Diplomats from almost 190 nations endorsed a set of measures on global warming, laying the groundwork for a treaty to be adopted in 2015 that would limit pollution by all nations for the first time.
The delegates at a United Nations conference called on those who are ready to make pledges on emissions by the first quarter of 2015. They authorized work on a “loss and damage” mechanism that would help the poorest cope with the impact of climate change, took in $100 million in aid pledges to fund adaptation programs and agreed on a forest-protection deal.
The meeting sidestepped the most thorny issues in the debate, namely how to divide up responsibility for emissions cuts and how richer nations will meet their promise to channel $100 billion a year by 2020 in aid for climate projects. Those concerns may stymie work toward a broader accord in two years.
“There are some very difficult political issues that will need to be addressed over the next two years if we are going to have a successful outcome,” Alden Meyer, an observer of the talks for two decades at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said at the meeting Friday in Warsaw, Poland. “We’re just at the beginning of a long and potentially difficult journey.”
This year’s meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was never designed to produce a breakthrough. Instead, it was meant to work out the technical groundwork necessary for the 2015 deal, which will be negotiated in Paris after an interim meeting in Lima, Peru.
Record carbon emissions have lifted the Earth’s temperature about 0.8 degrees Celsius since the industrial revolution, and the planet is on a path to exceed the UN-endorsed maximum of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by 2100. As a result, sea levels are rising, oceans are acidifying, and glaciers and sea ice are melting. Scientists predict more freak weather, droughts and stronger storms.
Humans have already emitted more than half the greenhouse gases compatible with a 2-degree increase, UN scientists said Sept. 27. The implication of that is many fossil-fuel reserves need to remain unburned if the temperature goal is to be met.
“The coal lobby cast a shadow over the negotiations,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy program at the World Resources Institute. “It’s increasingly clear that unabated coal use is inconsistent with the goal of staying within 2 degrees.”
When the mandate to reach a new global deal was fixed two years ago in Durban, South Africa, industrial nations hailed it as breaking down the firewall that assigned mandatory targets only to rich countries. Clashes between developed and emerging nations in Warsaw showed the divisions remain.
The deal resulted from a last-minute compromise between industrial and developing nations about the fossil-fuel emissions cuts they were agreeing to. China and India rejected an effort by the U.S. and European Union to lock all nations into “commitments” on greenhouse gases. That word was swapped for “contributions,” a sign some countries may be shying away from explicit emissions reductions targets such as those enshrined in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
Poland sparked ire from environmental activists for hosting a coal conference at the same time as the talks, while China led an angry backlash by developing countries against Japan’s decision to water down its planned emissions target for 2020.
The meeting began three days after Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines. That fed animosity about who is to blame for global warming and who should pay to fix the damage. India and China called on industrial nations to move first on emissions. The agreement allowed wiggle room on exactly when their own pledges must be delivered.
The European Union and U.S. succeeded in their bid to set a deadline for taking in emissions pledges before the Paris meeting. They had to accept language that said it applies to those that are ready.
Rich countries didn’t give further detail on when they’d boost climate-related aid from the $10 billion a year that has flowed in the past three years.
Those issues may be more sharply defined at the next annual conference, which will be held in December 2014 in Lima. For now, there was $100 million in new pledges from nations led by Germany, Sweden and Switzerland for the UN’s Adaptation Fund, which helps developing nations adapt to the impact of climate change. The Green Climate Fund, established two years ago, remains uncapitalized because the way it works hasn’t been fully defined.
The delegates seek to write a new climate-protection agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the only global deal with emissions restrictions.
It limits greenhouse pollutants in industrialized nations, leaving poorer countries to make only voluntary commitments. Since Canada pulled out of Kyoto and Russia and Japan rejected new targets after 2012, the treaty has applied to less than 15 percent of global emissions. China has surpassed the U.S. as the world’s biggest polluter since 1997, with India catching up.
“You have no chance to achieve the ambition you need unless you have an agreement which is going to be maximally inclusive, bringing all the players in,” U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern told reporters in Warsaw.
Richer nations have offered aid to entice poorer ones into joining in limits on fossil-fuel emissions. Japan pledged $16 billion in aid over the next three years. Norway promised at least $500 million a year through 2020. The U.S. said it’s paying out $2.7 billion this year. The $100 million for the adaptation fund will help pay for projects in Belize, Cuba, the Seychelles, Myanmar and Uzbekistan.
The debates over long-term finance to meet the $100 billion goal, the loss-and-damage mechanism and the timetable of emissions pledges leading up to the 2015 deal proved the most touchy issues in Warsaw. Envoys say each nation must prepare for the next session to have targets to put on the table.
“If we don’t do our homework before we meet, then we won’t get an agreement when we meet,” Danish Environment Minister Martin Lidegaard said in an interview.
In a victory for islands states that fear they’ll be submerged by rising seas, delegates set up a body called the Warsaw Mechanism to help the most vulnerable nations address the losses and damage they suffer due to global warming.
While it falls short of a demand that it becomes a channel for compensation, its functions may include coordinating research into extreme weather events and so-called slow-onset effects of climate change. Those include the rise of sea levels, melting glaciers and ocean acidification. It may also play a role coordinating with aid agencies and UN bodies dealing with health, weather and agriculture.
On forests, the conference adopted a rulebook setting out how aid funds can go to protect woodlands, concluding eight years of negotiations. Deforestation and land-use changes account for 17 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions, and the measures known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or REDD-plus, will help nations such as Brazil and Congo protect forests.
“With these decisions, the REDD house is built,” said Pipa Elias, forest policy consultant at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Now we need to furnish it and pay for it.”
(With assistance from Stefan Nicola and Alessandro Vitelli in Warsaw and Mathew Carr in London. Editors: Reed Landberg, Heather Langan)