January 09, 2014

Report on the Outcomes of UNFCCC CoP19, Warsaw

Report on the Outcomes of UNFCCC COP-19, Warsaw, Poland.

By: Soumya Dutta

A COP with low expectations – The world seems to have learnt a bitter lesson from the experiences of Copenhagen COP-15 in 2009 (and the subsequent ones in Cancun-Mexico, Durban-South Africa and Doha-Qatar), where high expectations from the government negotiators and the country-party negotiating process, lead to frustrations amongst all those expecting a positive & progressive deal. This particular COP in Warsaw, the capital city of Poland, was not expected to deliver much. This was also for a few reasons. The COP-21 scheduled in Paris in 2015 is supposed to finalize the new, all-nations-included climate treaty, and 2014 COP-20 in Lima, Peru will – in all likelihood – workout the framework for that. The other reason was Poland’s known regressive political posturing about a possible shift to clean energy, the right-wing upsurge in these parts of Europe etc.

The most corporate dominated COP ever – The COP19 in Warsaw was preceded by a high-level summit where the corporate heavy-weights had been invited, but not the other ‘stake-holders’ in this negotiations. They had the high table with the politicians and UN representatives. In understanding the absurdity of this - it is good to connect to a thoroughly researched report, released while the COP-19 was on – “The Carbon Majors” report, authored by Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute, Colorado, USA. This shows that roughly two-thirds of global cumulative emissions from the time of the “Industrial Revolution”, have been caused by the production and sale by only about 90 major corporate entities of the world. If GHG emission is the major problem supposed to be tackled by the COP 19 (and UNFCCC puts this as the major objective), this red-carpet welcome to the same corporates in the climate summit – was nothing less than an affront to the impacted people all across the world. To make matters more ridiculous, the Polish government (through its Ministry of Economic Affairs) co-hosted a “Coal & Climate Summit” on 18th-19th of November, parallel to the high-level segment of COP-19 !! As if it is still to be discovered that coal & oil are the two biggest contributors of GHG emissions – all over the world.

The hype about the so-called “clean-coal” was heard all over Warsaw during the COP. It is also known that Poland is the most coal-dependent economy in Europe, producing about 85% of its electricity from coal burning (figures vary from 83 to 93% for Poland; in comparison, a much poorer & developing country like India gets about 67% of its electricity from coal), and planning to keep its coal-dependence at about 50% till 2050. We faced the same hypocritical situation last year, when Qatar (which has the dubious honour of having the highest per capita GHG emissions in the world) was hosting COP18, but Qatar is a small economy and not particularly central in global politics (though its oil & gas money is helping it establish itself as a rising political player). In contrast, it is being discussed in the climate debates that Poland is the major road-block in the European Union not being able to raise its mitigation ambition to 30% or more below the 1990 levels by the year 2020, in place of the presently accepted (and nearly achieved) modest target of 20% reduction in its GHG emissions from the 1990 baseline.

