CoP19: A review of the outcome

by Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad | In a preview of COP19 posted in the SID Forum on 11 November 2013, I was cautiously optimistic about some progress in certain respects, but foresaw no breakthrough in respect of major issues. In this review I find that the negotiations have been kept on road, but these remain rather off-track particularly as far as the main building blocs of the desirable Paris Agreement are concerned. The review is as follows.

In a preview of COP19 published in SID Forum on 11 November 2013, I was cautiously optimistic about some progress in certain respects, but foresaw no breakthrough in respect of major issues. In this review I find that the negotiations have been kept on road, but these remain rather off-track particularly as far as the main building blocs of the desirable Paris Agreement are concerned. The review is as follows.

The Warsaw climate change conference (CoP19, 11-23 November, 2013) has kept the climate negotiations on the road . But these are not on track for the Legally Binding (Climate Change Management) Agreement to be reached at COP21 in Paris in 2015, involving all countries of the world and consistent with less than 2 Degree Celsius global warming by end of this Century compared to the pre-industrial level and effective management of the impacts and vulnerabilities caused by the intensifying climate change. It can be salvaged, but only if the developed countries and major developing countries bring truly committed leadership to bear on the negotiations in response to the looming catastrophic consequences for the global society and even the planet Earth as a result of intensifying climate change. All other countries should also play their part commensurate with their responsibilities and capabilities, with total commitment. There is no room for dithering as signs of a colossal threat are only too visible all around the world, in terms of increasingly more frequent and devastating natural disasters.

One may recall the unprecedentedly powerful cyclone Haiyan that occurred just prior to COP19, wrecking havoc in the Philippines and also hitting other countries of that region, the widely devastating cyclones Aila and Sidr of only a few years ago in Bangladesh, the prolonged and widely destructive North American drought (2012-13 in particular, but building up since 2010) affecting a large number of US States very severely, and the 2012 second ever deadliest Hurricane Sandy to hit the US, affecting some 24 States, in particular New York and New Jersey causing an estimated total loss and damage to the tune of US$66 billion. Accelerating melting of ice is devastating the geographic and biospheric landscape of the Arctic regions and the increasing sea level rise and the associated salinity ingress are threatening the coastal areas of many countries including, for example, Bangladesh and the very existence of so many low lying island countries.

The list of such climatic upheavals is getting longer, spread across all continents, which don't respect the level of development of countries hit. Obviously, developing countries, particularly LDCs, SIDS and other poorer countries in Africa, being resource-poor with extremely limited adaptive capacity, are ruthlessly set back. And if things continue to worsen, as climate science predicts and the evolving climatic behaviour indicates, the developed countries and other rich countries will surely find it hard going in the years to come and will eventually face intractable impacts and vulnerabilities given the ever increasing drain on resources for managing the ever increasing losses and damages and human devastations.

Given this grim backdrop, the so-called negotiators for working out agreements, mechanisms, institutional arrangements and procedures for dealing with climate change by the global community finally managed to strike some common grounds for the political leaders attending the high level segment in the last few days to consider and take some decisions in the night after (the night following 23 November, although the scheduled date of conclusion was  22 November) to keep hopes alive for further negotiations.

One of those decisions is the agreement to establish the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage to provide technical and capacity building support to countries and facilitate coordination of work within UNFCCC and with other organizations in dealing with climate related loss and damage. It is also expected to mobilize funds to carry out its mandated activities. But, past experience suggests it will take much time and a lot of bargaining before the Mechanism may be operationalized. Moreover, also past experience suggests, raising funds to assist countries hit may not be easy and assessments of loss and damage caused by a natural disaster may be time consuming, while the people ravaged will continue to suffer and despair. But, it is appreciable that the Mechanism has been created. However, for it make an impact it has to be properly empowered and supported technically and financially. The task in this context is already huge and enlarging as time passes by. In fact, available estimates show that loss and damage caused by natural disasters has risen from around US$200 billion a year a decade or so ago to US$300-400 billion a year in recent times.

 At the same time, adaptation and disaster risk reduction (DRR) must remain cornerstones of climate change impact management. DRR has received little or no attention in this COP, and a paltry sum of US$100 million has been promised by some developed countries for the Adaptation Fund. This pales even if we recall that Bangladesh has made a budgetary allocation from its own resources of close US$400 million over the past 5 years for financing climate change management projects, mostly in the area of adaptation but also some on mitigation.

