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COP 19 Made Small Steps Forward, but We Need Bolder Leaps

This year’s climate negotiations in Warsaw, Poland (COP 19) were a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the summit’s outcomes were dramatically out of step with the level of action needed to solve the climate change problem. A tempting metaphor for the talks was the national stadium in which they were held– one could go around in endless circles in search of the right location.

On the other hand, the Warsaw COP did achieve the incremental outcomes needed to move the process forward. Negotiators put in place a work plan for securing an international climate agreement at COP 21 in Paris in 2015. The COP also made progress on scaling up climate finance and addressing the difficult issue of loss and damage, a process for addressing climate impacts that are difficult or impossible to adapt to. These are small but important steps toward bringing countries out of their repetitive, circular discussions and closer to agreeing collectively on how to address global climate change.

Here’s a look at the highs and lows of five critical discussion areas at COP 19: the 2015 climate agreement; climate finance; loss and damage; equity; and measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV).

The Pathway to Paris

From a process perspective, the Warsaw meeting delivered the basics of what we need. The key question was whether negotiators would establish a pathway for securing an international climate agreement at COP 21 in Paris in 2015. Such a pathway would require countries to put forward “national offers” for reducing emissions while adhering to certain international rules and benchmarks around ambition, equity, and transparency.

First, all countries that are “ready to do so” (presumably, most major economies) are expected to put their “offers” on the table in the first quarter of 2015. This deadline provides plenty of time for these offers to be analyzed, reviewed, and understood by policymakers. Identifying the gap between the initial collective offers and the emissions reductions needed to stay below 2 degrees C will be extremely important for determining how much more action countries will need to commit to in Paris to avoid worsening climate impacts. Second, the Warsaw decision provided some guidance on how those offers should be tabled, stating that they should be done “in a manner that facilitates the clarity, transparency, and understanding of the intended contributions.” More formal guidance on what these words actually mean and the information that countries should provide in their offers must be decided by next year’s COP, but enough is there now for countries to start working. The agreement also makes clear that support should be provided early in 2014 for those countries that need it to prepare their offers.

This decision was one of the most contentious, as it gets to the heart of which countries have to do what by when. The Durban Platform decided that the 2015 agreement should be “applicable to all,” but clearly this is no easy feat. For example, how will the UNFCCC ensure that countries’ offers take equity into account, or that they collectively reduce emissions enough to stay below 2 degrees of warming? WRI has been working hard to bring transparency and accountability into this “offers process” and will continue to do so. Optimally, a number of countries will come forward early and provide examples of what a clear, transparent, and understandable contribution looks like.

Climate Finance

Finance was a key issue on the agenda for COP 19. Although much more needs to be done to mobilize finance at the scale needed to help developing nations mitigate and adapt to climate change, negotiators made important progress in a number of areas, including:

  • Prioritizing adaptation finance: Negotiators emphasized the need to ensure adequate funding is directed towards helping the poorest and most vulnerable countries adapt to the impacts of climate change. This was a welcome step, as adaptation activities have to date received considerably less finance than mitigation. Concrete support for adaptation came in the form of pledges from developed countries totaling more than $100 million for the Adaptation Fund, fulfilling its fundraising goal.

  • Operationalizing the Green Climate Fund (GCF): Countries set in motion a process to mobilize initial financial resources for the GCF—which is expected to become the main vehicle for disbursing climate finance—and to establish a formal system to replenish these resources. Some welcome pledges for the initial capitalization of the GCF were made in support of “readiness” activities. However, a clear, ambitious target for the initial capitalization of the GCF is still lacking.

  • Strengthening transparency: Parties made positive steps toward better reporting of climate finance flows. Greater transparency is important for building trust between developed and developing countries and for ensuring that funding flows in a predictable manner.

  • Scaling up long-term finance: Developed countries came to Warsaw expressing a commitment to collectively mobilize $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020. The decision on finance stresses the need to continue to mobilize and scale up finance from fast-start finance levels to reach this ambitious target. It also emphasizes the need to create conditions to mobilize climate finance and use it effectively. However, the decision still doesn’t define a clear pathway with milestones and targets for achieving this goal.

Countries made encouraging progress, but greater ambition is needed to meet the $100 billion target by 2020 and beyond. There is much technical work to be done before reaching an international climate agreement in 2015—this work should contribute to greater trust between parties, more transparency, and more effective deployment of climate finance.

