Dispatches From Warsaw: All-Nighter Ahead As Countries Work Toward Climate Agreement

CREDIT: AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

Members of civil society movements walk out of the U.N. talks on global warming held at the National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2013.

WARSAW, POLAND — Delegates at the United Nations climate negotiations are bracing for an all-night negotiating session, predicted to last well into Saturday, as countries try to lay the groundwork for a future international agreement to avoid catastrophic climate change. After nearly two weeks of intense negotiations in Warsaw, Poland, countries have found common ground on broad issues but have yet to reach consensus on the building blocks for an international agreement to reduce climate pollution and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Two years ago in Durban, South Africa, countries left the U.N. climate negotiations with a decision to develop a new international climate agreement by the time countries meet again in Paris in 2015.

United States Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern (center, right side) found himself in the center of a scrum as climate negotiations in Warsaw, Poland continued well into the night.

United States Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern (center, right side) found himself in the center of a scrum as climate negotiations in Warsaw, Poland continued well into the night.

United States Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern found himself in the center of a scrum as climate negotiations in Warsaw, Poland continued well into the night.

As the climate negotiations proceed into the night, there are signs of clear — albeit slow — progress. “Countries likely will leave Warsaw with a foundation for building an international agreement to be signed in 2015,” said Rebecca Lefton, Senior Policy Analyst at Center for American Progress, who has been on the ground in Warsaw this week.

The latest draft negotiating text on the 2015 agreement includes broad concepts for agreement, but few details on form, process, and commitments of countries to reduce climate pollution. Consensus remains elusive on many other elements of the negotiations, including long-term finance to help developing countries fight climate change and build resilience, which is yet to be resolved.

In Warsaw, historically large rifts between developed and developing countries are shifting. A smaller group of developing countries, the Like-Minded Developing Country (LMDC) group, are opposing some of the commitments for countries to reduce their emissions because they believe developed countries should put forth their commitments first. The LMDCs are becoming increasingly isolated as broad support for establishing a pathway to the 2015 agreement grows among developed countries and developing countries alike.

LMDCs say that developed countries are responsible for taking on greenhouse gas reductions first because of historical emissions. However, taking global energy use projections into consideration, other countries recognize that major emerging economies like China, which is now the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world and was the second largest behind the U.S. for many years prior, and fast-growing emitters like India, must take on targets simultaneously for an effective global response to climate change.

The Africa Group, Latin American Group, and Least Developed Countries group are aligned with the U.S., European Union, and other developed countries pushing for a stronger pathway to 2015. As Christiana Figueres, U.N. climate chief, aptly stated Thursday, it is crucial “to maintain to your commitment to the current that is underneath the wave. The current is moving in the right direction.”

While much work remains to be done over the next two years in the run up to Paris, the evolving positions of countries and groundswell of support for finalizing an agreement by Paris provide a promising outlook on progress toward an international agreement in 2015.

Stalled negotiations throughout the week, however, have detracted attention from the critical work needed to address skyrocketing emissions of greenhouse gases worldwide and the lagging commitment from countries to curb their emissions. The latest analysis from the U.N. says that there is an 8-12 gigaton of CO2 equivalent gap between countries’ current climate pollution pledges through 2020 and what is necessary to keep us on a path to limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. “Lack of progress on ways to limit emissions before 2020 when the agreement takes effect is a glaring omission from the text thus far,” Lefton said

Mexico, the EU, and Norway have pushed for inclusion of international collaborative initiatives — a potentially powerful step that could include, for example, international cooperation to catalyze action to reduce super pollutants. Super pollutants are powerful greenhouse gases that are key drivers of climate change, but the last version of the Warsaw text had no mention of them. Todd Stern, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change highlighted such initiatives like the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to limit super pollutants among 30 member countries in Warsaw. Many observers agree that even if there is no language on closing the ambition gap in the Warsaw text, multilateral actions outside the U.N. climate negotiations will continue to represent the best chance to reduce emissions in the near-term.

Jenny Cooper is a graduate student at the University of Michigan Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise.