UN CLIMATE TALKS: WARSAW, POLAND – Despite some modest gains, countries again failed to set a clear and ambitious path for taking the urgent action that is needed to address climate change. Nations adopted a last-minute plan for the future climate agreement that invites governments to make “nationally determined contributions” without a meaningful way to evaluate whether those contributions are sufficient.
“The Warsaw outcome is inadequate and does not respond to the needs of those most vulnerable to, and already impacted by, climate change,” said Niranjali Amerasinghe, Director of the Climate & Energy Program at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “We need a strong legal framework with firm commitments that are grounded in science, not contributions that governments find most convenient.”
Reflecting a proposal made by the Alliance of Small Island States, the process for taking urgent mitigation action between now and 2020 includes a path for raising current pledges under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. However, without a clear timeframe or ambitious finance pledges from developed countries, it is unclear whether the plan will result in significant action.
Progress on institutional rules met with mixed results. Countries adopted a package of seven decisions finalizing the basic governance framework for REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). Significantly, the framework requires that before receiving results-based finance, countries must show that social and environmental safeguards are being addressed and respected. It also recognizes the importance of benefits beyond emission reductions, such as improved livelihoods.
“These developments can support local communities and indigenous peoples who live in, depend on, and protect the world’s forests,” said CIEL Staff Attorney Allison Silverman. “Unfortunately, decisions on safeguards reporting and addressing drivers of deforestation are weak and will need to be improved next year.”
Like last year, discussions on loss and damage were front and center. While the Parties took a critical step by establishing an “international mechanism,” they failed to explicitly recognize that loss and damage goes beyond adaptation and thus failed to address the needs of vulnerable communities and countries.
“It is clear that the world’s historic emitters have obligations to compensate those who experience extreme suffering from climate impacts, but these countries are unwilling to do what is needed to establish a meaningful international framework to remedy such harms,” said Alyssa Johl, Senior Attorney at CIEL.
A growing body of evidence illustrates how countries – primarily the top historic emitters – are failing to meet their obligations to address climate change for which they must be held responsible. The newly published Carbon Majors report attributes the majority of historic carbon emissions to just 90 entities; this includes 50 investor-owned companies, 48 of which are based in developed countries. While strengthening the case for holding corporations accountable, it also points to the failure of developed countries to regulate activities within their territories that cause global harm. Given the lack of political will to take much-needed action to address the devastating impacts caused by climate change, more people will seek to hold those most responsible accountable both within and outside the UNFCCC framework.