Typhoon Haiyan Roars Through Warsaw Climate Crisis Summit
12 November, 2013
Typhoon Haiyan’s trail of devastation in the Philippines prompts three groups of developing countries to call for climate compensation scheme to be rolled out. The call came at the 12-day UN Climate Change Convention’s 19th Conference of the Parties (CoP) that began on November 11, 2013 in Poland's capital Warsaw.
The typhoon devastated Philippines dominated the first day of the Warsaw climate crisis meeting as the country started to count the human cost of one of the most destructive typhoons on record.
Though no major decisions are expected at the conference, the level of progress could be an indicator of the world's chances of reaching a deal in 2015, which is the new landmark year in the UN-led process after a 2009 summit in Copenhagen ended in discord.
In an emotional speech the lead climate change envoy of the Philippines Yeb Sano said he would fast until he saw a sign of real ambition at the negotiations.
He said the violence of the tropical storm demonstrated the need for a climate compensation mechanism, which could help countries affected by extreme weather events.
“Developed country emissions reductions targets are dangerously low and must be raised immediately, but even if they were in line with the demand of reducing 40-50% below 1990 levels, we would still have locked-in climate change and would still need to address the issue of loss and damage,” he said.
Yeb Sano said:
“We can stop this madness. Right here in Warsaw.
“It is not natural when people continue to struggle to eradicate poverty and pursue development and gets battered by the onslaught of a monster storm now considered as the strongest storm ever to hit land. It is not natural when science already tells us that global warming will induce more intense storms. It is not natural when the human species has already profoundly changed the climate.
“Disasters are never natural. They are the intersection of factors other than physical. They are the accumulation of the constant breach of economic, social, and environmental thresholds. Most of the time disasters is a result of inequity and the poorest people of the world are at greatest risk because of their vulnerability and decades of maldevelopment, which I must assert is connected to the kind of pursuit of economic growth that dominates the world; the same kind of pursuit of so-called economic growth and unsustainable consumption that has altered the climate system.
“This process under the UNFCCC has been called many names. It has been called a farce. It has been called an annual carbon-intensive gathering of useless frequent flyers. It has been called many names. But it has also been called the Project to save the planet. It has been called “saving tomorrow today”. We can fix this. We can stop this madness. Right now. Right here, in the middle of this football field.
“Can humanity rise to the occasion? I still believe we can.”
Sano’s words were echoed throughout the opening ceremony.
Following Sano’s intervention, three groups representing just over half of the countries involved in the CoP issued a call for immediate talks on the development of a loss and damage mechanism.
The G77 + China, Least Developed Countries and Alliance of Small Island States said this was now a priority for their members in the wake of the Philippines disaster.
“It’s unacceptable that some continue to sideline this issue, or fob it off as a ‘research agenda’ item,” said G77 lead negotiator Juan Hoffmaister.
Negotiators will face a host of recurring stumbling blocks, including money to help poor countries convert to cleaner energy sources and adapt to a shifting climate that may lead to disruptions of agriculture and drinking water, and the spread of diseases.
Developed nations, who fear being landed with bills running into hundreds of billions, indicated they were willing to discuss a ‘mechanism’, but would not be drawn on what its powers could be.
The USA’s deputy climate negotiator Trigg Talley told a press conference there were “technical and political” challenges to accepting any form of compensation scheme, suggesting they would consider a process that “takes advantage of current institutional infrastructure and allows countries to understand how to minimize risks linked to loss and damage.”
There are fears among some parties that a heavy focus on climate compensation in Warsaw could come at the expense of other aims, notably agreeing financial targets and a roadmap for a 2015 climate deal.
UN climate chief Christiana Figueres urged countries to clarify the levels of finance available to drive low carbon development.
Japan and Sweden are set to reveal new climate finance pledges this week, but there remains a substantial gap between what developing countries say they need to adapt to climate change and what has been delivered.
Addressing loss and damage, and progressing with a mechanism to make such payments operational, has potential to be one of the “lasting legacies” of the Warsaw conference, said the delegate from Nepal, representing the Least Developed Countries group, who face some of the worst impacts of climate change. He adds that there is still the opportunity to halt global warming at 1.5C, although this opportunity is fading fast.
The Alliance of Small Island States representative also pushed for an ambitious approach to the negotiations.
Panama, speaking on behalf of the System for Central America Integration group, said that although their region is one of the most vulnerable, they are already using their “scanty resources” to make a difference.
Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, steered its presentation away from talk of legally binding targets, focusing on the need for voluntary commitments from developing countries, which should be supported by developed countries.
Despite being the second largest oil producer in the world, Saudi Arabia is still counted as a developing country by the UN’s climate body. It has a history of trying to block ambitious action on climate change, intervening in discussions taking place last May to say that tough mitigation targets would be “highly political” and leave a “bad taste.
Climate deal must be “tailored” to fit USA and China
Mat Hope writes in Carbon Brief:
Sixteen years ago in 1997, 192 countries signed an agreement to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, but the Kyoto Protocol was hamstrung from the start, because it failed to get the backing of the world’s current top emitters: the US and China.
