US leads opposition to poor nation agenda at climate summit

Developed and developing countries seem entrenched in opposing views at the latest climate summit in Warsaw

This is what the first three days of the Warsaw climate summit sounds like:

Poor countries: We want money.

Rich countries: Cut your emissions. Money is in the private sector.

Poor countries: We want government commitments on money. We want cheap technology.

Rich countries: Commit to emission caps after 2020.

Poor countries: Cut your emissions now. We’re suffering. Pay us for the loss and damage.

Rich countries: That’s not our fault. When there’s a disaster, we do what we can.

Poor countries: You’ve been emitting greenhouses gases since 1850s. We want scientists to tell us how much.

Rich countries: Scientists will take too long. You’re emitting more now. You’re even emitting from your cattle and rice paddies. Count that in.

Poor countries: We won’t. That’s a livelihood issue. You cut your emissions.

Rich countries: There’s no point unless everyone cuts.

What makes this cacophony worse is that it was predicted. Even before the 19th conference of parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) started in Poland’s capital this Monday, developing countries had said they wanted this to be a “finance COP” where rich nations would commit substantial money to help poor nations combat climate change. At the same time, developed countries wanted this to be an “implementation COP”, where developing countries – especially emerging economies like India and China – would move towards capping their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in a way that would be binding after 2020.

Meanwhile, climate change impacts get worse in the real world. Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC executive secretary, said on Thursday, “Science clearly shows that a significant degree of climate change is unavoidable, as has been confirmed by the latest findings of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).Typhoon Haiyan has been the latest in a string of worsening extreme weather events around the world, and we know there are more to come.”

“Now and in the future, the poorest and most vulnerable countries urgently require predictable finance and technology to become more resilient. Good planning is essential to empower poor countries to deal with climate change. At the same time, it is clear that the support to countries is presently inadequate and must urgently be stepped up,” she added.

Historic responsibility

Developed countries have their focus elsewhere – on getting by 2015 a global treaty under which every country, rich and poor, will have to make binding commitments to cut or cap their GHG emissions in the post-2020 world. That will be a major departure from the current Kyoto Protocol, under which only rich countries have to make such commitments.

Developing countries – often led by India – have been opposing this on grounds of equity and historical responsibility. They point out that almost all the GHG – most of it carbon dioxide – in the atmosphere now has been put there by rich nations since the start of the Industrial Age. They also point out that a treaty based on current national emissions will not address the notion that each human on this planet should have equal ‘carbon space’.

Rich countries brush both notions aside, as happened again during this summit, when they – led by the US – opposed even putting on the agenda a resolution moved by Brazil to ask the IPCC to quantify historical emissions. The US delegate said his country did not support the proposal to invite the IPCC “to solely look at one dimension. Those familiar with the IPCC know that this work will take at least two years. We cannot afford to delay country preparations for their post-2020 commitments until that time… Such an approach will provide some countries with cover to act less ambitiously and would have an implication for a 2015 outcome.”

Developing countries did not agree. The Indian delegate said, “In our effort to enhance understanding of greenhouse gases concentrations in the atmosphere, the Brazilian proposal can be valuable. In terms of IPCC workload and timeline, we should not prejudge what IPCC can do. It is extremely important to understand this issue of historical contribution.” This is likely to become another bone of contention till this summit ends on November 22 (if it ends on time).

In one of the opening speeches at the summit, Australia’s representative said, “The 2015 agreement has to be meaningful and be applicable to all, with a common platform for action by all. In relation to the pre-2020 efforts, there is need for practical options… Warsaw needs to build momentum for Paris (where the 2015 summit is scheduled) and all Parties have to contribute to the best of their abilities.” He was speaking on behalf of the Umbrella Group, a rich nation bloc led by the US.

Emission cuts

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also convened a special meeting next year where every country will be asked to commit GHG emission cuts. India has already objected to the convening of such a meeting.

Various developing world blocs – G77 and China, Association of Small Island Nations (AOSIS), the Africa Group, BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) – remain focused on “rapid and substantial operationalisation and capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund”, as the Fiji delegate put it. Fiji is the current chair of the G77 and China group. While nobody objected to that, differences crept into who would control the fund. Poor nations want it under the UNFCCC, rich nations under the World Bank. And all this for a fund that has no substantial money in it, nor any immediate prospect of having any.