COP 19 Warsaw Update: How Secretary Figueres' Main Objectives Faired in the First Week

Nov 19, 2013 | Updated Jan 23, 2014

The first week of any of the UNFCCC's Conference of the Parties (COP, for sure) is always a whirlwind, as delegates, campaigners, and media alike shake off their jet lag and try to find their way around a new, always-perplexing venue. Last week at COP 19 here in Warsaw was no different. While I'm no true veteran of the UNFCCC, I've been to a healthy handful of these meetings by now, and this year, while reporting for Grist and others, I'm finding most of my stories outside of the actual negotiations themselves. Which isn't to say the meetings in the plenary halls and the negotiating text is less important. That's all crucial, and why we're here.

This year, I'm lucky to have connected with the Vermont Law School delegation to the conference, who are helping demystify all the complex and ever-confusing meetings and texts and groups and sub-groups through regular posts on the VLS blog. Selfishly, I asked if they'd assemble a summary of the first week in the talks, which you can find below.

And before handing it off to the VLS team, I'm going to offer a handy link to a UNFCCC glossary that helps cut through some of the acronym soup and more nuanced diplomatic lingo.

What follows was was written by Tracy Bach, Heather Calderwood, Nora Greenglass, Thea Reinert, and Taylor Smith, members of the Vermont Law School COP19/CMP9 Observer Delegation.

As the first week of COP19 comes to a close, the Vermont Law School Observer Delegation reflects on what it has witnessed (and blogged about) this week. As the negotiators shift from delegation technocrats to politicians from state-party ministries, we've asked ourselves: how have this week's negotiations moved the parties toward achieving the five objectives set out by UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres? We take a close look at the gender, land use, and loss and damage decisions being forwarded to the COP by the SBI and SBSTA, in light of the ADP's search for the core elements of a legal text that will take the Kyoto Protocol's place in 2020.

Women and climate change

Negotiators took a comprehensive approach when developing principles to implement the Gender Decision made at COP18 last year in Doha. Rather than simply mandate quotas, they sought to include gender in all climate change initiatives. Organized as Item 15 on this year's COP agenda, it was sent to the Gender Decision Contact Group, which relied on the Women and Gender Constituency to produce Recommendations on Gender Decision (ROGD). Many party delegates have endorsed this document.

These recommendations are centered on finance, capacity building, and firm women participation targets. Malawi and several other developing countries expressed their strong desire for travel funds for female delegates from the least developed countries (LDCs). Another recommendation urges COP19 to mandate that the Green Climate Fund, which implements the UNFCCC financial mechanism, include gender considerations in their operational policies and program implementation, and to report on its progress toward a gender sensitive approach in annual reports to the COP. Nepal made a strong push for capacity building and Iceland underscored that such programs on gender equality should be directed at men and women. Iceland also advocated for the creation of a gender expert position at the UNFCCC Secretariat level. Bangladesh outlined the need for setting a target for the percentage of women delegate attendees. The Secretariat Report on Gender Composition notes a broad range of women in UNFCCC leadership roles, from a low of 11% on the Technology Executive Committee to a high of 52% on the Consultative Group of Experts on National Communications from non-Annex I Countries, with the middle ground staked out by the COP, CMP, SBI, SBSTA, and ADP bureaus, which comprise about one-third women.

Overall the parties were ready to move beyond the simple focus on gender balance at COPs toward prioritizing gender equality in all program implementation. They agreed that workshops about the links between gender and climate change are beneficial to all. Given this week's work at the SBI level and next Tuesday's Gender Day, COP19 will be viewed as having sent a strong signal that gender-sensitive climate policy is within the UNFCCC's grasp.

Land use and climate change

Parties have three distinct land-use issues before them in Warsaw: a framework to account for mitigation from land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) in Kyoto Protocol countries; a mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, sustainably managing forests, and conserving and enhancing forest carbon stocks in developing countries (REDD+); and issues relating to global agriculture.

Adopted for the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period and later amended by the Durban Agreements, the LULUCF mechanism received little debate in the first week of COP19. Parties punted methodological issues related to LULUCF in the Clean Development Mechanism and technical considerations for the post-2020 land-use framework (by agreeing to continue working on it in 2014).

Conversely, parties spent a significant amount of time on REDD+ issues. REDD+ was adopted as part of the Cancun Agreements. COP 19 is poised to move the mechanism forward by deciding four items: two methodological issues, coordination of finance for REDD+ implementation, and results-based payments. Parties focused on the methodological matters in week one, and by the end of the week had already spent three late nights sequestered in a room hashing out text. However, the COP will not consider these draft decisions unless they form part of a package with decisions on coordination of finance and results-based payments. In week two, parties will abruptly switch gears and start negotiations on financial matters related to the full implementation of REDD+.

Finally, a workshop last week discussed adaptation of agriculture to climate change. However, Parties cannot agree whether to negotiate issues related to agriculture here in Warsaw. While several developed countries supported creating a contact group, the G77+China pointed out that Parties had neither agreed to nor requested discussions beyond the workshop, defeating consensus on the issue and putting a hard stop on agriculture negotiations at COP19.

