Tense Warsaw Climate Change Conference Ends in Consensus

Photo: WikimediaCommons/Mateusz Włodarczyk

Photo: WikimediaCommons/Mateusz Włodarczyk

The COP19 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the most recent round of ongoing United Nations talks aiming to forge a new global agreement on climate change, ended on November 23 after two weeks of tense negotiations.

The goal of the talks was to lay the groundwork for an agreement involving substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from all major world economies and also included further commitments from some negotiating countries. The agreement is to be signed in Paris in 2015 and will be implemented by 2020. Despite being riddled with controversy, the conference ended 30 hours behind schedule and with a compromise on how to combat global warming. While the details of the treaty still need to be debated, all participating countries agreed to work to curb their emissions from coal, oil and gas by the first quarter of 2015.

The new deforestation plan could be the signature accomplishment of the convention. It would provide economic incentives for countries to reduce the emissions that come from deforestation. Norway, Britain and the United States collectively pledged $280 million toward the effort, with the U.S. contributing $25 million.

Poland, the host of the COP19 and the ninth biggest producer of coal in the world, also hosted the World Coal Summit at the same time as the climate change conference prompting strong responses from eco movements such as Greenpeace who deemed this ironic timing “outrageous” in a letter to the Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Polish government has also been criticized for inviting big oil and coal companies to be sponsors for the climate change conference. 

A 2009 report by the Polish Ministry of the Economy entitled “Energy Policy of Poland until 2030,” indicated that coal will play a major role in the country’s energy strategy until 2030 and the government has recently approved the construction of two new coal plants.

Poland is often cited as an obstacle to the European Union’s proposal to reduce carbon emissions. Not only are their carbon emissions above the EU average, but the government has often fought against EU calls to reduce emissions. Polish Prime-Minister Donald Tusk has said that agreeing to the EU energy and climate package in 2008 was a dramatic and dangerous mistake.

Certain countries did little to facilitate an agreement. China is set to open three large coal plants every month until 2022, while India is on course to become the world’s second biggest coal importer. Japan also announced that instead of aiming for a 25% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, it would increase its emissions by 3% because of the Fukushima disaster. Australia’s government is also under fire, as it sent climate ambassador Justin Lee to the talks instead of Environment Minister Greg Hunt, a potential indication of the importance, or lack of importance, that their nation places on the talks. The International Energy Agency has reported that Australia’s production of coal would rise by almost 50% between 2011 and 2035, with most of that coal being exported.

Bill Hare, director of  the nonprofit Climate Analytics who spoke at the conference, said that the fact that Japan and Australia are not doing enough to cut carbon emissions indicates an increasing dependency on coal. Hare added that this trend could potentially push the globe five degrees warmer. Previous UN talks had established that a warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius would be incredibly dangerous for our climate, but scientists have in fact found that current policies would cause global warming of 3.7 degrees Celsius.

The issue of “loss and damage” also provoked controversy, especially between rich and poor countries. Loss and damage is generally defined as compensation from rich countries to poorer ones that have suffered the effects of climate change, such as an increase in the number and intensity of typhoons and hurricanes. More developed countries insisted that the issue of loss and damage be postponed until 2015, while the less developed countries attempted to emphasize the urgency of the issue.

However some progress was made. The climate adaptation fund, set up in 2008 to provide money for poorer countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change, will receive $100 million after voicing concerns that money for the fund is running out.

Another success of the conference was the creation of the Warsaw International Mechanism, which was established to address inevitable climate change in vulnerable countries. Rachel Longe, the Energy and Environment Editor for the King’s College London Think Tank Society explained that “climate change is a global issue and requires international cooperation to effectively deal with its related consequences. Developing countries don’t have the resources, the infrastructure, or the finances necessary that are crucial to formulating programs that can deal with recent and future natural disasters and their repercussions. It is wrong for developing countries to bear the brunt of the responsibility of climate change and increasing carbon emissions when the majority of their economies rely on the exports to importing, wealthy, and developed countries.”

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  1. […] last month’s climate change conference in Warsaw, Paris has been chosen to be the host of the 2015 conference. This will mark […]

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