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Will We See a Global Climate Change Agreement in 2015?

Warsaw talks forge a murky path towards an international climate pact at COP-21

Last week, government delegates and climate activists wrapped up the 19th round of United Nations international climate negotiations in Warsaw, Poland. And though the talks may not have accomplished all that climate activists hoped for, many participants remain optimistic that a meaningful climate change agreement is on the horizon.

photoname Photo by Shubert CienciaWealthy nationas' financial commitments to mechanisms like the Green Climate Fund and
Adaptation Fund have been inadequate.

The goal going into Warsaw was to create a roadmap outlining the necessary steps for the adoption of an international climate agreement in 2015, and implementation of the agreement in 2020.

“The three [primary] aspects of the roadmap are the clarification of the legal form in which countries will make their pledges, the amount of money that will be available to support actions in developing countries and how that will be dispersed to different countries, and the actual pledges countries will make,” explains Tom Athanasiou, executive director of EcoEquity, an Earth Island Institute project. “And there are two kinds of pledges:  there are finance pledges and there are emissions reductions pledges.”

While negotiators didn’t expect countries to make concrete emissions reductions commitments in Warsaw, they hoped to make progress on the legal form of pledges and the financial aspects of the agreement. So, did the climate talks succeed in this regard?

“The roadmap was an important part of what we were hoping for,” says Lou Leonard, vice president of the climate change program at World Wildlife Fund. “Rather than a roadmap, I think we got kind of a vague sense of direction, but certainly not with the clarity that would really be ideal in order for countries to know what is expected of them when they put another set of commitments on the table.”

The ambiguity surrounding the legal form of pledges has broad implications. Currently, there are no guidelines regarding how countries will provide information on their intended emissions reductions contributions, whether and how countries must explain the fairness of their contributions, or how their contributions should be evaluated and reviewed. As of yet, there is also no firm deadline by which countries must make their pledges.

With respect to finance for low-income countries, Warsaw also fell flat. Several mechanisms, including the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund, have been established in previous negotiations to address financial components of the framework. Unfortunately, financial commitments by wealthy countries have so far been inadequate.

“The plumbing is all in,” says Athanasiou, referring to the financial mechanisms that have been developed over the past two decades. “Now the question is whether there will be money in the pipes. Countries aren’t coming up with the money.”

While gaps remain with respect to emissions reductions pledges and financial contributions, Warsaw did bring some progress.

For one thing, negotiators developed an international mechanism to provide assistance and expertise to developing nations facing loss and damage from climate change. The mechanism, which has yet to be fine-tuned, represents an important step towards addressing the impacts of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Additionally, progress was made on the issue of deforestation. The United States, Norway and the United Kingdom pledged $280 million to the Warsaw Framework for REDD+, money that will be allocated to countries able to show that they are reducing carbon emissions by curbing deforestation.

Given the challenges presented in Warsaw, what are the chances that we will see a meaningful climate agreement in 2015?

On this issue, opinions are mixed. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate change told reporters: “[Warsaw] keeps us on track for [negotiations in Lima and Paris], and certainly on track for the 2015 agreement.

Leonard disagrees. “We are off track. I don’t think that means we can’t get there, it just means it’s a lot harder than we had hoped…and it is a lot harder to see us getting to a final agreement in Paris.”

Warsaw may not have lived up to expectations, but it wasn’t completely ineffective either. With strong leadership from the governments of Peru and France, which will host the 2014 and 2015 climate negotiations respectively, there is still hope for international action on this complex issue. “I think we still have a chance in 2015,” says Leonard. “We can’t give up on it because we absolutely need this agreement.”

Zoe Loftus-Farren
Zoe Loftus-Farren is is a contributing editor at Earth Island Journal. She holds a J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, and and writes about climate change, environmental justice, and food policy. Follow her on Twitter @ZoeLoftusFarren

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