The United Nations climate talks in Warsaw (Poland) have ended. Environmental groups and country representatives say little has been achieved, with a strong divide between developed and developing nations preventing any meaningful agreement. From the very first day of the meetings which began on November 11, negotiators from 194 nations argued over key points intended to define the framework for a global climate agreement to be put into effect in 2015 at a Paris summit. This much anticipated global agreement should be the first to bind all the world’s nations to curbing Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels.
“Warsaw has set a pathway for governments to work on a draft text of a new universal climate agreement, an essential step to reach a final agreement in Paris, in 2015,” said Marcin Korolec, the Polish host of the conference. He speaks with little authority however in view of his demotion from Environment Minister to climate envoy during the talks.
One is left bewildered at how so little has been accomplished – an agreement on a pathway to work on a draft text. That is it!
Governments have until the first quarter of 2015 to publish plans to curb emissions starting in 2020. This is far from laying the groundwork for the Paris conference of 2015 which is to result in the definitive new global deal on emissions. Many experts regard the 2015 conference as the last chance for saving the planet from catastrophic weather systems and environmental turmoil never witnessed by mankind during its relatively short history on the planet.
Among the more significant impasses are the questions of who will pay for global warming damages and who is really responsible for the CO2 emissions (both past and future).
Who Pays for Damages
For a large group of countries, the emphasis in climate talks is on the new language of “loss and damage”. This applies to events to which no country can adapt – rising sea levels which flood low-lying islands. This is different from terms such as “adaptation” and “adjustment which describe the work that countries must do to adapt their infrastructure, agriculture, land use and disaster preparedness plans in the face of the ever-increasing extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, super storms.
But even on the simple meaning of terminology, there can be no easy agreement. The best that could be achieved is a compromise position to review the “loss and damage” mechanism in three years and only decide then where it would be positioned in the emissions reduction global agreement expected in 2015.
Finger Pointing and the Blame Game
The rift between the West and developing countries is on ongoing stumbling block as illustrated in the Washington Post Wonkblog:
Poor countries argue that richer countries are responsible for most of the carbon-dioxide already in the atmosphere, so they should pay for the damage caused by global warming. The rich countries, for their part, point out that you also have to look at future emissions when divvying up blame — which puts the spotlight on fast-growing nations like China and India.
The chart above is a rough approximation of who is responsible for emissions over time for any given year. The United States and Europe are responsible for 49 percent of all carbon emissions from fossil fuels and cement that have been emitted since 1870. That’s why poorer nations blame them for current global warming and are asking for compensation.
But, U.S. and European negotiators point out this picture is changing very quickly. Only 37 percent of CO2 emissions released in 2012 came from developed nations. Fast-growing developing countries, (primarily India and China) produced 57 percent. (Chart below)
Outsourcing of Carbon
Wealthy nations are increasingly shipping their carbon emissions to off-shore locations in an attempt to reduce their respective emissions. While it’s true that developed nations have reduced emissions within their own borders since the Kyoto Protocol, much of that reduction is due to offsets of “outsourced” emissions to other countries like China, India and others. Those transfers are now growing at 12 percent per year.
Days before the start of the Warsaw climate talks, Aljazeera America reported on the multiple obstacles facing negotiators in Warsaw:
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.
In Copenhagen, developed countries agreed to scale up climate financing to $100 billion annually by 2020. Current flows are nowhere near that level. British charity Oxfam estimates that rich countries have announced contributions of about $16 billion this year, some of it in the form of loans.
Tense discussions are also expected on the calls by small island states and other vulnerable countries for compensation for the damage resulting from climate impacts such as rising seas and droughts.
Polish and U.S. independent climate activists alleged there is not sufficient proof that carbon gases contribute to the rise in global temperatures or that human activity contributes to climate change. They asserted instead that the climate changes are due to regular warming and cooling cycles.
As always, there’s a risk of procedural issues slowing things down. Last year’s conference in Qatar ended on a bitter note when the chair gaveled a set of decisions despite Russia’s objections. Russia’s chief negotiator was so upset that he blocked talks at a negotiating session in Germany in June.
Fiona Harvey of TheGuardian summarizes the success of the conference best:
The talks were characterised by discord and acrimony, and by the emergence of a new and highly vocal negotiating bloc among developing countries that forced through the watering down of key aspects of the deal…all countries admitted that most of the preparation work for Paris still remains to be done…The fragile truce reached after the marathon talks in Warsaw may not even last as long as the delegates’ flights home.
Climate change is already upon us. It is our new reality. Extreme weather events – typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Hurricane Sandy, droughts, floods – are manifestations of our new climate reality. We can either adapt or perish. Mankind has never faced such a challenge, one that affects every living organism on the planet.
Rolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of BoomerWarrior.Org.
Rolly is also a registered Climate Leader (Climate Reality Leadership Corps) a blogger, an activist and a Climate Change presenter.
BoomerWarrior is for the socially aware and politically conscious; for the change-makers and thought-provokers; for the light and young at heart; for anyone willing and courageous enough to move forward.