Blogging Warsaw: End of Week 1 of COP-19

Categories: Climate Change, Durban COP-17, Haiyan/Yolanda, International Relations, Warsaw COP-19

Haiyan/Yolanda, Developing Countries, and Climate Change

Aw yeah!  Blogging time!  Since I didn’t learn anything from COP-17 in Durban, it’s time to cover some of the goings-on, claims, positions, and new developments sure to come over the next week at Warsaw, where the Parties to the UNFCCC hold their 19th COP.  This is a pretty interesting time for the climate change regime, particularly since it’s the first year of the (post-Kyoto?  Second commitment period?  Ambling zombie-fied regime?) post-2012 era.  To recap: the Parties have so far agreed that it was impossible then (2010, 11, 12) to get a binding agreement before Kyoto expired, but committed to commit in the future to a globally binding Protocol, with Obligations and Requirements for All.

Finance and Development

As expected, one of the major issues has to do with the economic and environmental vulnerability of developing nations to climate change.  As academics like Roberts and Parks noted in the book A Climate of Injustice published by MIT Press, developing countries have argued persuasively that the problem of climate change is in part a problem of inequity.  In short, the accumulation of GHGs and the warming climate came because of industrialization and growth in the developed world; now the ones facing the major impact of the predicted increasing strength and frequency of storms like Hayian/Yolanda, are the poorer countries in the developing world, who are also now expected to curb development to solve a problem they had little hand in creating.

Yolanda’s Devastation in the Philippines

At the very least, academics and activists from the developing world have argued that they will take action to curb emissions, but this action must be heavily subsidized by mitigation and adaptation finance provided by the richer nations: 1) they can afford it; 2) they are responsible largely for the crisis. The events of Typhoon Haiyan provided the backdrop for all this, as representatives from the Philippines and the developing world were very clear that they saw the Storm as a result of the global society’s inaction on climate change.

NGO Participation: Terms Subject to Change

Long-term finance was particularly important to the Third World Network (consisting of ENGOs like ActionAid USA and Jubilee South from the Philippines) who were explicit in saying that what was needed to address current and future crises in developing countries was not “ad hoc, charity donations,” but rather actual commitment to help poor nations deal with loss and damage from climate change.  This was a sticking point for this coalition, particularly since, as Brandon Wu of ActionAid USA noted, the Adaptation Fund set up to help developing countries was running out of money.

Wu stated acerbically that the lack of willingness from developed nations to sponsor adaptation & mitigation in poor countries is due primarily to a lack of political will, not capability.  For instance, the unfulfilled pledges for Adaptation for one of the major environmental crises of our time totaled a mere $100 million, or “0.014% of what US spent to bail out banks in 2008.”  In addition, while the international society agreed to establish a Green Climate Fund with full funding by mid-to-late 2014, Wu noted that the text & timeline of the Fund are “not legally binding.”  Wu went on: “There’s no money.  There’s no predictability,” and without those, we have no “…assurance that developed countries have at least some minimal interest in meeting their finance obligations.”

However, on Friday, three members of Friends of the Earth Europe were expelled from the COP, and banned from participating for the next 5 years for expressing solidarity with the Philippines ENGOs’ concern about Yolanda.

Negotiating Positions and Future Treaties?

One other point: after 2012, the Parties to the UNFCCC made unilateral pledges to curb GH emissions.  This week, we saw why unilateral, unbinding pledges are problematic.  Japan decided to reduce their pledge, saying “we used to have a mitigation target of -25% by 2020 from 1990,” but have now decided that their new mitigation target is -3% below 2005 levels, or equivalent to 3.1% over 1990 levels.  To be sure, this target was justified in light of Japan’s own recent environmental crises.  The representative stated that, in light of Fukushima, Japan was planning on building no new nuclear power stations.  “Perhaps we may be able to revisit the mitigation target in the near future…  Some of you may say this is a very easy target for Japan.  It is not.”

Fukushima At A Distance

While the COP isn’t necessarily trying to establish a new agreement now, time is short, and hopefully we will move closer to some kind of consensus by November 22nd.

***Want to donate to help victims of Haiyan/Yolanda?  Check for options here***

About Kemi Fuentes-George

I am a professor in environmental studies and political science at Middlebury College.