Minimum Expectations from COP-19 – With this backdrop, the limited achievements of the first ever ‘Coal-COP’ (as many climate justice activists are calling it) was not a surprise, particularly since the expectations were minimal to begin with. Still, this climate conference was supposed to achieve a few things, the prominent amongst these being –
  1. Come out with a road map for the new, all-nation-included climate treaty to be sealed in the Paris COP in 2015, with raised levels of mitigation ambition, though based on the limited ambition and scope of the ADP (the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, worked out in the COP17 in Durban, South Africa in 2011).
  2. The now established Green Climate Fund (GCF), the would-be big daddy of all climate funds – which is scheduled to deliver USD 100 billion per year starting in 2020, for mitigation, adaptation and the climate related loss & damage – was to report to the COP about its progress, work out the relationship to the UNFCCC, establish its mechanisms of operation, and most important, the rich nations were to outline a plan for GCF funds sources and disbursement, for the intervening period (from the end of fast start finance in 2012 to the beginning of 2020).
  3. The poorer nations most impacted by climate change have been clamouring for acceptance of climate change induced ‘Loss & Damage’, as a ‘third pillar’ of action and support – in addition to ‘mitigation’ and ‘adaptation’, and establish assessment frameworks and mechanisms to address this loss & damage issues.
At the end of two weeks of lengthy backtracking, what this COP ‘achieved’
  1. A loosely formed ‘decision’ about preparing for a new treaty was given in the form of “nationally determined contributions” to mitigation, while the urgent need was for each nations “concrete commitments” to this critical aspect, which is the driver of global warming & climate change. Being “nationally determined”, each country will weigh in all its internal political compulsions & pressure from the now-all-pervading corporate world, and thus any meaningful ‘contribution’ that any progressive nation might think of – will be nipped in the bud. Reportedly, China and India took strong positions to block binding “commitments”. The Alliance Of Small Island States (AOSIS) put pressure for a clear road map of emissions cuts from now till 2020 and increasing the paltry pledges made earlier, but except the European Union to some extent (that too, conditional), no other developed country or block has put forward any clear road maps for emissions cuts leading up to 2020.
  2. The GCF has started its office in Songdo, South Korea, hired essential staff and received seed funding for these, but neither its operational funding nor the mechanism of operation is ready yet. Hopefully, the GCF will be ready by May 2014, getting ‘fit for purpose’ and receiving some funds to address the urgent climate finance needs. During the negotiations here in Warsaw, the US has constantly blocked any concrete language that will show commitment to funding – with amounts, sources and mechanisms. It is now putting conditions that the developing countries have to show that they have created “enabling conditions”, meaning essentially de-regulation of their economies, for it (the US) to agree to GCF funding specifics (the same old trick it played in forcing market mechanisms in the Kyoto Protocol, and then backing out). Both the US and other developed countries have made the text even more porous to count private funding on a lot of related areas, as ‘Climate Finance’. The GCF itself has digressed from the earlier understanding of climate finance being largely public funds and given as grants, to part-grant part-soft-loan position, and counting private finance as part of the “promised” USD 100 billion per year from 2020.
  3. The betrayal by developed countries continued in this COP. Following in the footsteps of Canada earlier, Japan announced that it will not abide by its earlier commitment of mitigation. This was apparently a result of its forced shut-down of 54 nuclear power reactors after the Fukushima disaster, and its consequent decision to shift to more oil, gas and – now, Coal power to meet its shortfall. Noteworthy – though Germany has closed eight of its nuclear power plants and decided to shut all of these by the year 2022, it has not wavered like this – having invested heavily in renewable energy capacity, with the full support of its “energeiwende” program. Australia, another on-again-off-again renegade, also followed suit. Russia has indicated its intention of not committing to any targets repeatedly. And the great USA keeps determining its policy all on its own, while requiring other nations to follow its dictates.
  4. On the issue of “Loss & Damage” due to climate change, the dithering continued. Though by the end of 23rd Nov. Saturday, an international mechanism on Loss & Damage (“Warsaw International Mechanism’) was agreed upon, and this is some gain many developing country parties were asking for – but this fell well short of the needed action. The developing country demand of treating Loss & damage at par with Mitigation & Adaptation, in other words - as a Third Pillar of climate action, was being blocked, mostly by the US (again !), which wanted L&D to be considered ‘under’ the Adaptation Framework, diluting its importance and (financial & other) action.
  5. There were some other developments too –
    • India and some other countries successfully blocked the push for including agriculture in the mitigation framework. If adopted, this would have been harmful for the small farmers in developing countries.
    • The demand for ‘equity’ in the deal has been blocked again, as a result of the requisite means to implement this. This will defer the question of global carbon budget agreement to the next COP in Lima in Peru.
    • The big push for creating a new global carbon market – in spite of the present ones failing miserably and not delivering on mitigation promises – was given by the EU and Switzerland, but was resisted and put off for the time being.
    • The REDD+ proposal was ‘improved’, with adoption of a governance framework, and strict insistence on social & environmental safeguards. In addition, the benefits have to be shown to be beyond mitigation. All these patch-work is not likely to address the genuine concerns of forest dwelling & forest fringe communities, especially the indigenous peoples.
Some other actions outside – 
    • The extremely tardy progress and the constant blocking of any positive proposal – mostly by the developing countries – but also occasionally by ‘emerging economy parties’ – crossed the limits of tolerance of the assembled civil society groups and the parties from the AOSIS, LDC etc. On the penultimate day of negotiations – on 21st Nov, they staged a walkout in protest, after surrendering their UNFCCC accreditation badges (the NGO representatives). This was with the promise of returning to the COP-20 in Lima, where the host nation /COP presidency is expected to be much more progressive.
    • On the 16th of Nov, over 5000 activists – from both civil society and some poor country parties – took to the foggy and cold Warsaw streets, to march in front of the venue of the Corporate-controlled Cop-19, and demand that the world’s governments act decisively, positively and swiftly – to tackle climate change.
    • In protest against the Polish government co-hosting the Coal and Climate Summit in parallel to the high level segment of the COP, a large number of civil society organisations together organized a daring protest action in front of the ministry of finance building, the venue of the coal summit. GreenPeace activists climbed onto the ministry building and erected huge banners. several people were detained by police.
    • Regular planning meetings and discussions took place in the Climate Justice space.
    • The ‘official’ presence of the Indian delegation (from the government of India) was very small, and very low-key as well. While many smaller nations like Bangladesh, Kenya, even tiny ones like Mauritania etc. – had visible stalls displaying their positions & programs, and multiple side events and exhibitions etc. - we could not locate any such activity by the official Indian delegation. The Indian delegation press conference on 20th – possibly the only outreach effort by Indian govt there - we missed, as we had to leave Warsaw on that morning. 

