Just days before the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP 19)
meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was held in Warsaw,
one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded, Typhoon Haiyan, made
landfall in the Philippines. The storm killed over 4,000 people and
displaced millions more. Despite the moving speech by the Philippine
negotiator at the opening session of the summit, which brought a standing
ovation from Warsaw attendees, little was accomplished in the way of concrete proposals to support developing
nations vulnerable to climate change. Parties
eventually agreed to the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage in
the final hours of the convention, but the vague wording and postponement of crucial
negotiation does not suggest a meaningful commitment of support by the nations largely
responsible for climate change.
This past convention was supposed to be the “Finance COP” because
developed nations had previously assured the developing nations they would
renew the financial commitments made at the Copenhagen and Durban conventions. Although climate-vulnerable nations were promised USD 30 billion for the
2010-2012 period to finance mitigation and adaptation measures, only a small
portion of the money flowing to developed nations has actually been given in
addition to development aid, with only 21% of these additional funds flowing to
effective adaptation programs. Such financial commitments may seem extraordinary
considering the economic depression even wealthy nations have faced in recent
years, but the reality of climate change is that least developed countries
(LDC) are not only being hit the hardest by climate change, but continue to
contribute the least to the cause of this problem.
With the goal of protecting the 1 billion most
vulnerable people on earth, the LDCs came to the convention hoping to establish
a loss and damage financing mechanism as well as secure additional long-term
financial contribution towards adaptation. The convention quickly turned to deadlock,
however, with the United States opposing both a loss and damage mechanism and
the continued promise to help meet the USD 100 billion annual obligation agreed
to at Copenhagen. The convention negotiators eventually came to
an overtime compromise that places the loss and damage mechanism under the
Cancun Adaptation Framework, a disappointment for nations who feel loss and
damage should be separately recognized as some effects of climate change, such
as loss of land due to sea level rise or desertification, can no longer be
avoided through mitigation or adaptation. While the initiative does commit countries to
provide financial support as well as technological and capacity-building
support, the language of the agreement is non-obligatory and does not actually
address where this additional financing will come from. Instead, the mechanism postpones this debate
until the steering committee can implement a working plan in March 2014,
subject to review in 2016. The fact that this relatively weak agreement
was one of the few achievements of COP 19 is truly alarming, especially
considering that the world is reaching a point where the effects of climate
change have become irreversible, and nations continue to squabble about even
the smallest concessions. If the deaths of thousands immediately
preceding the one meeting a year where nations actually try to work together on
climate change cannot compel negotiators to find common ground and effectively
move forward, it does not seem likely that the world will be able to come to
agreement at the crucial Paris conference in 2015.
Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines on November 8, 2013 and members of COP
19 met from November 11-22. See Lenny
Bernstein et al.Typhoon Haiyan’s Speed May Have Spared Philippines from Worse Damage,
Washington Post, Nov. 8, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/typhoon-haiyan-makes-landfall-in-philippines/2013/11/08/28fe35ca-48a1-11e3-b6f8-3782ff6cb769_story.html; Sessions, U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, http://unfccc.int/meetings/warsaw_nov_2013/session/7767.php (last visited Jan. 19, 2014).
Nunez, Typhoon Haiyan’s Impact Felt at
United Nations Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, National Geographic News Watch, Nov. 22, 2013, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/11/131107-typhoons-pacific-natural-disasters/.
 John Vidal & Damian Carrington, Is Climate
Change to Blame for Typhoon Haiyan? The
Guardian, Nov. 12, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/12/typhoon-haiyan-climate-change-blame-philippines.
 See Anup Shah, COP19-Warsaw Climate Conference, Global
Issues, Dec. 2, 2013, http://www.globalissues.org/article/803/cop19-warsaw-climate-conference.
 Climate ‘Fiscal Cliff’ Looms for Developing
Countries if Leaders Come to Doha with No New Money, Oxfam Int’l, Nov. 25, 2012, http://www.oxfam.org/en/grow/pressroom/pressrelease/2012-11-25/climate-fiscal-cliff-developing-countries-if-doha-no-new-money; See
Rich Nations Fail to Keep Copenhagen Climate Funding Promise, Envtl. News Service, Nov. 22, 2010, http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/nov2010/2010-11-22-03.html.
 See Brianna Craft, COP19: What the Least Developed Countries Expect from the Climate Talks, Int’l Inst. for Envt. & Dev., Nov.
6, 2013, http://www.iied.org/cop19-what-least-developed-countries-expect-climate-talks.
(“The LDCs have contributed less than one percent to historical greenhouse gas
emissions. Yet, they are suffering
disproportionately from these impacts of climate change. People living in these countries from 2010 to
mid-2013 were five times more likely
to die from climate related disasters than people living anywhere else.”); Joel
Stonington, Climate Progress: Warsaw’s
Meaningful Compromise, Spiegel Online,
Nov. 27, 2013, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/warsaw-mechanism-a-move-forward-in-climate-change-debate-a-935931.html (“Between 2001 and 2006, the average financial impact of disasters was ten
times higher in middle-income countries than in high-income countries. And the
poorest countries fared the worst.”).
 See Craft, supra note 7.
 Outcomes of the U.N. Climate Change
Conference in Warsaw, Center for
Climate and Energy Solutions, http://www.c2es.org/international/negotiations/cop-19/summary (last visited Jan. 19, 2014).
 Stonington supra note 7; Juan P
Hoffmaister & Doreen Stabinsky, ‘Loss
and Damage’ – the Next Frontier of Climate Change, Third World Network.
 Jaspreet Kindra, The Climate Loss and Damage
Mechanism Whys and Why Nots? IRIN, Nov. 28, 2013, http://www.irinnews.org/report/99224/the-climate-loss-and-damage-mechanism-whys-and-why-nots;
Robert Stavins, The Warsaw Climate
Negotiations, and Reason for Cautious Optimism, HuffPost The Blog, Jan. 10, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-stavins/the-warsaw-climate-negoti_b_4577321.html (“In the end, the delegates agreed to finesse the topic by creating the Warsaw
International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, which does not mention liability
or promise compensation, but rather states that this is a topic to be discussed
further at future meetings, and under the general topic of adaptation to
 Sophie Yeo, Loss and Damage: UN Needs to
Deliver on Warsaw Climate Pact, RTCC, Dec. 3, 2013, http://www.rtcc.org/2013/12/02/loss-and-damage-un-needs-to-deliver-on-warsaw-climate-pact/.
 See Stonington, supra note 7.
Posted by Elizabeth M. Schoeman on Fri. February 7, 2014 8:00 AM
Climate Change, United Nations