Warsaw climate talks remain contentious, may end in all-nighter

WARSAW, Poland -- Bedraggled diplomats returned this morning to the soccer stadium where U.N. climate change negotiations are being held. They are fully expecting to battle into the night over the best path toward a new 2015 global warming agreement.

With a quiet and somewhat sour mood descending over the discussions after a walkout by environmental activists yesterday decrying lack of progress, several issues remain unresolved. Among them: funding levels for vulnerable countries between now and 2020 and a way to help countries facing irrevocable losses that cannot be avoided from storms and rising sea levels.

Disputes over those issues, analysts say, are also holding up progress on outlining a new global emissions pact that is expected to be signed in 2015 in Paris and put into effect by 2020. Still, some remained optimistic that a deal would emerge by morning resolving most of the divisions.

"We always sober up," said Claudia Salerno, Venezuela's chief climate change negotiator. "We fight, we say things to each other, but we always sober up."

A draft text laying out a plan for the 2015 deal was unveiled just before dawn. In it, diplomats vaguely agreed to put forward post-2020 greenhouse gas emissions targets before the Paris conference but did not specify when.


The United States has called for those targets to be offered up in early 2015, while some developing countries are trying to push back the deadline as far as 2017. Europe, meanwhile, is pressing for countries to come to the table with numbers in September of next year when U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon convenes a leaders' summit on climate change.

Battle over setting deadlines

"Our European position is, it could be done in 2014," said French Development Minister Pascal Canfin. But he said, "It is still being negotiated. What we can say is what we expect, and what we expect out of Warsaw is that each state must go home and do its homework to producing commitments in CO2 [reduction] far ahead of Paris."

Two years ago, nations agreed that the new 2015 deal should be "applicable to all," which the United States has taken to mean that while countries may cut emissions to different levels depending on how developed they are. All -- including China and India -- will be on an equal legal footing.

Yet the outline also calls for it to be "under the Convention," a phrase some developing countries maintain means that the divisions that always underscored climate action -- rich countries act unilaterally and developing countries act after they are paid -- will continue.

Countries are not even close here to figuring out how that issue, often referred to as "equity," will be resolved. India last night rejected a workstream on the topic, even though their diplomats had been at the forefront of the issue, arguing that they wanted such an avenue for discussion two years ago.

Environmental activists awarded India a "fossil of the day," which is reserves for bad actors in the talks, for the move, which some here saw as a blatant attempt to block progress.

Some progress with green fund

There was some movement overnight over guidelines for the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which will direct some portion of the $100 billion commitment of aid for mitigation and adaptation. Advocates familiar with the process say negotiators worked out some of the rules that will govern operation of the fund, paving the way for developed countries to begin putting money into it.

Finance has been a major sticking point during the whole of the conference with developing countries complaining that the United States and other rich nations are dragging their feet on making new monetary pledges to help vulnerable communities cope with the effects of climate change.

The rich countries, meanwhile, have resisted making specific commitments on GCF funding until operations guidelines were in place. Now that they are, advocates said they hope donor nations will start writing checks.

"It's basically coming closer and closer to being able to be filled and to fund, which is great," said Liz Gallagher, a senior policy adviser for the Britain-based E3G.

The negotiations, which have stretched through the night Wednesday and yesterday, have so far failed to produce the certainty on how wealthy donors plan to increase funding toward the combined total of $100 billion by 2020 agreed to in Copenhagen or what they will supply in the meantime.

Poor countries have said they hope to see $70 billion in climate finance flowing to adaptation and mitigation projects by 2016. Also to come are more details about how that funding will be administered, the balance of public and private financing and whether dollars will go to adaptation or mitigation.

Athena Ronquillo-Ballesteros of the World Resources Institute, who has attended the finance negotiations, called them "intense."

"The problem right now is that the pathway to 2020 is not clear," she said in an email to Climatewire. The initial period of financing agreed upon in Copenhagen has expired, and there are no concrete financing targets between now and 2020.

Developing countries have said this leaves them uncertain of what assistance they will receive during the interim years and whether the West will deliver on its 2020 promise. But donor countries have been reluctant to make midterm commitments.

"The challenge here is that this is a non-starter for some countries, where the domestic political environment makes it difficult to commit funding," Ballesteros said. She said that if countries cannot make specific commitments now, they should at least provide conditional targets and commit to milestones for making those pledges.

'Loss and damage' issue remains difficult

On the equally touchy issue of "loss and damage," rich and poor countries also remain far apart. But, said Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council, "some of this is just endgame strategy."

Poor countries demand compensation, and the United States is adamant that there be no scent of liability in talks about helping poor countries deal with irrevocable losses. Meanwhile poor countries want a separate "mechanism" to deal with loss and damage, which the United States also opposes in part because officials believe it is best dealt with as part of helping make countries more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Rich countries are also leery of the word "mechanism" because it has a specific connotation in climate policy that often denotes a new funding stream -- a commitment rich countries want to avoid.

One area where there was actually some positive progress last night, activists said, was forest protection.

Negotiators completed a decision on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), which compensates developing countries for taking steps to stem the cutting and razing of tropical forests. The package includes developments on technical issues including monitoring and verification, and on finance. Norway leads a group of developed countries, including the United States, that pledged funding for the program.

"I think REDD+ is going to be one of the bright spots of the conference," said Nathaniel Keohane of the Environmental Defense Fund. "It puts REDD in a very good position for remaining the premier tool for forest preservation and for providing a structure that makes forests more valuable alive than dead."

With another late night ahead of diplomats, observers said they sense the 2015 deal will keep discussions going late into Saturday. Said Schmidt, "This means the beginning of the path to Paris. Part of the essential elements are building trust."

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