What we, as ‘Beyond Copenhagen’, did at the COP 19 - 

In the end, it will not be totally out of place to put in a few activities that we were involved in.
  1. On the 12th of November, two of us spoke on various issues of the increasing threats of climate change driven livelihood losses and the forced climate migrants, in a well attended side event organized by Bangladesh groups, in the meeting hall ‘krakow’ in the COP 19 venue, Warsaw national stadium.
  2. On Nov.13th, we organized an equally well attended side event on the issue of – “Climate change in the post 2015 development agenda : implications for agriculture and livelihoods”. Apart from three members from our collective, we had representation from Pan African Climate Justice Alliance as a speaker.
  3. From the 13th to 18th, we had detailed interviews and exchanges with six different university research groups from many countries including USA, Belgium, Italy, Germany etc., on a variety of related issues. This was an attempt to reach out to multiple groups from across the world – to communicate, establish parallel channels of common understanding and influence.
  4. Following our Delhi pre-cop meeting with the Polish deputy environment minister and several embassy representatives on Nov.05, we had another meeting with the Deputy minister, as the full minister was too busy, being the President of the COP. Several partner organisations from outside India were also invited to this interaction on 16th.
  5. BCPH produced a book on climate issues, titled “Engaging With Climate Change : Perspectives on Some Critical Aspects of Climate Change” – for the COP19, and this was officially released on the 13th of November at room Krakow in the COP-19 venue. We also produced some attractive climate message carrying bookmarks and cloth bags – which were taken up by many delegates.
  6. Some BCPH members interacted with some members of India’s official delegation. Though they were generally welcoming, they were unwilling to talk substance.
  7. A few of us took part in the Climate Justice march on 16th, and interacted with a large number of activists from other countries.
  8. On the large public meeting in Warsaw – protesting against Coal being promoted as a climate solution (!), one of us was invited to speak as the representative of southern country CSOs. The following press conference was also addressed by the same BCPH representative – both on the 18th of November.
  9. We made some efforts to document the impacts of climate change in some other countries, how their CSOs and governments are responding to these, what the people are experiencing etc. – through short interviews. We hope to continue this, and come out with a short documentary. Equipment problems hampered this to some extent.
  10. Several members of our delegation attended a number of other side events, and raised relevant questions and observations, to enrich the discussions, and also to raise awareness of Indian situations in the global scene.
  11. We also had a few meetings and interactions with both international NGOs active in the area, and multi-country discussions to share experiences.


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