Warsaw Talks Provide Just Enough to Move Process Forward on Path to Paris

Successes with REDD+ and Technology Mechanism Cannot be Discounted

Published Nov 23, 2013

WARSAW (November 23, 2013) – Delegates from more than 190 nations at the annual U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiation in Warsaw, Poland today reached agreement on a pathway to Paris in 2015, where they have committed to adopt a new, comprehensive, post-2020 agreement to address the climate crisis. Countries also agreed to pursue limited near-term actions to reduce emissions. Overall, the collective impact of these decisions in reducing emissions is less than what is needed, but some progress was achieved. 

“We came to Warsaw hoping to see agreement on a process that will provide the right footholds on the climb to a post-2020 climate agreement in 2015, and we’re leaving with a mixed bag,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “Negotiators provided the bare minimum to move forward on the climate deal, but the talks made gains on the international technology mechanism and hit it out of the ballpark with REDD+.”

Through the hours of Friday night and into Saturday evening, exhausted negotiators agreed on the timeframe to put forward their post-2020 plans to cut their carbon pollution and set next year's climate summit in Lima, Peru as the deadline to agree on the specific information they need to include when they submit these plans. Unfortunately, they failed to agree on what process and criteria to use in evaluating the adequacy and fairness of each others’ proposed actions; they will need to work on this over the coming year.

The negotiations opened in the shadow of Typhoon Haiyan’s destruction in the Philippines. With thousands of victims and graphic images of total devastation as a backdrop, negotiators set about tackling the highly charged issue of loss and damage -- how the international community should help vulnerable countries cope with the increasingly unavoidable impacts of climate change. Negotiators created a new body, the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage, to address this need. In the final hours, developed countries compromised on language committing to a review of the Mechanism in 2016, where they will reconsider making this a separate body to provide it more authority.

“The United States showed good will by moving beyond their red lines to compromise with developing countries in the loss and damage discussions,” said Meyer. “We hope this new attitude and more flexible stance will extend as negotiations turn next year to increased ambition on both finance and emissions reductions.”

In addition to the loss and damage decision, negotiators made some progress on the politically charged issue of climate finance -- the assistance provided by the U.S. and other developed countries to help developing countries deploy clean technologies, reduce deforestation and cope with the mounting impacts of climate change. While the amount of additional funds pledged here in Warsaw was fairly limited, negotiators established a process to provide clarity on how to ramp up developed countries’ climate funding from the roughly $30 billion a year towards the $100 billion annually by 2020 pledged by President Obama and other leaders in Copenhagen in 2009.

“The financing decisions are a far cry from providing adequate funding, but there are some positive developments,” said Meyer. “The decision on the new Green Climate Fund, for example, states that initial resource mobilization for the Fund should reach ‘a very significant scale.’ Though what qualifies as a ‘very significant scale’ has yet to be defined, the inclusion of this term is itself significant.”

There were also financial gains for the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation plus pro-forest activities (REDD+) program, which was a huge success coming out of Warsaw. The talks deliberated three final issues: technical requirements, funding and payment allocation, all needed to implement results-based compensation to countries once they have reduced deforestation. Negotiators needed to find consensus on all three issues, or none of the decisions could be confirmed. With these decisions formally adopted, REDD+ now has a complete definition of what the program is, how it works and how participants will be paid.

“This outcome is a perfect example of the U.N. climate process in action. Parties came together, worked through the tough spots and negotiated a program that will effectively address climate change,” said Pipa Elias, REDD+ and agriculture expert for UCS. “REDD+ will save forests, benefit communities and reduce emissions. This is exactly what we’ve been working towards for many years.”

Ramping up climate technologies--both to reduce emissions and build resilience to the impacts of climate change--is another area of success in Warsaw. The Climate Technology Center Network (CTCN) will start taking requests for technology assistance from developing countries in December and countries have pledged approximately $22 million to fund this work.

“This is a gold star moment for the Technology Mechanism and the UNFCCC process. After rounds and rounds of negotiations, the CTCN will finally start deploying technology assistance requested by developing countries,” said Rachel Cleetus, senior climate economist at UCS. “This technology assistance will immediately help strengthen the capacity of developing countries to implement technologies to help cope with the changing climate while also reducing emissions.”

However, negotiators were still unable to resolve a number of issues. There was no movement on the schisms between developed and developing countries on the need for changes in the world’s intellectual property rights regime. The technology mechanism still needs an adequate, predictable funding source, and without funding, the mechanism will be handicapped in its efforts to help developing countries employ specific renewable energy and energy efficiency opportunities.

“There was some kicking the technology can down the road,” said Cleetus. “Without a decision on consistent financing, it will be difficult for the technology mechanism to help deploy climate technologies globally. With scientists telling us about the urgent need to vastly reduce emissions, not fully funding the technology mechanism continues to be a missed opportunity.”

Negotiators also punted on agriculture discussions. As agriculture accounts for 15 percent of all global emissions, reducing emissions from this sector is vital in the fight against climate change. Extreme weather and climate change threaten food production in the world’s most vulnerable countries. In addition to reducing emissions, adaptation and mitigation efforts that bolster agriculture’s natural defenses will help small farmers in developing countries adjust to a changing climate.

Agriculture first appeared on the agenda during the Durban meeting in 2011. The agriculture meetings in Doha last December offered little more than political maneuvering. This year, almost immediately upon arriving in Warsaw, India blocked all progress on the agriculture talks.

“The negotiations around agriculture were not exactly DOA, but they are now in a cryogenic freeze,” said Elias. “India moved to halt these talks before they even got off the ground for fear of the trade or production restrictions that might result. Instead of fearing the economic consequences, India should fear what will happen to their people and others in the developing world if they don’t act. With each passing year, the situation on the ground intensifies and we need to start figuring out how to deal with it.”

With elections in many countries, including Brazil, the European Parliament, India, and the United States, as well as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s world leaders’ climate summit next September in New York, 2014 will be an interesting year, presenting new opportunities for climate action. Countries must act to build on the decisions announced today and position the world to get the ambitious, comprehensive climate deal we need in Paris in 2015.

“From floods and droughts to hurricanes, heat waves and typhoons, the world is on fire and we are racing against the clock to douse the fire before it’s too late,” said Meyer. Over the next two years, leaders and ministers must bring more to the table than the least common denominator. We need more moments of success like that we saw on display in Warsaw on issues like REDD+ and the technology mechanism, and far less of the political posturing and finger-pointing that mired this meeting.”