U.N. Climate Talks in Warsaw Must Make Headway on Mitigation and Finance

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, November 21, 2013. They are impatient with the government negotiators, who, they believe, are making no progress toward the task of laying foundations for a new climate deal.

This column contains a correction.

A successful outcome of this year’s Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Warsaw, Poland, must include progress on the issues of greenhouse gas mitigation and climate finance. A process and timeline for concluding negotiations on a new international climate agreement by the end of 2015, as well as progress on meeting international climate finance commitments, are both essential parts of an effective global response to global warming.

Making progress toward both of these objectives simultaneously, however, will require both developed and developing countries to move beyond their current negotiating standoff. To break the impasse, developed nations could signal their commitment to ramping up climate finance before 2020, and developing nations could make it clear that they remain committed to addressing their own rapidly increasing emissions by agreeing to a process and timeline for concluding negotiations on a new climate agreement. This agreement should include meaningful mitigation commitments by all countries consistent with the 2012 Durban Platform negotiating mandate.

Crafting a global agreement

During the 2011 U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa, countries in attendance agreed to create a global climate agreement applicable to all parties by 2015—known as the Durban Platform—with the goal of keeping average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, the level scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. Countries must leave Warsaw with a process and timetable for creating the agreement in order to stay on track for finishing by 2015.

There is broad agreement among countries for nationally determined mitigation commitments, as well as a period of consultation and review among parties to measure the collective level of ambition—the sum of all countries’ greenhouse gas emissions targets—against the 2 degree target. Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy on climate change, presented the U.S. vision for the 2015 agreement in an October speech, calling for nationally determined commitments to be announced by early 2015, followed by a period of review and consultation. The European Union similarly proposed a multistage process for commitments to be put forward in the fall of 2014, followed by a period of assessment. The Least Developed Countries Group, comprised of 49 developing countries particularly vulnerable to climate change, urged for the Warsaw meeting to adopt “a clear roadmap for negotiating the planning, scope, structure and design of the new 2015 agreement” and for a draft agreement by 2014, followed by consultations ahead of adoption in 2015.

Some developing countries, however, are pushing back against taking on commitments and are blocking progress on establishing a timeline or process for the 2015 agreement. Parties’ entrenched positions on how responsibility should be allocated between developed and developing countries—referred to as common but differentiated responsibility, or CBDR—underlie the lack of progress. The Like-Minded Developing Countries on Climate Change, or LMDC, group, for example, is arguing that developed countries would need to specify their emissions-reductions commitments prior to developing countries presenting their own.

The large bulk of the projected increase in greenhouse gas emissions will be in developing countries, particularly major emerging economies such as China and India. Therefore, broad participation in a new agreement is necessary to keep global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. In order to help developing countries build capacity for mitigating greenhouse gases, as well as to build resiliency, developed countries committed during U.N. climate negotiations in 2009 to mobilizing $100 billion annually from public and private sources for climate mitigation and adaptation.

Throughout the Warsaw conference, developed countries have stated clearly their intention to meet the annual $100 billion commitment beginning in 2020. The United States and other donor countries have focused on the need to use public resources to leverage larger private flows to scale up climate finance toward this goal. Yesterday, during a high-level finance ministerial dialogue, Stern and others highlighted work underway by donor countries to channel public resources to leverage private investment in developing countries by using a number of different methods. These methods include development finance institutions, export credit agencies, multilateral development banks, and a new public-private platform to pilot new climate finance instruments.

Private sources and public-private partnerships will play a significant role in the future mobilization of finance commitments as governments face budget shortfalls, and they can comprise a significant portion of a ramp-up period. A 2010 report by the Center for American Progress and the Alliance for Climate Protection specifies the increases in public and private investment necessary to achieve during a ramp-up period in order to meet the commitment to raise $100 billion annually by 2020—most of which would come from private sources.

Last night, Minister Xie Zhenhua, vice chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, said that a clear roadmap should be worked out for finance. He added, however, that “it doesn’t matter if we cannot agree on the timetable, at least we should work out a starting point for the process.”

All parties agree that scaling up finance will be necessary to meet the $100 billion goal by 2020. Therefore, one possible way to break the impasse might be for developed and developing countries to agree to a ramp-up period in Warsaw without any fixed, pre-2020 targets. Such an outcome on finance, combined with an agreement to a process and timeline for concluding negotiations on a new climate agreement that has meaningful mitigation commitments by all countries and is consistent with the Durban Platform negotiating mandate, could break the impasse that is halting the negotiations leading into the conference’s 11th hour.

Rebecca Lefton is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress.

Thanks to Peter Ogden, Senior Fellow and Director of International Energy and Climate Policy at the Center, for his comments.

*Correction, November 25, 2013: This column incorrectly stated that the U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa, were last year. The Durban meeting was in 2011.