The Kyoto Protocol expires in 2020, and the latest round of negotiations to replace it kicks off in Warsaw today.
It’s clear that this time round the negotiations will need to be tailored towards the demands of the US and China if a deal is to be struck.
Former lead climate negotiator for the Netherlands Maas Groote told news website Responding to Climate Change: “… without [the US and China] you will not have an effective instrument on your hands … So you have to tailor an instrument that will fit their political context … At the end of the day you want an agreement, some kind of an outcome, that China and the US can embrace”.
Mat Hope adds:
The United States’ failure to commit to the Kyoto Protocol has been a source of tension in the international negotiations for over a decade.
While President Obama has indicated that he wants the US to re-engage with the process – a stance he backed up by attending the 2009 negotiations in person – eight years of obstruction by the George W. Bush administration made participants wary of US motives.
China has been the most notable critic, arguing that it can’t be expected to commit to emissions reductions until the US shows it is willing to lead.
One of the main sticking points between the two countries is how much responsibility more and less economically developed countries take for cutting emissions.
Hæge Fjellheim, Senior Analyst at consultancy Thomson Reuters Point Carbon, says finding a way to bridge “the crucial divide” between the more and less wealthy nations will need to be at the centre of the Warsaw agenda, if there is to be any progress towards a new deal.
China has indicated it will accept some emissions curbs, but thinks the traditional economic powerhouses that have historically been responsible for more emissions – including the US – should take the lead.
The US isn’t happy with this, arguing that China is now economically developed enough to take responsibility for its emissions.
That could mean changes to the way any new deal is structured. Currently, the Kyoto protocol requires the most economically developed countries – known as Annex I countries – to make the most severe emissions reductions and provide most of the money to help less economically developed countries reduce theirs.
China is currently not considered an Annex I country, however – a source of chagrin for the US negotiators, who see China as shirking their international obligations.
The US’ special envoy to the negotiations, Todd Stern, told a meeting at Chatham House last week that the US would only accept a new deal if it was “applicable to all”, including China.
China maintains that the Annex I countries are yet to meet their own commitments, however. Some countries, including Japan and Australia, look set to miss their Kyoto Protocol emissions reduction targets, and some, like Canada, have abandoned the treaty altogether.
China is also unimpressed that a fund setup in 2009 to transfer resources from developed to developing economies remains empty.
Fjellheim tells us that resolving the financing issue will be vital to getting China to agree to any new deal.
China has shown some willingness to engage with the question of reducing emissions. It has implemented a regional emissions trading scheme in recent months, which the government plans to roll out across the country.
While it’s emissions continue to grow rapidly, China is sure to point towards such policies when countries with more established economies – and much higher per-person emissions – argue that it is neglecting to take action.
The fact that China is willing to engage with the issue at all is a significant “background shift”, argues Matthew Paterson, a Political Studies professor at the University of Ottawa.
He says it “changes the dynamic between industrialised and developing countries”, as China can no longer be accused of being the laggard it once was.
He argues this could put more pressure on economically developed countries – including the US – to show their commitment to climate change mitigation in the negotiations.
Countries will also have to contend with the US and China’s particular domestic political systems – with knock on effects for the design of any new deal.
President Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry have said they are committed to getting a new deal with strong emissions reduction targets, but it will have to take a different form to the Kyoto Protocol.
The US constitution requires any international treaty to be ratified by Congress, which refused to agree to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, despite President Clinton signing up.
Climate change is a divisive issue in Congress at the best of times – and if any new deal is officially a treaty, Obama is unlikely to get it passed by a currently partisan and dysfunctional Congress.
As such, countries may have to agree to a new type of system to get around that obstacle. One solution put forward by the US is a more flexible “nationally determined structure”, where countries set their own targets.
US envoy Stern argues that this would allow countries to only commit to emissions reductions they genuinely believe they can achieve, and give them the opportunity to demonstrate they “understand that all have to do their part”.
In theory, such a system could be administered without the need for a new treaty, meaning the President could bypass Congress.
The US’ plan could be easily jettisoned by governments’ lack of ambition, however. China has a reputation for just such intransigence when it comes to accepting firm international commitments.
This isn’t just because it doesn’t want to take a share of the emissions reduction burden. The way China’s domestic politics works means its envoys go to the negotiations with very little wiggle room.
A committee of politicians set China’s goals before the negotiations start, and the envoys are effectively sent to communicate that position to the rest of the world – making compromise difficult.
Kerry has been taking every opportunity to meet with Chinese delegations, so will be well aware of China’s intentions.
If progress is going to be made, it looks like countries are going to have to be prepared to follow the US and China’s lead.
Reuters analyst Fjellheim agrees. She says for any new deal to be successful, “China and the US will have to be on board”.
That’s a position likely to be shared by the majority of delegates at the meeting, and will shape the negotiations over the coming fortnight.
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