PRELIMINARIES OF THE UN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE IN WARSAW
The climate conference in Warsaw began under the shadow of last week’s disaster in the Philippines. But despite passionate appeals, the conference moves into its second week without any significant progress.
« There is no Planet B », « leave the coal in the hole » outdoors demonstrators shouted. A number of technicalities are to be sorted out in advance, so that the ministers – due to arrive in Warsaw on Tuesday 19 November – will be left with deals in which only political questions are still up for debate.
Time to show up the records
There are still plenty of issues to address on a technical level, too. Work is being done, but there are no concrete results to report yet. Not everyone sees it this way. Switzerland’s negotiator Franz Perrez expressed deep frustration with the progress made in the first week. « We began the conference with a strong appeal that we should not continue business as usual, and that we have to move towards concrete decisions, » he said. « Too often we were moving back to traditional finger-pointing, and not searching for solutions. »
Disagreement on criteria
This is the situation ahead of the global climate agreement, due at a climate conference in Paris in two years’ time, when all countries – both industrialized and non-industrialized – will be expected to put figures on the table and declare by how much they intend to reduce their carbon emissions.
Discussions about fundamental criteria are already being held in Warsaw. Delegates are trying to come to a common understanding on criteria such as which year will be used as a point of reference for emissions targets, and how the tonnage of carbon emissions will be calculated. And there are plenty of disagreements.
Delaying tactics: Brazil looks set to delay an agreement
Brazil, for instance, wants the historical responsibility of the industrialized countries to be taken into account. Their industries, so their argument goes, have been releasing carbon into the atmosphere since the end of the 18th century – much longer than industries in the developing world. But the European Union suspects that this argument is untruthful.
From the EU perspective there is no problem with discussing historical emissions, but there are a number of serious procedural and substantive concerns with this proposal, since historic emission rates would then serve as the only indicator in this equation. With that, the proposal poses a very serious risk of delaying the agreement beyond 2015, because of the time that would be needed to develop the indicator and then apply it to parties’ commitments.
Even though Brazil is right to argue that the industrialized countries should pay for their historical responsibilities, this shouldn’t be used as an excuse to delay an agreement. Brazil looks particularly reluctant in the negotiations – like a country that wants to postpone and delay talks, presumably also because of their presidential election next year.
Japan changes its mind
There were generally more steps back than forward in this preliminary first week of talks. Even though countries were supposed to present figures showing how much they intended to reduce emissions before the global agreement comes into force in 2020, environmentalists often saw a lot to be desired when it came to actual progress in that direction – prominently so in the case of Japan: Its representatives declared on Friday that it was giving up its target altogether.
Instead of reducing emissions by 25 percent until 2020 – compared to 1990 – it now wants to allow emissions to increase by three percent. With a hint of an apology, Japanese chief negotiator Hiroshi Minami declared that since the nuclear accident in Fukushima in March 2011, none of Japan’s 50 reactors were producing electricity.
Previous climate target estimates, he explained, were based on the assumption that 40 percent of Japan’s energy needs would be covered by nuclear power – now they had to assume that the nuclear reactors would not produce any power, meaning that fossil fuels would have to be used instead.
Japan’s announcement of reducing its own goals sends a fatal signal to India and China as those are countries that we desperately need to be part of a future climate change agreement. The EU expressed disappointment with the move, as it is more than just disappointing. But above and beyond, is Europe (and OECE countries) doing enough on climate innovation? That is, fixing ambitious targets to reduce emissions all through binding carbon budgets and implementing a clear accountability framework.
Climate change must be stopped – but in such a way that the world becomes more just, not less.