Warsaw COP19

In the early hours of Saturday morning in the National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland, climate negotiators and ministers from all over the world wrapped up the 19th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This annual meeting has been the main forum for the international community to discuss an approach to climate change for the past twenty years, although the effectiveness of recent talks has come under scrutiny. Hopes were high for Warsaw, not necessarily to elicit commitments to emissions reductions from countries, but as a turning point to prepare Parties to negotiate a new global treaty in 2015. Although negotiators did end up with an agreement that will move the conversation forward in Lima next year, it wasn’t without deep tensions and drama throughout the two weeks. From the ground in Warsaw, here are some of the most important things witnessed during the COP19 negotiations:

A Classic Division: Warsaw was not free from the traditional divide between developed and developing countries. While developing countries argued for developed countries to take on bigger mitigation targets and provide compensation for losses and damages due to climate change, developed countries continued to mandate that a new agreement must include emissions reduction targets for developing countries.

Pressure from the Philippines: The beginning of the conference on November 11th coincided with the world taking in the wreckage of the largest typhoon the world has ever experienced. Typhoon Haiyan hit several countries in Southeast Asia, specifically Palau and the Philippines. Although there were no deaths reported in Palau, the death toll in the Philippines is now over 5,200 people, and millions of homes have been destroyed. This set a somber tone throughout the negotiations, beginning with lead Filipino negotiator Yeb Sano’s moving opening speech and commitment to fast until real progress in the negotiations was made. Although countries continued to offer their condolences to the Philippines in almost every side meeting, and the UNFCCC organized a day of collections during the conference for typhoon relief, the pressure from the Filipino delegation seemed to do little to encourage a speedy agreement.

Coal Collisions: While COP19 was taking place at the National Stadium, Warsaw was also hosting the World Coal Association’s International Coal and Climate Summit across the river. This poorly-timed coincidence outraged many at the conference, as did Poland’s clear embrace of their primary source of energy. Two of the COP19’s biggest sponsors were coal companies, and the UNFCCC’s Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres accepted a chance to speak at the Coal and Climate Summit despite strong criticism from many leaders and civil society in attendance.

Walkouts Abound: Facing stalled negotiations on creating an international mechanism to address loss and damage on Wednesday night of the second week, a group of negotiators from the Least Developed Countries walked out of the closed door negotiations – highlighting the tension between developed and developing countries in the loss and damage debate. Similarly frustrated with the lack of progress, observers from civil society set a precedent on Thursday by formally withdrawing from the COP, turning in their badges and launching into a protest outside of the National Stadium. Vowing to return in greater force in 2014 at COP20, members of a number of prominent green NGOs signaled that they believed no progress was possible in Warsaw.

A Final Agreement Prevails: Given the difficulties in the negotiations throughout the two week conference, many people doubted whether Parties would be able to come to any agreement by the end of the COP. After intense conversations, however, Parties came to a final agreement at 3am on Saturday morning to solidify progress towards a 2015 climate deal. Just under 200 countries agreed to a roadmap for how additional emissions cuts will be identified by 2015. Some important precedents were also set that will be further defined in Lima next year. While developed countries were not able to secure “commitments” in emissions reductions from developing countries, the successful replacement word “contributions” emphasizes the likelihood that developing countries will play a bigger role in the next agreement than they did in Kyoto. Another key point of progress was on loss and damage, the topic that had caused developing countries to walk out of negotiations earlier in the week. In the end the developing countries succeeded in establishing the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, on the condition that the mechanism would be reviewed in 2016. In addition, while little progress was made in defining the financial contributions to the $100 billion Adaptation Fund, the Parties were able to make significant progress in the area of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and Land Degradation). The Warsaw Framework for REDD is backed by commitments of $280 million from the USA, EU, Norway and the UK.

Overall, despite a number of obstacles and challenges, most at the conference and watching from at home were surprised by how the talks in Warsaw came together at the last minute. The global climate community can only hope that the middle ground reached in Warsaw will continue at COP20 next year and, most importantly, as the Parties gather to form a new treaty in Paris in 2015.

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