Commentary

What to watch out for in Warsaw

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As attention turns to Warsaw, wading through the acronyms, decoding the UN arcane can often culminate in confusion and paranoia. Since Copenhagen, E3G has developed annual political scenarios ahead of the COPs. This informs our understanding of the political space available and the range of outcomes on the table, as well as the ‘hotspots’ which can flare up at the grand finale. These scenarios aim to provide meaning amidst the noise.

But in order to look to the future, we need to assess the past. Doha resulted in a few significant outcomes which will impact Warsaw. Firstly, the process was streamlined. The Kyoto Protocol (KP) and the unattractively named Long-term Cooperative Action track (LCA) were both completed. Cheers of joy from many observers and parties were heard in the final plenary, after slogging away for years over these talks. Now everything is concentrated on the seductively named Ad-Hoc working group on the Durban Platform (ADP). There are no distractions, one negotiation track with 2 goals – to secure a post-2020 agreement and capture more ambition pre-2020.

But a COP wouldn’t be a COP without a few curveballs. The gavelling through Russian, Kazakhstani, Ukraine and Belorussian objections to decisions under KP (mostly about how they would carry over their unused emissions from the first phase of the KP to the second) had ramifications for subsequent negotiations earlier in the year. The stubborn refusal to seek compromise meant discussions on the controversial Loss and Damage negotiations got waylaid. Loss and Damage, established in Cancun is an attempt to understand and address the residual impacts of climate change once mitigation and adaptation is taken into account. Different interpretations exist amongst the parties as to what this means in practice, ranging from compensation to the establishment of a technical expert group…. In addition, to these hangovers from Doha the question of finance was also incomplete. The tussle in the last 24 hours on Loss and Damage distracted political energy away from the quest to secure a pathway to the $100 bn promised in Copenhagen. It is thought this year, in Warsaw, developing countries won’t take no for an answer.

So what to watch out for in Warsaw? Poland is not known for its progressive approach to climate change, but this year it pulled out all the stops. Firstly our COP hosts are likely to get push back on hosting the World Coal Summit simultaneously to the climate negotiations, and giving energy intensive industries privileged access to the pre-COP. Poland often vocalises that other non-European countries are doing little to address climate change. Ironic then that both the US and China have just taken quite radical steps to reduce their coal consumption, yet the COP hosts seem to be unaware of these actions, instead parading their coal industry to international observers. It also doesn’t strike many as a sensible diplomatic strategy to destabilize and undermine the international event you volunteered to host. But perhaps there is a grander plan at work….. other than to rile the climate community.

It’s unlikely Warsaw will break out into a spurt of ambition. For many countries, they’re still operating on the red lines crafted in Copenhagen – the last time serious political attention was given to these talks. Progress has been forged on the outskirts of the international climate change regime, through the Major Economies Forum, US-China Summit and G20 etc. Dividends from the informal processes often take longer to reveal themselves in the UNFCCC than many would like. A more effective blend of the formal and informal processes must occur for 2015. Bringing together decisions makers in the real-economy, the negotiations and in global politics via Heads of State/Government will be essential if 2015 is to result in a meaningful outcome on our energy, food, resources, manufacturing, urbanisation and security agendas but to name a few. In addition, the political dynamism which is shaking up the country groupings will continue to evolve. Divergences of opinions within country groupings, and the breaking down of the north-south divide (see the Cartagena Dialogue, G20 announcements on HFCs) will become more evident as we move towards 2015, and countries mature in how they view climate as part of their national interest debate.

Despite the intense shuttle diplomacy throughout and after Bonn, the Kazakh, Ukrainian and Belorussian question still remains unresolved (it appears as though the Russians have been placated). How far will these countries go to make a point about the Doha decision-making process? If they continue in the same vein, these countries will soon find the patience of the delegates and the observers are tested to the max. Compromise is being searched for, but these countries are relatively unknown quantities in the talks.

Finance, a casualty from Doha needs some resuscitation if we are to begin to restore trust for 2015. The recent publication of the Long-Term Finance Work Programme’s (LTF-WP) report which outlines pathways to scale up finance is not earth shattering, and follow up will be essential to secure momentum. Interestingly, a proposal by the Colombians outlines a pragmatic approach which attempts to reconcile tensions between the demand and availability of climate finance in developing national financing pathways.

Key to securing a successful outcome for many will be progress on pre-2020 ambition – a crucial priority for vulnerable countries seeking more systematic concrete greenhouse gas reductions before the 2015 agreement comes into effect. Different interpretations for who is responsible for reducing emissions before 2020 prevail, as well as what the UNFCCC can do to incentivise this is also diverse. However, the discussions under the Montreal Protocol can help to provide impetus. Without securing something concrete on pre-2020 ambition, it is likely that the vulnerable countries will focus their energy on Loss and Damage.

As outlined above, addressing the unavoidable impacts of climate change will be challenging. Proposals by some of the vulnerable countries on Loss and Damage sparked controversy. There is no doubt that reference to compensation will cross many red lines of countries which have significant emissions, not only the US. Perhaps a more constructive way forward is to outline the functions of the Loss and Damage discussion, before addressing form.

And finally, the single most important outcome (in E3G’s eyes) in Warsaw will be the decisions on how to structure and sequence the 2015 agreement. Countries should walk out of Warsaw under no illusion that they need to go back home and start preparations for developing their post-2020 offer. The Ban Ki-moon summit in September will be the first time leaders come together to focus on climate. It is essential that leaders come to the table with their ranges and offers (both mitigations and financial) for the 2015 agreement. No one expects these offers to be set in stone, but unless informal discussions take place between critical countries, not only major emitters, a sense of fairness and ambition is unlikely to be achieved in time for 2015.

A successful outcome in Warsaw will likely result in three gateways and a pathway. Loss and Damage, Pre-2020 ambition and Finance are critical outcomes which require resolution. The structure and sequencing of the 2015 agreement is the pathway out from Doha.

Like many COP’s before it, assessing Warsaw’s success will be as much about the atmospherics as it will be about the concrete outcomes. Warsaw will set the stage for discussions up to 2015, and should build on the positive and constructive energy of Cancun, Durban and Doha. Despite King Coal as COP hosts, this negotiation must deliver a clear outline for 2015 to set up the negotiations for success.

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