This year’s UN climate conference in Warsaw, Poland saw a civil society walk-out, a climate fast in solidarity with the victims of super typhoon Haiyan and Canada winning a ‘Lifetime Unachievement‘ Fossil award for climate change inaction. But what does it all mean? Did the world make any headway on climate progress at the talks, and what do future UN conferences hold in store?
National Stadium, Warsaw – location of COP 19 – Photo credit: flickrcc.net
The talks in Warsaw marked the 19th annual Conference of the Parties (COP 19), where representatives from nations around the world arrived to develop the treaties and tools needed to work towards solving climate change. While highly detailed and complex, the discussions focused on a few major themes: mitigation, which involves pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; adaptation, which involves plans to address climate change impacts; climate finance, which involves funds for everything from adaptation to technology development; and the creation of a new international climate agreement, which is slated for completion by COP 21 in Paris in 2015. This year also saw emphasis on the concept of “loss and damage” – the idea that developed countries bear historical responsibility for some of the climate damage impacting the developing world, and should compensate for this accordingly.
The talks started in the shadow of the devastation caused by super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. This prompted an emotional call for action from Philippines delegate Yeb Saño. Mr. Saño called on the world to “stop this madness,” and his call was answered by civil society. As one of the nodes of Climate Action Network International, CAN-Rac came to Warsaw pressing for a list of detailed expectations which would put the world on a path to the fair, ambitious and binding deal needed to address climate change. Various members of civil society also responded to Yeb Saño’s call more directly, and joined a fast in solidarity with the victims of climate disasters for the entire two weeks of negotiations.
In the end, the discussions amounted to a missed opportunity with some small signs of hope. Ultimately, the Warsaw talks failed to provide a clear plan to fairly divide the global effort of responding to climate change or a timeline as to when that would happen. On finance, some parties contributed vital resources to a fund earmarked for adaptation, while other coffers remained empty with no clear plan in sight. On the positive side, the Warsaw talks saw the establishment of the “Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage,” although this tool needs to be strengthened. Also, more money will flow to countries that can stringently prove they are reducing emissions from deforestation.
While Canada kept a low profile for most of the talks, some of its actions could not escape international attention. At the start of the talks, Canada was granted an ignominious ‘Fossil of Disbelief‘ for cheerleading ruinous Australian climate policies. Later, Canada was ranked worst climate performer in the developed world by CAN Europe and Germanwatch, placing above only Iran (59th), Kazakhstan (60th) and Saudi Arabia (61st) on the overall list. As the talks wrapped up, Canada was awarded a ‘Lifetime Unachievement‘ Fossil award for its years of work undermining international climate negotiations. Still, the picture wasn’t all bad. CAN-Rac was happy to broadcast good news from Ontario for the province’s work on phasing out coal, and was encouraged by Quebec’s active promotion of carbon pricing on the world stage.
Through it all, CAN-Rac monitored and reported on developments, issued press releases and provided regular updates to the media and our membership. We also met routinely with representatives of the Canadian government delegation, pressing for explanations on government policy and promoting the positions of CAN International. We shouted, we demonstrated, we debated, we discussed and we held our leaders to account.
While the Warsaw talks were disheartening, it remains technically feasibile to keep the world from dangerous levels of warming by the end of this century. CAN-Rac remains committed to working inside and outside of future COPs to make sure this goal is met.
The Burning Question
If the world hopes to avoid runaway climate change, it will have to leave half the world’s remaining oil, coal and gas reserves in the ground. This issue is at the heart of the burning question addressed in a new book by Duncan Clark and Mike Berniers-Lee: in a civilization driven by carbon, how can we resist the temptation to burn up what’s left? The Burning Question not only looks at the physical challenge, but also its connections to international politics, finance and human psychology. Check out this in-depth interview with the authors to find out more.
Image credit: www.burningquestion.info
While the challenge sounds daunting, the way forward is clear. First, the new IPCC report showed us that, in order to address the challenge, the world will need to phase out carbon by mid-century at the latest. To get there, we can start where there has already been progress – on phasing out wasteful subsidies of coal, oil and gas. In the G20 alone, this would save half a trillion dollars, which could be invested in energy efficiency and renewable initiatives. Other popular policies like feed-in tariffs, carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes are already in place in provinces like Ontario, BC and Quebec. These have created new jobs and new industries all while boosting renewable use and cutting carbon.
Find out more about the issue from a Canadian lens here. You can also find out how to start your own divestment campaign.