Looking across LULUCF, REDD+, and agriculture reveals a pathway for increasing the role that land use plays in climate change mitigation and adaptation. In week two, parties may take their first steps in that direction when high-level officials discuss how land -- including forests - factors into the post-2020 agreement. This meeting creates an exciting possibility for both developing and developed countries to begin thinking about how to make the land-use sector a central player in addressing climate change adaptation and mitigation under the UNFCCC.

Dealing with current climate change damage

A new mechanism for dealing with climate change's worst impacts is in the works. Typhoon Haiyan's devastating impact on the Philippines last week propelled this relatively new UNFCCC agenda item into the limelight. The proposed Loss and Damage Mechanism (LDM) discussed during the first week of COP19 would require developed countries to compensate developing countries for the losses and damages incurred due to climate change. It's not mitigation or adaptation per se: it is in its own category.

LDM emerged from the Bali talks in 2007, when parties realized that mitigation commitments
would not do enough to prevent climate change. Thus the Bali Action Plan called for "risk management and risk reduction strategies...and for consideration of...strategies and means to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts." At COP16, the parties established a work program to consider how to address loss and damage of the most vulnerable developing countries, and at COP17, they reached consensus on this SBI program's elements. Parties agreed in Doha at COP18 to establish "institutional arrangements" to address loss and damage to these countries at COP19.

In SBI informal consultations late this week that excluded NGO observers, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) argued for UNFCCC management of LDM and dedicated funding from a source other than adaptation funding. Like AOSIS, the G77+ China requested UNFCCC oversight, and explicitly asked for a methodical response to loss and damage from extreme weather events and slow onset events. The G77 also pointed out that developed country parties had not fulfilled their COP16 promise of money, technology, and capacity-building for developing countries.

In contrast, the EU prefers to work within the existing UNFCCC structures, and the US does not want to admit any financial liability. Norway is the only donor country offering specifics, advocating for a flexible approach to different circumstances and proposing a four-year coordination group of representatives from the Adaptation Committee, Least Developed Country Expert Group, Technology Committee, and Consultative Group of Experts. Norway also encourages developing countries to add climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction to their long term planning and development schemes.

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, despite these competing views, the SBI adopted conclusions and sent them to the COP for ministerial debate and action.

ADP's determination to define future climate change law

The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) began its COP19 work on two, formidable tasks (or "work streams"): 1) figure out the essential elements of a new legal regime that will take the Kyoto Protocol's place in 2020 and 2) motivate countries to "raise the ambition" of their mitigation goals from now until then. On the face of it, these two tasks look distinct. But having succeeded at Doha in negotiating a second commitment period for Annex I countries, non-Annex I countries like India now lament the uneven participation and modest mitigation targets. Mindful that this "success" turned on developing countries joining developed countries in mitigating GHG emissions in the new legal agreement post-2020, many state parties call for "balance" between the two work streams. In Saturday's stocktaking meeting convened by the ADP chairs, Switzerland, speaking for the Environmental Integrity Group, cautioned negotiators not to use a lack of progress on one - namely pre-2020 ambition - as a pretext for slowing down progress on the other.

Adopted by the UNFCCC parties in December 2011, the Durban Platform calls for "strengthening the multilateral, rules-based regime under the Convention." To that end, it launched a new round of negotiations aimed at developing "a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force" for the period from 2020 on. The negotiations are scheduled to conclude in 2015 in Paris.

To achieve its mandate of producing a draft text to be reviewed at COP20 in Peru and signed
at COP21 in Paris, the ADP held open-ended meetings last week on the elements of the 2015 agreement, "to promote a dynamic structured conversation . . . in a transparent, inclusive and balanced manner." These meetings were structured around questions posed on four elements critical to the new agreement: transparency of action and support, capacity building, adaptation, and technology. Parties raised a range of issues, from improving mitigation via energy efficiency and renewables technology transfer to whether global adaptation goals were feasible or even needed. Overall, a need for a more clear process was repeatedly noted, with suggestions made to create formal contact groups, a road map to more ambitious targets, and a work plan for 2014. New Zealand provocatively called for "a smaller, yet transparent, setting to reach a concise but substantive decision," bringing back the divisive close of COP15.

The ADP's initial work on the post-2020 agreement signaled the bottom-up approach to a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, whereby individual countries make commitments based on their national circumstances, rather than on top-down, internationally negotiated targets. Going forward, negotiators seek to draw on a nationally focused, facilitative, bottom-up approach to forge a more effective global agreement. As UNFCCC Executive Secretary Figueres reminded delegates last week: "The fundamental principle is to work at home." Or as Alhendawi, UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, told his audience at Thursday's Intergenerational Inquiry side event, "I ask you not to forget your homework, and your homework is always at the national level." Although high level ministerial participation is crucial to the negotiation process this week, it is essential for those negotiators to carry home international sentiment, to spur domestic agendas in addressing climate change.