COP 19: A Disappointing Achievement

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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.[1] The storm killed over 4,000 people and displaced millions more.[2] Despite the moving speech by the Philippine negotiator at the opening session of the summit, which brought a standing ovation from Warsaw attendees,[3] 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.[4]

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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] Instead, the mechanism postpones this debate until the steering committee can implement a working plan in March 2014, subject to review in 2016.[12] 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.[13] 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.


[1] Typhoon 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).

[2] Enrique 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/.

[3] 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.

[4] See Anup Shah, COP19-Warsaw Climate Conference, Global Issues, Dec. 2, 2013, http://www.globalissues.org/article/803/cop19-warsaw-climate-conference.

[5] Id.

[6] 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.

[7] 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.”).

[8] See Craft, supra note 7.

[9] 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).

[10] Stonington supra note 7; Juan P Hoffmaister & Doreen Stabinsky, ‘Loss and Damage’ – the Next Frontier of Climate Change, Third World Network.

[11] 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 climate change.”).

[12] 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/.

[13] See Stonington, supra note 7.


Posted by Elizabeth M. Schoeman on Fri. February 7, 2014 8:00 AM
Categories: Climate Change, United Nations

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