Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 11 November 2013

Funding the key issue as climate talks resume   

The annual UN Climate Conference starts today with developing countries making funding for climate action the main issue, and developed countries wanting everyone to commit to actions.


Today marks the opening of the two-week Conference of Parties (COP) of the UN Climate Convention, the annual gathering of governments and civil society aimed at combating climate change.

This year’s COP takes place in the historic Polish city of Warsaw.  Poland is well known as a key battleground and victim of the Second World War, as well as a country that turned the tide in the Cold War.

This fortnight’s conference won’t resemble these epic battles. But it is expected to show yet again the difficult complexities of the world trying to extricate itself from a full-scale environmental crisis.

It also takes place at a time of extreme weather events and ecological hazards. In Asia alone, the Philippines is enduring the strongest storm in recorded history.  Recently, there were also a powerful cyclone in India, serious fires in Australia, heavy rains and floods in many countries, prolonged air pollution in Beijing, the haze in Southeast Asia.

The concentration of Greenhouse gases is rising to record levels. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose in a year by 2.2 parts per million to reach 393 ppm in 2012, or 141% above the pre-industrial level of 278ppm.

By 2015 or 2016, that average may reach the landmark 400ppm, according to the latest World Meteorological Organisation report.   In fact, the 400 level had already been breached in several stations, including in Hawaii earlier this year.  

The signs on the ground and the science are increasingly scary.  But implementing the actions to prevent further global warming (mitigation) and for coping with the effects (adaptation) is still out of reach.

At Warsaw the differences in approaches among countries will likely re-surface.  The developing countries are united in seeking the significant levels of finance needed for their climate actions.

Without external financing, they can’t mobilise the large resources needed for technological change, replacing energy sources, improving energy efficiency, re-fitting machines, re-designing buildings, changing the fuels in vehicles, stopping deforestation, etc.  Their existing scarce resources are also needed for economic and social development.

The developing countries want Warsaw to be the “Finance COP”, during which developed countries commit to concrete and adequate funding.  The latter had already committed to mobilising US$100 billion a year by 2020.

To start with, they pledged $10 billion a year in 2010-12.  That period is over, and there is no concrete commitment nor a road-map of scaling up the funds from 2013 to 2020.   

This is dispiriting, especially since the developed countries’ governments have been stressing their lack of funds and that much of the money can be obtained from the private sector, which is not the usual way that North-to-South financial resources are committed.

A Ministerial dialogue on finance will take place during the COP.  If there is a breakthrough in commitments, the mood will change among developing countries, which will be able to gear themselves to greater actions.

The major developed countries are instead more interested in getting developing countries to commit themselves to mitigation action.  The European Union is seeking in Warsaw that each country in 2014 will make a pledge on reducing its emissions.

The pledges are to be assessed by other countries, and revised upwards if possible.  Then they will be placed as commitments in an agreement during the COP in 2015 in Paris, to be implemented after 2020.

This proposal is seen as premature by many developing countries.  They want firstly to negotiate and clarify the rules before making pledges.  They insist that developed and developing countries should have different commitments, as the Convention mandates.

Secondly they want to ensure first that financial resources and technology transfer are adequate and really forthcoming.

Negotiating the rules and the finance and technology commitments should be tied together with the mitigation or emission-reduction issue, and all these should be included in the agreement together with the adaptation issue, according to these developing countries.  There cannot be a mitigation-alone agreement.

Another sticking point is the types of mitigation commitments by developed and developing countries.  The agreement to be signed in 2015 is to be “applicable to all” but there are different interpretations to this term.

Many developing countries, citing the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, argue that an agreement would apply to all which sign it, but would not apply in a uniform way.  There must be a qualitative difference in the commitments of developed countries (which mainly caused the climate problem through their historical emissions) and the developing countries (which are still at a lower economic level and need space to develop).

Developed countries however are of the view that all countries should be treated the same way, with similar levels of legal-bindingness and the same type of emission-reduction obligations, with any difference being mainly in timeframe for implementation.

Another issue in Warsaw is adaptation. Developing countries want to take measures to reduce the impact of climate change, by building drainage systems to reduce floods, seawalls to protect from sea-water rise, more hardy crop varieties, etc.  But the already meagre funds for adaptation are becoming smaller.   

Related to this is how to address “loss and damage” caused by climate change.  Last year’s COP in Doha agreed to work further on this issue, and meetings have since been held. 

It mandated the Warsaw COP to set up “institutional arrangements” such as a mechanism on loss and damage.  One key aspect is expected to be whether and how to provide funds to countries suffering climate change effects.