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COP19: Bunkering down in Warsaw

21 November 2013
COP19: Bunkering down in Warsaw

COP19 in Warsaw, Poland, runs from November 11-22, 2013. As part of our involvement in COP19, Damian Ryan our Senior Policy Manager, is providing news and analysis as well as live tweeting. Today Damian reports from the fourth day of COP19's second week.

Damian writes:

With just 24 hours left before this year’s UN climate conference in Warsaw officially draws to a close, the negotiating process has entered its traditional bunker phase.

Ministers and senior negotiators are now working behind closed doors, buried in disputed text and no doubt with firm instructions issued to catering staff to ensure a reliable supply of strong coffee is kept on tap.

For those outside the UNFCCC bubble, such all-night sessions are undoubtedly a mystery. Within the process however, they seem to be accepted as an occupational hazard and perhaps even an honoured tradition.

Negotiating brinkmanship certainly plays a part in the ritual, as Parties attempt to see who will blink first. For the most part, this battle of attrition seems largely to have resulted in stalemate over the years.

It is hard to think of many (if any) redline issues that have been resolved by this approach. Developed countries remain unmoved on intellectual property rights, for example, while developing countries stand firm on the principle of common but differentiated responsibility.

This reality points to an outcome tomorrow (or perhaps the day after – this being a COP after all!) that will once again be largely incremental in nature. A case of low expectations met.

Such a result will surprise few familiar with the UNFCCC process. This didn’t stop a walk out earlier today, however, by a large group of NGOs in a symbolic protest to highlight the lack of progress by governments.

But Warsaw was never seen or intended as a transformational COP.

Various Parties and observers have referred to it as a ‘implementation’ or ‘construction’ COP – essentially ensuring the operationalization of existing decisions and building the basis for an effective negotiation process over the coming two years. And the next 24 hours will determine whether these broad outcomes are achieved.

On the implementation side, the issue of ‘Loss and Damage’ and the creation of an ‘institutional mechanism’ remains a central issue, as is the connected discussion about finance.

While developed countries generally, although not entirely, seem ready to accept the creation of a loss and damage mechanism, calls or suggestions that this should include some kind of financial compensation element appear to have been unequivocally rejected by developed countries.

Progress on finance is likely to be vital for a resolution on loss and damage. Agreement on a clear path and timeline for the capitalization of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), could provide the means for achieving this.

Climate funding announcements from a number of developed countries in recent days, including the UK and Germany, may help to oil the wheels of talks. But the level of finance remains in the tens to hundreds of millions, rather than the billions that developing countries want to see flow through the GCF.

More positively, Parties do seem to be making progress towards agreed text that will shape the negotiating process for the new global climate deal in 2015.

The current draft text calls on developed and developing countries to take a variety of actions that would raise negotiating ambition. This includes increasing emission reduction targets and implementing previously pledged mitigation actions.

A slightly terrifying list of not insubstantial ‘indicative…areas for further work’ is included in an annex, and covers issues from capacity building to accounting rules.

With luck and a good helping of common sense, much of this work will hopefully be captured by processes and mechanisms already established under the UNFCCC.

On a more practical level, Parties also seem likely to agree to hold additional meetings next year – a prudent measure given the slow pace to date of talks.

Encouragingly, reference to the efforts of sub-national and city governments remains in the text, providing a domestic hook for mayors, premiers and governors to engage, encourage and inspire their national leaders.

Much of course may change before the curtains close on COP19 tomorrow. But for the moment, the process is following a familiar and well-worn track. If things continue as normal, Parties will emerge from their bunkers at some point tomorrow ready to compromise and conciliate.

The threat of mutually assured destruction may not be the most rationale approach to running an international climate negotiation, but for another COP at least it appears to remain the preferred option.

Related news:

COP19: Sub-national governments are the rising stars of climate action

COP19: Hurricane Haiyan puts ‘loss and damage’ front and center

Days before COP19 in Warsaw begins, read our overview

Image by UNFCCC


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