Our Man in Warsaw: Day 1 - Agreeing to agree to an agreement


The 19th session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change kicked off at the beginning of the week in Warsaw, Poland. This annual event gathers representatives from virtually every country in the world in an effort to move forward the global climate change agenda.

For the next seven days, I’ll be attending sessions, following the negotiations, and reporting back to share what’s happening inside Warsaw’s giant National Stadium – the only building large enough to hold the 10-12,000 delegates expected to attend this conference.

COP 19, as it’s called, is a chance to agree to a roadmap leading up to the ‘really important’ COP 21 in Paris in 2015, where hopes are high that everybody can agree to a global climate plan that will come into effect in 2020. I know…it’s a lot of agreeing to agree to an agreement. But there are some specific issues that COP 19 hopes to tackle, especially:

  • how to finance the $100 billion/year Green Climate Fund that was pledged in Cancun in 2010;
  • whether to keep the agreement that all countries would come up with emissions targets under the Paris framework, rather than just industrialised ones, as agreed in Durban in 2011;
  • how to operationalise compensation for ‘loss and damage’ caused by climate change, which was shoehorned into the negotiating text last year in Doha; and,
  • how to formalise the notion of equity, which is really at the root of so much friction.

There are interesting new approaches that are being discussed at the conference too, including the idea of a global ‘carbon budget’ that was recently produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This approach shows how much carbon can be emitted into the atmosphere this century while still maintaining a chance of staying below the internationally agreed limit of a 2-degree temperature rise above pre-industrial levels.

But many of the delegates will be focusing on the images of devastation that continue to emerge from the typhoon-battered Philippine islands. Richard Pulga, a badly injured farmer from Tacloban with no anaesthetics or medication, is staring at each delegate from the front page of today’s International New York Times, which is scattered on tables around this conference centre.

Nobody seems to be questioning the reality that the strongest recorded typhoon ever to make landfall is related to climate change. It’s a different mood from the first COP I attended six years ago in Bali, where scientists and pundits were so cautious about caveating each sentence with probabilities and uncertainties. Today, people accept that these extreme weather events are becoming more severe, and that climate change is driving it.

While the impacts of climate change are becoming more tangible, so is the evidence about the opportunities that tackling climate change can create. This is one of the things that delegates are here to share – the success stories, the replicable and scalable actions, and the cooperation and partnerships that are being fostered.

Over the next seven days, I hope to share with you the challenges being faced inside these negotiations, but also the positive stories. The people in this stadium are ready to bring change back home.  

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