Modest Progress at U.N. Climate Talks, Additional Climate Action Needed


After two weeks of negotiations, with dramatic high-level policy scrums and multiple all-night sessions, the United Nations climate talks ended with a modest set of decisions that keep countries on the path towards an international climate agreement by 2015.

Delegates from nearly 200 countries convened in Warsaw, Poland for the annual U.N. climate negotiations working to craft an effective global response to reduce global warming pollution and adapt to the impacts of climate change.


More than 24 hours after the negotiations were scheduled to end, countries reached agreement on the following issues that collectively signal the continued global commitment to addressing climate change:

  • A pathway to an international agreement. Such an agreement would address climate mitigation, adaptation, and finance. Countries agreed to introduce their national climate mitigation targets by early 2015, which would provide time to assess whether their actions are sufficient to address dangerous climate change. The 2015 U.N. climate agreement would apply to all countries.
  • Developed countries are urged to continue mobilizing climate finance “at increasing levels” through 2020. This funding would build resilience and reduce emissions in developing countries. The decision requests developed countries to submit strategies for scaling up climate finance through 2020 including information on pathways for mobilizing funds commensurate with a $100 billion annual commitment by 2020. It also says parties will convene workshops to scale up climate finance that will inform a high-level ministerial dialogue on climate finance — starting in 2014 and ending in 2020.
  • An entity to address “loss and damage.” Countries agreed to establish an entity to address the adverse impacts of climate change in developing countries. Its functions include risk management and financial support.

The Road Ahead

Today’s outcomes in Warsaw provided incremental progress toward the 2015 international climate agreement. Negotiations this week were tenuous at times, with countries working hard to overcome political hurdles that have historically plagued the U.N. climate talks. Still, the historic fissure between developed and developing countries seemed less deep this week, as developed and developing countries alike found common ground on the importance of seeking an agreement with a clear timeline for introducing targets.

While NGO and media attention during the two weeks of talks was focused on contentious — yet important — issues around finalizing a 2015 agreement and finance, a critical issue flew under the radar of the media: deficient work on addressing skyrocketing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide before the agreement will take effect in 2020.

The latest analysis from the U.N. estimates a gap of 8-12 gigatons of CO2 equivalent between countries’ current climate pollution pledges through 2020 and the emissions reductions scientists say are necessary to keep us on a path to limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. There was some progress in the talks this week on closing this gap — but it was not sufficient. Countries that have not made commitments were urged to do so. Parties agreed to identify options to reduce emissions and to “promote voluntary cooperation on concrete actions in relation to identified mitigation opportunities.” They also agreed to share best practices for reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the local and subnational level, to promote information exchange and cooperation.

This is a step but additional work is required.

The road to 2015 is long, but the necessity of greenhouse gas reductions before a new global climate agreement takes effect in 2020 demands urgent action. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation on climate and clean energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions both inside and outside of the U.N. climate talks before the end of the decade is necessary to solve one of the greatest challenges of our time.

Rebecca Lefton is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress. Jenny Cooper is a graduate student at the University of Michigan Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise. Jesse Vogel is a senior at Oberlin College and former intern with the Center for American Progress. Gwynne Taraska contributed to this post.