Warsaw CoP19 November 11-22, 2013: A Preview

by Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad | The exercise of preparing a Legally Binding Agreement for managing climate change to be signed by all the countries of the world in 2015 in Paris that we are now embarked upon must not end in frustration as was the case in 2009 in Copenhagen. A failure would be perilous for us and our future generations.

As widely expected, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Working Group-1 report (published in September 2013) confirms once again that anthropogenic climate Change is real and intensifying. According to World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere has reached a record high in 2012 and continues to increase and the process tends to accelerate. The 2013 Emission Gap Report of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) shows that the gap between the emission reduction required for keeping the global warming below the envisioned 2 Degree Celsius by the end of this century compared to the pre-industrial level and the emission reduction pledges made so far has widened compared to the preceding year. All this means that while the climate change scenario is fast worsening, the global community is not only failing to act adequately and timely but is in fact knowingly contributing to that worsening process. It does not seem to be dawning on the world community, particularly on the leaderships of those countries which can make a real difference, that we don't have any leeway anymore to be complacent and continue to dither.

A catastrophe of epic proportions looms large for the global society as a whole. The most climate-vulnerable countries with limited adaptive capacity are being and will continue to be disastrously affected first; but, the very rich and technologically very advanced countries also won't be able to escape the catastrophic climatic onslaught. The signs are already there. As earth is warming, ice is melting and sea level is rising, climatic disasters of unprecedented force and devastating capacity are occurring more frequently not only in the currently most climate vulnerable and poorer countries, but also in the developed countries including in the USA. Moreover, the large scale adverse impacts of climate change in the currently most climate-vulnerable and poorer countries will certainly have adverse economic and security-threatening spillover effects  in the developed countries. Indeed, as the developing countries, particularly the most climate-vulnerable and poorer countries, find themselves having to adapt to worsening climate change impacts, their development prospects are adversely affected. Their right to development must be recognized; and development in such countries as LDCs, SIDS and other low-income countries must be internationally supported in an adequate manner as climate change is addressed.

The global threat posed by the intensifying climate change must therefore be seriously and adequately tackled while time still remains, by all countries of the world on the basis of the agreed principle of common but differential responsibility and respective capabilities (CBDR & RC). The truncated Kyoto Protocol (KP) in terms of only 13-14 of the total annual emissions being accounted for by Annex1 countries remaining in the KP ( indeed USA was never in it and Russian Federation, Japan, Canada and New Zealand have opted out of the second commitment period) can still lead the way in terms percentage emission reduction pledges and implementation commensurate with the vision of less than 2 Degree Celsius global warming. Obviously, such an action by them alone cannot be of much impact; but if such an action is undertaken by them, other Annex1 countries may feel pressured to follow suit. In reality, though, all the Annex1 countries must, on their own, rise above the narrow confines of their national interests and politics and act as dictated by climate change science. They should come forward in this context in relation to both pre- and post-2020 mitigation ambitions commensurate with the vision of the less than 2 Degree Celsius global warming. But, to be sure, even if commensurate mitigation action is implemented by all these countries, that will also not be sufficient in the post-2020 period in the context of the above mentioned global warming vision. Developing countries, particularly larger emitters among them, may voluntarily play certain roles towards closing the pre-2020 emission gap;  but surely all the  developing countries should play their CBDR & RC-based respective parts in the required post-2020 mitigation regime.  

Indeed, it must be realized, particularly by the developed countries, that If the pre-2020 emission gap is not  adequately addressed,  it will surely have been left too late in the process of accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere for an effective mitigation regime to be crafted for the post-2020 period to keep the envisioned less than 2 Degree Celsius warming on track. According to IPCC, under business as usual (BAU) scenario, a global warming of up to 4.5 (even up to 6) Degree Celsius by the end of this century is on the cards. We cannot but beware collectively, commensurately; or suffer the disastrous consequences and leave our posterity hapless in the face of catastrophic climatic upheavals, with even the Planet Earth itself threatened.

The exercise of preparing a Legally Binding Agreement for managing climate change to be signed by all the countries of the world in 2015 in Paris that we are now embarked upon must not end in frustration as was the case in 2009 in Copenhagen. A failure would be perilous for us and our future generations.

Mitigation is indeed crucial in this exercise. But other elements are also tremendously important in managing the intensifying climate change. These include adaptation, climate finance, technology transfer, capacity building, and measurement and making good of losses and damages. All these are of fundamental importance for the countries already adversely affected a great deal by more frequent and devastating natural disasters in recent times  and will continue to be affected severely for many years to come as the global warming and the consequent climatic changes will continue to occur for years on end, even if emission of greenhouse gasses is stopped altogether immediately. Hence, adaptation is also crucially important for the countries, which are already suffering from these adverse episodes of climate change induced natural disasters for no fault of theirs. While they may do all they can in terms of mobilizing their own financial and technological resources and using their own existing human capabilities, the gaps are and will continue to be huge. Hence, international community must come forward with adequate financing, technology transfer and capacity enhancing support. The issues of losses and damages and rehabilitation of the increasing numbers of climate change induced displaced people in different countries (within the country, within the region, and globally as demanded by the prevailing situation, as has been stated in the Cancun Agreements) need to be addressed properly by the global community.

Since 2015 all important Paris:CoP 21 is only two years away, real progress is needed in the ongoing CoP 19 at Warsaw (11- 22 November 2013) in terms of at least moving on from seeking to clarify concepts to defining contents in relation to the various elements of the aimed for 2015 Legally Binding Agreement. However, many delegates don't see much happening at this CoP in this regard.  Also, the view that little is happening prevails in relation to commitments and action for meeting the pre-2020 emission gap, if anything skepticism is at this time relatively stronger in this regard. A similar view, implying lack of much progress, is also heard in relation to making of firm commitments and delivery of adequate climate financing for the period from now until 2020 as well as proper capitalization of the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The demand of developing countries for a balanced adaptation and mitigation funding under the GCF is another issue that remains to be resolved. Moreover, as of now, adaptation funding remains very low compared to the already large and increasing requirements in the LDCs, SIDS and other countries in Africa. Given the dwindling contribution from  the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) due to collapse of demand and, hence, prices of CERs ( certified emission reduction), adaptation funding faces further challenge. Yet, there seems little interest on the part of the international community in significantly increasing adaptation funding from other sources.

It would certainly be more agreeable and would brook well for constructing appropriate pathways for effectively managing climate change now and in future if those  skeptics are proved wrong. One must wait until 22 to find out; or will it also be the day after, as has been the case in both Qatar:CoP18 and Durban:CoP17.


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

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