After the Doha round of climate talks failed in 2012, world powers are coming to the UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw this month with mixed emotions regarding the future of the Kyoto protocol.

The Doha round of climate talks cast doubt on the future of the Kyoto protocol. Photo: AP

This November the parties to the UN Climate Change Convention meet in Warsaw to find solutions in addressing the global climate change problem. With 195 countries attending, this year’s UN Climate Change Conference will have near universal participation. The annual meeting, which is held from Nov. 11 to Nov. 22, is at a critical juncture as its outcomes are expected to lay the foundations for a new framework on global climate change.

Despite careful and comprehensive preparatory work made for this year’s conference a key element needed for successful outcomes is seriously lacking. For example, countries such as Russia, New Zealand and Japan have decided not to commit to the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol – the only international agreement that has binding carbon reduction targets.

While the US never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, Canada recently officially withdrew from it. The European Union, even though it agreed on the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, has put conditions on increasing mitigation reduction targets and will take a long time to ratify it. Japan plans to soon announce a very low national target while Australia has decided not even to send a minister to attend the Warsaw conference.

Meanwhile, major emerging economies (such as China) that have the highest current aggregate greenhouse gas emissions on record are exempted from current commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Not only that, but they also refuse to take any globally binding targets under a future global framework.

This current approach to climate change is similar to driving a vehicle with bad brakes in severe fog and heading for a cliff. We know for sure now that the cliff is out there, we just don’t know exactly where it is. Prudence would suggest that we start putting on the brakes.

Yet, those who are driving the vehicle and are responsible for not applying the brakes are not the ones who are in danger of getting seriously hurt.  They have their seat belts buckled and their air bags on, and when the car crashes – though it will hurt – they will likely walk away from it.

However, those who are riding insecurely on the bumpers and the roof of the car – the poor and the vulnerable – will be the worst affected and the worst hurt.  For example, the 49 Least Developed Counties in the world, who make up 12 percent of the global population, are suffering from climate change ‘first and worst,’ despite contributing less than one per cent of historical greenhouse gas emissions. From 1980 – 2013 the LDCs suffered 51 percent of deaths from climate-related disasters, which is 4.7 times the global average. If anything, the statistics are worsening. Taking just the period January 2010 to July 2013, the figure rises to 67 percent – 5.5 times the global average.

In the meantime, the developed nations are offering a pittance for damages they have already caused and refusing to accept any liability and are driving with no third party insurance. Yet, when it comes to their own damage, they quickly allocate the necessary resources to repair the damage. For example the U.S. government has spent more than $60 billion just to recover from recent Superstorm Sandy.

This inequality has to be addressed.  This requires addressing four crucial elements in Warsaw:

1.      Planning to deliver a new climate change agreement in 2015: Governments expect to see progress on the scope, structure and design of a new agreement that is to be adopted in 2015. Through this process, hopefully, these governments will cement the idea that all countries have to commit to stay below a rise in temperature of 2 degrees Celsius if we are to avoid further catastrophic climate-related disasters in the world. Warsaw needs to deliver a road map with clear milestones and deliverables to deliver the 2015 Agreement.

2.      Closing the current mitigation ambition gap: Governments need to come up with proposals on how they plan to close the gap between current mitigation pledges by countries and the emission reductions required to achieve the commitment of reaching a maximum temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. All the pledges put forward by governments came to a combined total of only 60 percent of the emissions reductions needed for a 50 percent chance of keeping temperatures below that goal. In Warsaw, governments need to agree on a work plan to close the current mitigation ambition gap.

3.      Delivering current commitments on financing: Financing is key to unlocking many of the actions necessary to address climate change in developing countries. Providing financing to developing countries for their climate actions, which is an agreed commitment by the UN Convention on climate change, helps build trust among parties. In 2009, developed countries committed to a goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries. However, how the developed countries will achieve this still remains unclear.

Also, it is not clear how much of this amount will be allocated for adaptation and which sources the financing would come from. A clear road map with milestones to deliver the $100 billion for climate action, including information on how much of this amount will come from public sources and how much will be for adaptation, needs to be delivered in Warsaw.

4.      Institutionalizing loss and damage: When mitigation and adaptation actions fail, people affected by climate change impacts may face damage to their property or health, permanent loss of assets or even loss of life. There are some losses and damage that are unavoidable due to historical emissions and “locked in” climate change impacts. 

In 2012, governments decided to establish institutional arrangements to address loss and damage related to climate change in Warsaw.  While details on what this means remain unclear, many vulnerable countries believe that it should enhance mitigation ambition, support the bodies overseeing adaptation, and encourage increased funding to help developing countries implement adaptation activities, while supporting the development and implementation of approaches to assess and address residual loss and damage. It could also include components addressing risk management, an international insurance pool, and rehabilitation.

This year’s Warsaw negotiations are a crucial opportunity both for those countries who are responsible for creating the climate change problem and for those who are capable of addressing the problem to produce concrete outcomes. By taking a proactive role in thinking strategically how nations might move constructively to address the key issues on the table, they can demonstrate leadership in the international arena and build trust on the global climate change process.  The hope is that that both developed and developing country emissaries will come to Warsaw prepared to work together so that the Climate Change Conference can make progress in achieving important global climate goals.

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