COP19: Warsaw climate talks labelled ‘missed opportunity’

• November 24, 2013

As has become the tradition in the UN climate talks, the last day of the annual Conference of Parties (this year, COP19) stretched into the weekend. And as has become a tradition after the gavel’s sound marked the end of formal negotiations, our feelings couldn’t be more at odds with the relieved cheers and congratulatory remarks of exhausted government negotiators.

Our partners weren’t clapping. We’re angry, but we’re energized; ready to go back home and build the power we’ll need to push our governments faster, smarter, harder and in new directions.

Amidst concerns that governments were increasingly out of touch with the realities of dangerous climate change and public demand for bold measures to tackle it, civil society groups labelled the COP19 a “missed opportunity”. There were faint glimmers of progress on important issues such as forest protection schemesinitial funding for adaptation measures and a “loss and damage” mechanism to deal with the costs of unavoidable climate impacts.

However, displays of bafflingly obstinate wrecking-ball behaviour from some rich, developed nations such as JapanAustralia and Canada created an atmosphere of distrust. That distrust fed into government’s collective failure to agree to a clear and ambitious roadmap towards the global climate treaty due to be agreed in Paris in 2015. They also failed to overcome the lack of clarity on pathways, timelines and sources of climate finance as developing countries try to build confidence from current and inadequate levels to the promised $100 billion annually promised as support for developing countries by 2020.

You already know much of this story. We’ve told its most upsetting and heartbreaking parts too many times. The impacts of climate change have never been more obvious. Relentless droughts, wildfires, devastating and unprecedented floods, heatwaves and other extreme weather events over the last year have left almost no country untouched.  Yet those same countries’ governments left Warsaw without having unlocked the trust or momentum needed to slow, adapt to and survive climate change.

But there is another story to tell. With a 2015 treaty looming and tensions between countries growing as a result, governments’ true and often ugly colors were exposed like never before. Governments fiercely and often blatantly negotiated on behalf of near-term economic interests at the expense of our future. Angry and refusing to risk legitimizing their governments’ inaction, over 800 of our partners and friends walked out of the negotiations on Thursday in a striking and massive protest. They returned home to their capital cities and countries’ respective halls of power to mobilize with renewed vigor. And with a more clear understanding of the challenges that lay ahead, they returned to a growing global movement that is increasingly building bridges across cultures, class, ideology and economic sectors.

At the same time, hundreds of our partners and friends stayed inside Warsaw’s National Stadium to keep pushing, lobbying, and ensuring that civil society’s voice was heard.

We are under no illusions about the scale and challenge of the coming years of transition. We’re literally changing the energy systems of 194 countries from polluting fossil fuels to clean energy sources. At the same time, we have to adapt to rapid shifts in the earth’s natural systems that are vital to sustaining life itself. Governments know this, but as they argued over tiny steps toward solutions, they didn’t notice that the mass mobilization is well under way. It may not yet be reflected in this multilateral process, but the world was and is changing around them.

We are taking this fight to every possible front. International groups like 350org are collaborating with local civil society groups to host national and regional Power Shifts. Activists with groups like Greenpeace are risking arrestincarceration and worse to directly confront the fossil fuel companies.

We’re aggressively promoting renewables and energy efficiency around the world. Our partners are pushing hard to phase-out the more than $500 billion spent on fossil fuel subsidies each year, while at the same time accounting for the effects of climate pollution by putting a price on carbon. Social movements in Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia are working with the most climate vulnerable communities to identify and build exactly what they’ll need to adapt.

Activist investors and academics are exposing and deflating the carbon bubble before it pops. Major funds and large multilateral finance institutions are heeding to public pressure and slowly moving away from financing the most polluting sources of energy. We’re working on transportation emissions – developing policies and technologies to reduce emissions in autos, aviation and shipping. We’re working on land-use change, pioneering climate smart forms of agriculture, targeting illegal deforestation, and incentivising the protection of the world’s largest carbon sinks. And all of that is just a tiny slice of what’s in the works. Governments may not yet feel it, but that’s about to change.

