, cyclones = Pacific). These storms cause great damage and loss of life, for example Haiti last year.

For them numbers matter in a big way, the two big ones being 350ppm (for the scientific basis of this number click here) CO2 equivalent in the atmosphere and 1.5C. Today I was lucky enough to attend a very interesting side event (A meeting about a topic not directly involved in the UNFCCC talks) by the prestigious Potsdam Institute for climate change. The event was focused on the 1.5C limit which is largely though of as the survival limit for small island states as well as for the livelihoods for low-lying deltaic countries such as Bangladesh. This event was amazing because it summarised the latest published and yet to be published research on the feasibility of a 1.5C limit (i.e. what we can and cannot emit), the economic cost of achieving this world, the impacts of not doing so as well as the current direction of negotiations. Literally a commentary on the future of the home for over 0.3 billion people held in a room with less than 25 people present, mostly NGO representatives and a few members from delegations. Heres the gist of what I heard.

Currently the Copenhagen Accord fails to come close to the 50% chance of achieving the 2C target agreed in the document (see previous post). It’s hard to see how this will get better if a bottom up approach to emissions reductions (countries set their own targets) is adopted in the long-term as advocated by the USA and other Annex I (developed) countries.

The Potsdam Institute has been working on emissions scenarios (whats an emissions scenario?) that would enable small islands to survive, they call these the 1.5C/350 scenario and the star wars  like ICP-3pD scenario (soon to be published in the Energy Journal). The first will peak at 1.5C with 350ppm in the atmosphere some time after 2100. The second is slightly higher, in the 400’s. What they found is that the only way these are possible is using negative emissions. Thats right, actually sucking CO2 from the air before the end of the century. This may sound silly but its possible if we burn plant material then place it underground using CCS (see this free paper for more detail) and its thought this will be technically possible, think I-phone technology curve or jet engines. Another example is the rapid development and spread of the wind industry by the Danish Government, current world leader in the sector. In fact they did the maths and found that these carbon negative scenarios would cost economies roughly 1-2 years growth in 100years. Less than the occasional banking crisis!  However for this to be possible emissions must peak before 2020 and then fall on average 3-4% per year, still perfectly doable you would think.

However, no matter how many times AOSIS puts 350ppm or 1.5C into the negotiating text, developed countries remove them using the argument that they are unfeasible or impossible or too costly (Ahem… Johnathan Pershing of the USA). Now this is where it gets interesting, whos doing their modelling? Well their own research institutions of course (Stanford). Today we were told otherwise by top scientists and economists, we were also told that in fact the models quoted by the US government were designed not to be able to incorporate negative emissions, i.e. the model limits make it physically impossible to evaluate 1.5C. Thats not the same as 1.5C being physically impossible or too expensive as the US and company like to claim. Maybe they are just naive however I think not, this is a clear example of the battle over scientific information affecting the negotiations. In other words who’s scientific advice is better, academic imperialism might be another description. In our interviews for FIG so far we have already heard about the lack of research institutions in developing countries being a problem. It seems here that science and the results of research institutions are being exploited in a partisan way, which although hardly unexpected is rather sinister considering that it is being used to justify the wiping of so many peoples livelihoods from the earth. Here is another rather glaring information gap, an inequality in scientific advice and for that matter scientific institutions. It’s important that this counter message gets out, it can be done and it is affordable but only if we act now with global emissions peaking before 2020.  1.5c and 350ppm are the only desirable targets with the added benefit that the European 2C target would then have a 95% probablility of being met.

Heres the possible future for SIDS without it.

2C: Corals may no longer grow. hurricane numbers drop but strength increases. Increases El Nino and the economic ruin that causes. Rises in sea level by 2-5m plus by 2300, 1m by 2100 still with a fast rate of increase. Changes is ecosystems etc etc.

You get the picture. When you are here and you speak to individuals, the sometimes inaccessible, unemotive numbers suddenly have gravity. They can make you heart heavy and your stomach drop. Today upon asking a female delegate from Micronesia how she felt she replied in a horribly resigned manner “I think we are pretty screwed” the sad thing is that about sums up the situation. Academic inequality (the knowledge gap) is taking 1.5C off the negotiating table and it’s just not on.