Loss and Damage

One of the bright spots of the negotiations was making progress on how to address climate change-related losses and damages that are difficult or impossible to adapt to. After intense negotiations, countries took a major step forward by creating the “Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage.” This mechanism is a new body with an executive committee and a broad, complex mandate, including work on research, coordination, action, and support.

Creating this mechanism represented significant progress because developed country parties had long resisted resisted a new, separate mechanism for loss and damage. However, much work remains to make the new body fully functional. How it will work and how it will be financed were not clarified in Warsaw. Parties will also need to ensure that the mechanism is complementary to the work of the Adaptation Committee, and that it undertakes activities that really make a difference for vulnerable people who are facing significant harms from climate change.

Equity

The issue of equity—and which countries should take which kinds of climate action—was again a central issue in the negotiations. The Durban Platform says that the new 2015 agreement should be “applicable to all” countries—both developed and developing—but how that language should play out in practice is still uncertain. During the discussions on the 2015 agreement, we saw a range of views emerge about how the new agreement should address equity, as well as how to deal with the related principles of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.

Some developing countries, such as Brazil, said that those historically responsible for the most emissions should take the most action, while developed countries suggested this was too narrow a focus. Others put forward different approaches. The Africa Group, for instance, proposed new ways of capturing equity in an agreement, such as a possible “equity reference framework” that might address a mix of issues involving responsibility, capability, access to sustainable development, and adaptation. Issues such as vulnerability to climate impacts and financial support for mitigation and adaptation were also highlighted in the equity discussion.

The question of how countries’ emissions-reduction plans should be described was central to the outcome. Some emerging economies resisted the use of the term “commitments,” arguing that the term suggested that the same type of legally binding commitment would be used for all countries, rather than some kind of differentiation. Instead, countries agreed to use the more flexible term “contributions.” This term, however, is only for the tabling process and does not prejudge the legal outcome of either the commitments in the agreement or the agreement itself. That careful balance was the result of a final huddle on this matter on Saturday afternoon.

In the end, the key equity issues are left to be tackled in the process between now and 2015. The most important question is whether the information that countries provide as part of the draft contributions will have to include justifications based on equity, and whether there will be a clear review process that addresses equity once countries have put forward their offers. The debate over equity is clearly not going away – the issue from here is whether it will be constructively and effectively addressed in the 2015 negotiations so that it can act as a buttress—not a deterrent—to ambition.

Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) and Accounting

Measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) rules provide transparency to the UNFCCC process and help ensure that countries fulfill their existing and future emissions-reduction commitments. In Warsaw, parties made progress by finalizing and adopting the remaining modalities of the verification processes for developed and developing countries’ current commitments. Parties agreed on how to implement biennial update reports from developing countries (International Consultation and Analysis (ICA)) and developed nations (International Assessment and Review (IAR)). They also adopted a methodological guidance for verifying approaches for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

But while negotiators made progress on verification, the road to a robust global accounting framework is more challenging than ever. Once again, parties failed to conclude on a common accounting framework for both Kyoto Protocol (KP) and non-KP parties. They also failed to adopt safeguards that preserve environmental integrity and prevent double-counting of emissions reductions. Although experts found consensus on the majority of the revised “Marrakesh Accords”—the detailed set of MRV, accounting, and compliance guidelines under the Kyoto Protocol—they could not resolve how to deal with the surplus of emission allowances a countries can carry over from the first to the second KP commitment period (KP2). This may prevent some KP2 parties from ratifying the second commitment period. Discussion on these agenda items will continue next year at COP 20.

Despite the shortfalls at COP 19, 2014 will be a big year for MRV—it will see the first biennial update reports from developing countries, the first IAR, and the review of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. It’s important that countries build on the progress that was made to generate more trust among Parties and prepare their 2015 commitments in line with equity, adequacy, and other principles of the Convention.

What Comes Next?

Negotiators at COP 19 made some progress, but meeting the scale of the climate challenge will require all leaders— including heads of state, corporations, and civil society—to scale up their action between now and COP 20 next year. This includes building demand for effective climate policies at the national level. Leaders also have a chance to move this agenda forward at the international level, both through the January meeting of the World Economic Forum and through the U.N. Secretary General’s High Level Summit in September 2014.

As we look at rising seas, heat waves, and the recent devastation of Typhoon Haiyan, the stakes have never been higher. It’s time to turn the small steps of COP 19 into bigger leaps of global climate action.

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