Dispatches From Warsaw: U.N. Leadership Issues Firm Call To Action On Climate Change

CREDIT: AP Photo/Alik Keplicz

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addresses delegates in Warsaw.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addresses delegates in Warsaw.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addresses delegates in Warsaw.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Alik Keplicz

WARSAW, POLAND — As the second week of the United Nations climate negotiations slogged on, high-level leaders from the United Nations gave an impassioned call to action today, strongly urging countries to seize the opportunity this week to chart a course toward an international agreement in 2015.

“The time is now … We have been talking and planning and analyzing, and talking and planning and analyzing. But we need to act now … We’re running out of time,” declared Christiana Figueres, the Executive Director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change during a high-level panel discussion in Warsaw. The event included top leadership from the UNFCCC, United Nations Development Programme, United Nations Environment Programme, and World Meteorological Organization, among others.

Given the clear indication from climate scientists that countries are not on track for limiting global average temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius — the globally agreed upon goal — Figueres fervently demanded, “Why are we not moving into action at the speed and scale that we need to be?”

Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, echoed Figueres’ rousing remarks as he called on countries to “take urgent action” at the U.N. climate change negotiations, emphasizing that “Warsaw is a very important stepping stone” on the road to Paris in 2015 — the year countries agreed to finalize a global climate agreement. Both Ki-moon and Figueres highlighted the need for developing a roadmap in Warsaw to ensure countries stay on track for the 2015 deadline.

But it seems negotiators have not heeded their calls. Progress in the negotiations continues to be hindered by rifts among countries on issues of ambition of emissions reductions commitments, climate finance, the financial burden of loss and damage due to climate change, and the recurring tension between developed and developing countries. Though the biggest media story in Warsaw may be loss and damage, the narrative missing is progress on a 2015 agreement.

Countries still have a great deal of work ahead to hash out the basic form of the future agreement and a timeline for completing it. Without the Warsaw talks producing a roadmap that includes concrete steps between now and 2015, prospects for advancing an agreement in Paris are low. However, progress on such a roadmap has yet to materialize.

Some countries came to Warsaw with proposals for a timetable and process for the 2015 agreement. Todd Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, presented the U.S. vision for the 2015 agreement in an October speech, calling for nationally-determined commitments to be announced by early 2015 followed by a period of review and consultation. The EU similarly proposed a multi-stage process for commitments to be put forward in the fall of 2014, followed by a period of assessment. Least Developed Countries urged for the Warsaw meeting to adopt “a clear roadmap for negotiating the planning, scope, structure and design of the new 2015 agreement” and for a draft agreement by 2014 followed by consultations ahead of adoption in 2015.

By and large, Warsaw has thus far failed to make concrete progress on advancing a roadmap for 2015. Parties’ entrenched positions on how responsibility should be allocated between developed and developing countries (referred to as Common But Differentiated Responsibility, or CBDR) underlie the lack of progress. For instance, the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) group is pushing back against emissions reductions commitments being articulated before developed countries have made commitments.

Todd Stern, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, affirmed support for the concept of CBDR that allows for varying country commitments based on levels of development, but he warned against the use of the principle to block developing countries from taking on requirements in the October speech.

Stern noted the changing circumstances of countries since the 1992 classification of countries and cited the UNFCCC-commissioned 2007 MATCH study again on Tuesday, which estimated that developing countries account for around 45 percent of historical greenhouse gas emissions and will surpass developed countries in historical emissions by 2020.

As countries agreed in the Durban Platform, the 2015 agreement must include all parties to the UNFCCC. The science is clear and the opportunities are ripe; what’s needed is the political will to agree on a roadmap that will lead to an international agreement in 2015.

Rebecca Lefton is a Senior Policy Analyst with the Center for American Progress.