As the UN climate meetings (COP 19) in Warsaw, Poland get down to serious business in their second week, the world beyond the negotiations looms large – both with challenges and with promise. It’s an important reminder of the stakes inside the negotiating venue.

Outside the Negotiating Rooms

The past week saw the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan, reminding us of the enormous risks that severe climate and extreme weather events can pose. This backdrop contributed to the deep concern many people expressed when Australia’s and Japan’s governments announced that they are back-tracking on previously announced climate commitments.

Passions were also stirred this week by the World Coal Summit, which coincided with the climate talks. UNFCCC Secretary General, Christiana Figueres, delivered a powerful speech outlining the scientific and economic realities of coal production and the need for a rapid and just transition. A new statement from scientists said that unabated coal is not a low-carbon technology, and noted that most coal reserves will need to stay in the ground if we are to stay within 2 degrees Celsius of warming, an internationally agreed-upon target.

Issues to Watch Inside the Negotiating Rooms

Inside the negotiating rooms, things kicked into a higher gear yesterday. The co-chairs put forward a negotiating text laying out the key issues for establishing a new climate action agreement in 2015 (under the Durban Platform). Over the next several days, the key issues that negotiators will grapple with include:

  1. Getting on the Pathway to Paris: The negotiating text affirmed the goal of reaching an international climate agreement by the end of COP 21 in Paris, which will take place in late 2015. The text calls for the COP in 2014 (in Peru) to agree on the core elements for the agreement. Unfortunately, it didn’t lay out a clear “roadmap” between here and there to spell out when and how countries would put forward their “national offers” of emissions-reduction commitments. Nor did it describe how those commitments will be reviewed in the international process, including a list of the information that countries will put in their offers. That information could include details on how countries will cut emissions and how their offers achieve ambition in achieving equity while reducing emissions. Getting greater clarity on the process is key to enabling countries to move toward reaching a strong, fair agreement in Paris.

  2. Delivering on Climate Finance: Finance has been a difficult topic of discussion in Warsaw, but there are several opportunities for the COP to make progress. First, the COP can move forward with operationalizing the Green Climate Fund. One important step is to endorse the GCF Board’s decision to start receiving funds once members agree on a key set of conditions for the Fund’s operation. Second, negotiators are also discussing how to scale up the $100 billion per year in climate finance that developed nations agreed to at the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009. Lastly, vulnerable countries are seeking increased levels of adaptation funding, which is lagging behind mitigation finance, along with a commitment to provide near-term finance for the Adaptation Fund.

  3. Addressing Loss and Damage: The issue of Loss & Damage –which is how countries should respond to climate impacts that are difficult or impossible to adapt to—has risen high on the negotiating agenda. This issue emerged at last year’s COP in Doha, with negotiators deciding to create “institutional arrangements” on loss and damage. To be effective, these institutional arrangements need to constructively tackle the needs of communities affected by climate impacts, including by systematically identifying harm, preventing loss and damage, engaging in recovery and response, and building solidarity in the face of unrecoverable loss and damage.

  4. Advancing Transparency and Accountability: One positive development from this COP is that countries have finalized the remaining details for how they would carry out the verification process for emissions reductions in both developed and developing countries. By doing this, they put the last stone in place for the MRV (Measurement, Reporting and Verification) framework adopted in Copenhagen and Cancun. This lays the foundation for implementation of emissions reductions before 2020, and should make clear the importance of transparency and clarity when countries put forward their emissions-reduction offers for the post-2020 period.

The Next Few Days Are Critical for the Future of Climate Action

Despite the relatively slow pace here thus far, it’s clear that the stakes for climate action are high. The next few days will prove to be quite important on the pathway to securing an international climate agreement. Negotiators need to get the pieces in place for a clear and successful process. The more progress they make here in Poland, the more likely it is that we can achieve our goal of a strong, equitable international agreement by 2015.