Looking forward from Warsaw, we know many countries, cities, and states plan to hold elections next year. Our partners and friends are mobilizing citizens around the world to demand climate action from their governments at every scale. We’ll also see climate change rocket back to the top of the international political agenda. The United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has put world leaders on notice to bring bold pledges and action to his Climate Summit in September. And we’ll have at least two more rounds of UN Climate Talks – each an opportunity to further pressure governments to step up climate action – before convening again at COP20 in Peru. All crucial opportunities to keep pressing our respective countries around the world in the lead-up to a 2015 deal.

News & Insights

Partners respond to COP19 outcome

As the gavel went down on this year’s climate conference our partners responded to the outcome. E3G’s Liz Gallagher breaks down the finance agreement, and shows how some progress was made towards improving pre-2020 ambition, Ram Kishan commented on the last-minute agreement on loss and damage and CAN International’s Wael Hmaidan spoke of civil society’s next steps.

Communities show solidarity in last hours of the talks

Marking the official last day of the conference, people gathered at over 100 locations around the world to hold candlelight vigils for climate change – and in a mark of solidarity with the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Building on the huge momentum of the solidarity fast for the Philippines which took place throughout the last fortnight, faith groups have pledged  a continued spiritual fast through the year and in the run up to COP19 in Lima, Peru in December 2014. 28 faith based organisations from around the world – with a membership base of 1.3 billion people – have signed the initiative since it was launched last week.

COP19 coverage as it happened

For more on how the talks unfolded, as well as all the reaction from our partners, check out the TckTckTck COP19 hub.

Comments (1)

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  1. GraceAdams830 says:

    Social Cost of Carbon best use maybe to convince fossil fuel firms they can cope better with excise tax than with non-tariff regulatory burden, and offer them choice between $35/metric ton CO2eq tax with offset for carbon capture and store and whatever non-tariff regulatory burden is justified at $35/metric ton CO2eq on all greenhouse gas emissions from all sources including agriculture. Also explain that
    you want them to mass produce algal biodiesel as soon as Algae Systems gets it
    cost-competitive with petroleum, and they get offset for carbon captured and
    stored in bio char byproduct of algal biodiesel. With about 25 lbs. = 11.717kg CO2 captured in bio char per gallon algal biodiesel vs. 75 lbs. =35.151kg CO2 emitted per gallon tar sands diesel, algal biodiesel will get cost-competitive with petroleum $1.429/gallon sooner with than without $35/metric ton CO2eq excise tax. Since Congress hates Pres. Obama, fossil fuel firms will have to persuade Congress. Since fuel firms need to go beyond net zero emissions to clean up past emissions, additional revenue will be needed to cover offsets, probably from tax on electricity in addition to emissions tax starting after emissions tax is fully phased in. Since you want to be prepared to get fossil fuel firms into algal biodiesel ASAP and parts of modules other than growing bags are well solved problems already, please order other parts to assemble a third of modules by 2015, a third by 2016, a third by 2017. It won’t hurt to have parts in warehouse a year waiting for cost- competitiveness. It also won’t hurt to have minimum wage workers trained by Algae Systems to maintain and operate modules. When most petroleum displaced by algal
    biodiesel, maybe stabilize price of both diesel and dollar with strategic reserve with 10% buy/sell price spread. To keep bio char in root zone as soil amendment: 1) do not mistake for bio fuel, 2) do not use too much water or nitrogen fertilizer on field, 3) use light color mulch on field, especially in full sun in warm climate. Do you want to trust Monsanto to distribute bio char? Or would you rather distribute it through USDA county extension agents?

About the Author

Joshua Wiese is a project director at the Global Campaign for Climate Action. He runs the Adopt a Negotiator project and publishes our weekly Fresh Air Brief

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