Copping out at COP 19 in Warsaw

Back in 2002 an Earth Summit (World Summit on Sustainable Development) nick-named “Rio + 10” was held in Johannesburg. As I recall there was a big push on to transfer the main carriage for environmental matters from the UN to the WTO. There was dancing in the aisles by environment ministers when the move failed. The mind boggles for those who recall our environment minister at the time, one rather stiff and formal Dr David Kemp.

One wonders, though, whether climate change negotiations would now be in better shape. Probably not. Since Cancún in 2003 the WTO has had its own problems. Not surprising then that there has been a report suggesting a radical rethink of the UNFCCC process. Problem is the UNFCCC would have to agree and that would take at least 20 years.

There is always much talk of ‘pathways’ and ‘stepping stones’ at UNFCCC meetings. Graham Readfearn on the way to this year’s Conference of Parties (COP) in Warsaw asked Will Australia cause a slip on the climate change stepping stones in Warsaw? He suggested that Australia may be there using its elbows to push the process off balance. According to his final report How rich countries dodged the climate change blame game in Warsaw he was on the money:

Climate Action Network International, which has a membership of more than 850 different non-governmental organisations, gave Australia four “Fossil of the Day” awards and the overall “Colossal Fossil” for the meeting.

Other groups, including the likes of Greenpeace, WWF and Friends of the Earth, took the unprecedented step of simply walking out with a day still to go (the proper noun Australia was being constantly uttered as the group members filed out).

If you want to be depressed, follow the second link in that quote. Some of the blame must go to the host country, which is heavily into coal, and hosted a world coal summit next to the climate conference. Indeed during the conference the Polish environment minister presiding over the talks was sacked in a cabinet reshuffle, in an apparent move to accelerate shale gas operations in Poland.

The fact is, however, that emissions reductions targets are going to be voluntary for the big polluters, and all the rest for that matter. Readfearn says the Conference of Parties (almost 200 countries)

agreed to go back home and “initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions” to whatever deal might be brokered in Paris in 2015.

The timetable is that leaders will meet with the UN Director General in New York on 23 September 2014 with a show and tell of their thinking on contributions, and no doubt receive some jaw-boning from him in return.

There will be more talking at the 20th COP in Lima from 1-12 December 2014, where a draft new climate agreement will be tabled. Then in April 2015 countries will seriously start putting their “contributions” (rather than “commitments”) on the table “without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions”. These “contributions” might be targets but could be other efforts to keep emissions down.

All this is aimed to get a legally binding agreement which reflects the “common but differentiated responsibility” of each state to be concluded at the Paris COP at the end of 2015 – for implementation in 2020 when the Kyoto Protocol officially expires.

Recently we had a look at what Hansen et al and Anderson and Bows-Larkin thought needed to be done. Neither the process nor the level of ambition of the UN climate process gives confidence or comfort. Readfearn reports that the worthies at Warsaw were told about the widening climate chasm which is threatening to roast the planet. Widening because apparently Australia, Canada and Japan reduced their level of ambition.

Climate Action Tracker, a joint project of policy and energy consultants Ecofys, Climate Analytics and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, saw the talks as a race to the bottom with governments heading backwards to a heavily carbonised fossil fuel dependent future. At least one country, Costa Rica, is heading for 2°C:


Along the way the UNFCCC grew another leg. The first leg is mitigation – reducing emissions. The second leg is adaptation – building sea walls, better cyclone shelters, developing hardier varieties of food crops and such. Now there will be a “loss and damage” leg

to provide some sort of help to poorer countries for dealing with the impacts of climate change “including extreme events and slow onset events”.

Australia’s contribution was to rule out contributing. No way! We’ll just concentrate on creating the problem!

Elsewhere questions are being asked in down-town Manica, that’s a province of Mozambique, by the way. The rich countries are fully aware that they are not doing enough. They say that the rich countries want to keep polluting while paying the poor countries to adapt. Except that they are better at talking than actually paying.

Developed nations promised in 2009 to increase aid to developing countries to help to cope with climate change to US$100 billion a year after 2020, from US$10 billion a year in 2010-12. But in Warsaw they rejected calls to set targets for 2013-19.

A draft text merely urged developed nations to set “increasing levels” of aid, to be reviewed every two years.

Libby Blanchard at Huff Post UK reminds us that:

The UNFCCC is an international environmental treaty that was originally negotiated at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. The treaty’s objective is to “stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” (UNFCCC is also the name of the secretariat that supports the institutions involved in international climate change negotiations).

Since 1995 the parties to the conference of the treaties have met every year. The Earth Summit in Rio in 2012 (Rio + 20) showed that the major players use these forums to limit their formal commitments. Rio + 20 showed that there was real energy in the side conference, the meetings of groups not part of the main agenda, in commercial interests associated with the green economy and in subsidiary levels of government.

The pattern, I think, continues. The main conference does not achieve nothing as the press release and the welter of conference decisions shows. The main players, however, use the process to make sure their common but differentiated “contributions” don’t inconvenience them too much in the short to medium term of domestic politics. The 2020 deal could end up being “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force”. Just about anything.

Australia is worse than that. Ostensibly it doesn’t want to get ahead of the pack. In fact it does what it can to make sure the pack doesn’t get ahead.

7 thoughts on “Copping out at COP 19 in Warsaw”

  1. Hi Brian,
    People keep sending me stuff about an imminent mini ice age due to lack of spots on the sun.
    What does the IPCC have to a say about this theory ?

  2. Did my research on the little ice age of the 18th century, it was almost certainly triggered by the eruption of the Somalas volcano in Indonesia.
    The sunspot cycle brings only about 0.1% change in insolation hardly enough to make any difference.
    So all that scare stuff about a new ice age is just propaganda.

  3. I think we have reached a stage where things like the Warsaw conference are irrelevant. What is really making the difference now is independent action by a whole raft of countries including Aus, the US and China. As this action grows the political power of the businesses that are involved in climate action and the people whose jobs depend on climate action.
    The thing that would help most of all would be the exclusion of climate action from WTO rules. Many countries need the economic stimulation that accelerating climate action would give. However, this stimulus is not going to work for many countries while the WTO insists that countries that already have massive debt problems must go further into debt to buy cheaper solar panels, wind power and engineering services from other countries.
    BTW. It was nice to see Abbott government actually being honest about what australia’s position on climate action is.

  4. Huggy, I don’t aspire to encyclopaedic knowledge on the science and usually look at the list of myths at Skeptical Science. However, I think you’ve got it. As I understand it sun spots move in an 11-year cycle and don’t leave a significant imprint on the temperature record. You’d expect it to be quite muscular if it had any traction.

  5. John D, it’s likely that the UNFCCC process does some good along the way, but overall it’s an indicator of how serious the world is about climate change. I wouldn’t say we’re better off without it as you seem to infer.

    Certainly the WTO needs to take a close look at the issue. Border tariffs on embedded emissions in imported goods should be considered.

  6. Brian@6: I’m pessimistic enough to think that for a few hundred billion dollars many countries would modify or withdraw from those treaties. It would be cheaper for the industrialised countries to get toegther and write new treaties than pay the compensation. Assuming that tying the litigation up for decades doesn’t work well enough.

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