The COP that would not die…

As I wrote my Friday blog Saturday morning from the Warsaw airport, it seems only right that my Saturday blog should be written on Sunday on VIA Rail as I complete the last leg of the (too) long trip back to Parliament from Poland.

COP19 Main HallI am sure you know that I would have much rather stayed in Warsaw til the bitter end of the negotiations, but I cannot afford to miss any more time in the House.  The new rules adopted in those 20+ committees to force me to present amendments to committees 48 hours before they begin clause by clause, mean that I have to be back in Ottawa for tomorrow to present changes to the most recent Omnibus budget bill – C-4.  So I had to leave before the final deal was hammered out.

It is not uncommon for COPs to go into over-time.  The nail-biting finale in Kyoto was struck as the whole convention centre was being dismantled.  Ditto Montreal in 2005 and many others.  But (and I stand to be corrected) I think having a COP go well past Saturday morning and into Saturday night is a record.

When I landed in Toronto yesterday I emailed a friend still in the negotiations, someone who has been at every COP, and he wrote “yes, this is the COP that will not die.”

Sure, enough, the negotiations continued on well past the point anyone imagined.  The result is a plan of work that will get the UNFCCC process to Lima next December (Dec 1-10, 2014will be COP20).  No one can claim the Warsaw COP was anything other than disappointing.  Nevertheless, here is a quick and dirty (emphasis on the “dirty”) summary of COP19 decisions:

  1. Forests: The most positive developments were in the area of land use and forest cover.  That negotiation track is called “REDD” for “reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.”  REDD has been under negotiation for years, but COP19 adopted REDD+ which is being heralded as an effective means to arrest deforestation by creating clear rules for developing countries to receive financial help for protecting forests.  Earlier in the negotiations, the UK, Norway, the US and Germany agreed to put $280 million in  a World Bank Bio-carbon fund to assist developing countries. The final COP19 decision makes real progress in establishing a results-based system before any country can get the money. Forests are carbon sinks so deforestation increasing global warming.  More forest cover is essential in avoiding a 2 degree global average temperature increase.
  2. Loss and Damage:  The poorer countries succeeded in keeping this agenda item, originally put on the agenda last year at COP18  in Doha, on the rails as a separate item (not absorbed into adaptation). The parties agreed to create a Warsaw Mechanism to address the issue, but the time line to actually set up a system for polluting countries to compensate countries that have been victims of dangerous storms and other extreme events, due to global warming, will wait until after COP21 in Paris.
  3. Finance: The rich country offer of $100 billion a year by 2020 has transited rather sharply from public relations ploy to albatross around their necks.  They managed to avoid taking any firmer pledge than to commit that the amounts would be there by 2020.
  4. Cutting GHG emissions: This is the over-arching and critical question and we moved farther from it, rather than closer.  At COP18 last year, both Australia and Japan were on board for meaningful reductions.  By COP19, Australia went off-side (and rogue) due to the election of the pro-coal government of Tony Abbott, while Japan went backward, reneging on its pledge due to the impacts of the earthquake and tsunami.  The media is covering the change of the word “contributions” from “commitments.”  The problem lay in treating all countries the same – small and larger polluters, North and South.  The solution was either to acknowledge there must be commitments from the big polluters, OR to go with contributions from everybody.  The big polluters (US, EU, Canada etc) were unwilling to have language that treated countries in different circumstances differently from each other, thus we end up with “contributions.”

At least, we now have an earlier required date by which all countries have to pony up and state what they are willing to do to reduce emissions.  The stated “contributions” must be submitted in the first quarter of 2015.  A lot of this conversation is spurred by the disaster that was Copenhagen.  If we are going to have a meaningful treaty by November in Paris in 2015, we cannot wait until that COP opens to take stock of what countries are committed to do.

I’ll leave the last word to my old friend – a genuine eco-hero from Malaysia, Meena Raman of the Third World Network:

“The blocking by rich industrialized countries has been disgraceful. They blocked any reference to a specific number on pollution controls, such as the 40% called for by the IPCC. Similarly, they rejected a target on financing of $70bn by 2016…The agreement here is for countries to discuss their contributions to the international effort toward the ultimate objective of the Convention. That means that post-2020 contributions will have to add up to avoid 1.5C of warming. The negotiations next year will have to grapple with the emissions budget required and how to share it fairly based on historical responsibility and capacities, if the world is truly to avoid dangerous climate change. “