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Evaluating the Success of COP19

Written by Lauren on .

By many people’s standards, the UN climate change conference (commonly called COP19) lived up to its expectations, or, to be accurate, its lack thereof. In predicting limited outcomes, the world had pre-destined it to be a complete failure. And just as naughty children usually tend to continue trouble-making behavior when their parents treat them as little tyrants, so, too, did the COP live up to its fate to deliver little on its objectives as it has historically done.

But was it really a complete failure? And what exactly were the objectives set forth?

To answer the second question first, the main objectives for this COP were mainly related to finance, giving it the nickname, the “finance COP.” For specifics, look to this list of Christiana Figueres’ top 5 objectives for COP19 here. In 2010 the COP in Cancun established the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which, since it was created, has remained more symbolic than literal. That’s because any funds remain to be put into it, which is intended to raise $100 billion dollars per year by 2020 to fund projects in developing nations related to adaptation. Other financial mechanisms negotiated in Warsaw were the REDD+ program (which aims to prevent deforestation of carbon-sequestering tropical forests), and the loss and damage mechanism (LDM – explained later).

Of course, the overall objective of the UNFCCC COP, which dates back to its establishment in 1992, is to "stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system." That is the ultimate goal we’ve been trying to achieve for the past 19 COPs. The Paris Summit (COP21) in 2015 promises to have countries create binding agreements to reduce CO2 emissions starting in 2020. Honestly, we’re a long way off to these goals. But that’s not to say significant action can’t be taken on the path to Paris.

But, to re-form the first question I posed, since we still don’t have a real global climate mitigation plan, were the attempts to work through finance mechanisms at least successful?

There are already varying degrees of agreement and various opinions on this. Ask OSIP member Yassir Eddebbar, who courageously snuck into a closed-door negotiation between the US, Canada, Indonesia, and others on the REDD+ program. He might tell you how he watched as the main negotiating countries painstakingly debated over single words and commas, as other countries sat on the sidelines talking on their cellphones and eating snacks, as the tensions rose. The Indonesian negotiator would start walking out the door when it didn’t approve of a wording choice, and the US negotiator would chase after them, in a scene similar to something you might see in a middle school, until, finally, late at night, the new document was apparently finalized. The new REDD+ regime helps define the rules for financing protection of forests, but fails to contribute more funds. This is amidst Japan scaling back its emissions target, Australia backing out of climate legislation, and Brazil reporting an almost 30% increase in its deforestation rate.

Regarding the loss and damage mechanism (LDM), if you set the bar low, you can say there was progress made. Parties agreed upon the "Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage." However, this document contains much more vague language than initially hoped. Instead of promising aid to countries affected by climate change-related events, it only commits developed nations to provide expertise and potentially aid, starting in 2014.

As for the Green Climate Fund, it’s still an empty piggy bank, but at least its structure and function have been finalized. That’s progress, right?

Let’s talk about other happenings at the COP that might contribute to assessing the overall “success” of the conference. On the second Thursday, over 800 members of various NGOs walked out, blaming the developed nations for choking the negotiations and delaying the process with tactics. While they were unsuccessful at inspiring the negotiators, I myself was inspired by their bold act, and I think their message to the world resounded. The day before, G77+China (largest group of developing countries) staged a walkout from negotiations because of lack of progress and disrespectful behavior from Australian delegates, who apparently showed up in their pajamas and cared more about the snacks than the real reason for being in the room (told to me by someone at the conference). I let this, for a moment, question why we’re all even here, if some global leaders don’t take it seriously.

Lastly, throughout the two weeks of the COP, the Climate Action Network (CAN) put on a popular event called "Fossil of the Day," and announced the “Fossil of the Year” (Australia, surprise) on the last day of the conference. I accidentally ran into one of these ceremonies in the evening when they announced the fossil of the day, which on that day was India. It was a humorous reprieve from the normal formalness and stiffness of the COP atmosphere. I like the idea of transparency and public blaming/shaming for bad climate change policies.

So, there you have it. This was not comprehensive but summarized some of the major outcomes of the COP in Warsaw. If you’re somewhat depressed after reading this, don’t fret. I know I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture. But stay tuned for the silver lining, and why I think we should all have hope, to appear in the Part 2 blog post.

To leave us with the inspirational words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Contact Information

Ocean Scientists for Informed Policy
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
University of California, San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92083-0202