Work done by the ADP (Ad-hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for a Enhanced Action), the Subsidiary Bodies and other instructions such as the LDCs Expert Group (LEG), Technology Committee, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Executive Committee under Kyoto Protocol and so on has been appreciated. These activities in fact constitute some of the signposts showing that negotiations continue.

But, on the two overriding issues of mitigation and climate finance, there has been no progress. In fact, there is a backsliding on pre-2020 mitigation ambition by countries such as Japan, Australia and New Zealand as they have cut back on their previously announced  greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions. No indication of enhanced pre-2020 emission reduction by other developed countries within or outside Kyoto Protocol has been available. They tend to prevaricate on the issue. On the other hand, pre-2020 emission gap ( i.e. the gap between the  actual emissions occurring and the required reduced emissions to keep the global warming consistent with less than 2 Degree Celsius vision), which is already huge, continues to increase. According to  UNEP's 2013 Emissions Gap Report, 'Even if nations meet their current climate pledges, the greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 are likely to be 8-12 giga-tonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e) above the level that would provide a likely chance of remaining on the least-cost pathway.' Even regarding the ratification of the Doha amendment to the Kyoto Protocol (extending it into a second commitment period), there seems little enthusiasm among both developed and developing countries. While for the Amendment to come into force its ratification by 144 countries is required, so far only four developing countries (Barbados, Mauritius, the United Arab Emirates and Bangladesh) have ratified it. Several developed and developing countries have however indicated their willingness to do so soon.

While there is such dithering in relation to pre-2020 mitigation ambition by the developed      countries, how the post-2020 emission reduction commitments will shape up is anybody's guess. Here, all the countries of the world should make commitments on the basis of common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities. The issue of historical responsibility may be invoked. Moreover, the right to development of the lower income countries, particularly the LDCs and SIDS, needs to be recognized. Indeed, the whole process is hugely complex.

On finance, COP19 has failed to make any progress although this COP was touted as primarily climate financing-focused conference. There has been no headway in relation to climate financing for the period 2013-2019. Discussions on this issue has been as frustrating as in the past, with no roadmap agreed by developed countries. The proposed long term climate financing with a kitty of US$100 billion per year by 2020 remains unclear as to how the amount will be raised. The developed countries talk about the private sector playing the pivotal role in this context. But the private sector exists to make profits. It may therefore come forward with funding only for certain mitigation projects in which profits can be made. But, in the adaptation activities, which by and large involve poor people and poverty-stricken areas, there would be little or no profit-making opportunities. The private sector cannot and will not be interested in such activities. Therefore, a major part of the long term climate finance necessarily has to come from public sources. Also, despite continuous demand by the intended recipient countries for balanced allocation of this fund between adaptation and mitigation (say 50% to each), mitigation still seems to be contended by the developed countries as the main purpose of this fund.

The Green Climate Fund (GCF) still remains essentially unfunded, deprived even in terms of meaningful pledges. In the next two to three years, it may become clearer whether the GCF will become the major climate finance entity as was conceived or will it limp along making no real difference in relation to climate financing.

In concluding, let me say that some clarity has emerged as to how the desired 2015 Paris Agreement my be crafted. But it remains to be seen whether the dithering and prevaricating will continue leaving the global society to unprecedented harm's way or whether the global leaders can rise above their narrow national interests and vested-interest group pressures and respond to the looming climate change-induced catastrophe for the global society and the planet Earth. Experts, bureaucrats and diplomats are unlikely to be equal to the task.

Therefore, it is the political leaders who should take charge early enough, and not come just for the last few days. They should also bring farsighted political will and sagacity to bear on the work to deal adequately with the mega task at hand and agree an agenda that spells out what it will take for all the countries individually and collectively to do to save the global society and the environmental integrity of the globe itself from the looming catastrophe. While the leaders of all the countries have roles to play, preeminent leadership must be demonstrated by those of the developed and major developing countries.

The question is: will they and can they? Let us raise our voice loud and strong and say NO to a failure in Paris-2015.


Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad (Dr.), an economist and a former Vice President of SID, is currently Chief Coordinator of Bangladesh Climate Change Negotiating Team under the  UNFCCC. He is also the Bangladesh National Focal Point for Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda and represents Bangladesh to the sessions of the UN Open Working Group (OWG) on the subject.


Photo: UNDP in Europe and Central Asia/flickr