Poles apart? PwC analysis of the UN Climate Summit COP19

If climate change was a game, Warsaw wasn't a great tournament - for spectators or participants. But as Jonathan Grant points out, it's worth remembering this is anything but a game.

It all came down to one question: when are we going to put numbers on the table?   Developed country negotiators might say that the question directed at them was: when are you going to put emissions and finance numbers on the table?

The main goal of the climate talks in the national football stadium in Warsaw was first to provide an agenda and timeline for the negotiation of the 2015 agreement:  merely to define the boundaries of the pitch rather than play the game itself.  Secondly, developing countries wanted specific pledges on finance and thirdly, an institutional arrangement for loss and damage was also critical.  After a long period of extra time, countries reached a deal in all three contentious areas as well as on tackling deforestation.  They met the low expectations many had for COP19.

The place lacked energy in the first eight days and governments struggled to make any progress in the different bodies under the COP.  Worse still, reality seemed to creep into the talks.  The reality of the nuclear shutdown in Japan, the change in government in Australia, and the reality that coal continues play a dominant role in the energy system.  Long gone are the days of starry-eyed aspirational goals.

Japan gave 110 percent 

Shortly after half-time, Japan pledged $16bn over three years to support climate action in developing countries.  But it then scored an own goal by announcing a significant upwards revision to its emissions cap (or downwards revision in ambition).  This reflects the increase in gas-fired power generation post-Fukushima, which this year puts Japan at the bottom of PwC’s Low Carbon Economy Index of the G20 countries.  No longer able to achieve a 25% emissions cut, Japan stated that its new target is a 3.8% reduction on 2005 levels which is a 3% increase on 1990 levels.  Few now remember the financial pledge.

Australia underperformed in the sporting arena.  With a more belligerent tone than in the past, the Australian team stated that its emissions target would be at the least ambitious end of the range it had announced previously and that the purpose of the talks is to create a safe climate, not to transfer welfare.  Even before it had arrived in Warsaw, Australia had taken the decision to scrap its carbon tax – not exactly in the spirit of the game. 

Canada, which is frequently relegated to ‘Fossil of the Day’, applauded Australia’s decision to scrap the tax.  According to CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), Paul Calandra, parliamentary secretary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, commended the move by Australia’s recently elected Prime Minister. “Canada applauds the decision by Prime Minister Abbott to introduce legislation to repeal the carbon tax” Calandra’s statement reads. “The Australian prime minister’s decision will be noticed around the world and sends an important message.

The senior match official, Christiana Figueres, gave a yellow card to the World Coal Association International Coal & Climate Summit held, rather unsportingly, in Warsaw at the same time as the climate talks.  She stated that the coal industry should immediately shut the most inefficient power stations, fit carbon capture and storage to all new plant, and then leave most of the reserves in the ground.

All this left the Polish referee to deal with a bad atmosphere on the pitch.  As is typical in many COPs, negotiations were pretty sluggish in the first half and the pace only picked up in the final three days.

ADP – a game of two halves

The Durban Platform working group (ADP) is expected to thrash out the 2015 deal.  In the ADP discussions, China along with several other developing nations argued that countries should still be divided into two leagues, as in the Convention and Kyoto Protocol (agreed in 1992 and 1997 respectively).  “I feel like I am going into a time warp.” said Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, exactly 50 years after Dr Who first did just that.  China’s emissions put it firmly in the premier division.  The US and EU stressed that it had been agreed at the tournament in Durban that all teams should play in the same league in accordance with their respective capabilities. 

The main thrust of the ADP talks was on the agenda for the future negotiation and the process for submitting and reviewing national emissions numbers.  The emissions numbers section of the ADP text (para 2.b) was watered down to reflect Chinese concerns.  Although it refers to ‘all Parties’, the numbers are described to as ‘contributions’ rather than ‘commitments’ or ‘targets’.  The next COP in Lima will identify what information these targets should include.  Countries should facilitate clarity and transparency – ideally meaning that they will use the same baseline year, avoid reference to some business as usual scenario and be clear about the role of land use change. 

In theory, the total contributions for the next commitment period (which hasn’t been defined, but could be from 2020 to 2030) should be well below the two degrees carbon budget for this century which was set out in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report.  On current trends countries will use up that budget by 2034, so it is possible that the first round of emissions numbers may come close to equalling the entire budget. 

Importantly, the ADP decision invites countries to make their contributions by March 2015 (if they are ready to do so).  This gives six months to review their adequacy and discuss how to ratchet up their ambition – which is likely to be among the most contentious parts of the negotiations in Paris.

The ADP text requests that developed countries provide support to developing countries for the work to establish emissions numbers.  It also requests that the working group starts drafting a negotiating text which should cover mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, capacity-building and transparency of action and support among others.  There was no mention of penalties.  And finally it urges developed countries to increase action on climate change in the pre-2020 period.

Moving the goalposts on loss & damage

The agreement to establish the Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage was significant.  It was a hugely contentious issue with heated exchanges between vulnerable developing countries (the Philippines in particular) and developed countries who resisted the inclusion of words like liability or compensation.

A stand-off in the final hours of the talks concerned whether this mechanism sits ‘under’ adaptation, or is separate.  This might seem like semantics, but the most vulnerable nations said that there is no way to adapt to loss of life and land. The word ‘under’ may have also implied no new finance, again a sticky point.

What was agreed is a new international mechanism focused on addressing gaps in knowledge and implementation around managing the risks associated with extreme events and slow onset events such as sea-level rise and coastal inundation. But the contentious point on finance for the mechanism is not explicitly addressed.

Finance – kicked into the long grass?

On long-term finance, developing countries were looking for a clear progression from the $10billion per year during the 2010-2012 period to the $100 billion per year in 2020. There were a few ad-hoc pledges of finance as expected from the US and European countries (and Japan remember).  But in the end the Parties merely decided to continue deliberations on long-term finance and requested the secretariat to organize further workshops and high level ministerial discussions.

The beautiful game

Overall, governments marginally exceeded the low expectations for the COP, the ref did a good job, and the negotiations move into 2014 with a bit more structure and a training schedule in place.  The next tournament will be held in Lima in early December 2014.  Let’s hope for some Latin American flair.  The Peruvians can at least look forward to support from the fleet-footed AILAC group, a coalition of progressive Latin countries who earned a positive reputation in the stadium for their style. 

However, there was little evidence that the teams in Warsaw had really grasped the scale of the challenge that confronts them. At times they seemed like a squad from the local Sunday morning football league pleased with a good training session but seemingly unaware that they are up against the World Champions next.  And the trouble is, this is no game.