Another deadlock in Warsaw?

Another deadlock in Warsaw?

12 November 2013

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Indonesia — Climate change negotiators have gathered in Warsaw for the Conference of the Parties (COP) 19 to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is being held from Nov. 11 until Nov. 22.

The Warsaw COP is significant because it is only two years away from the COP 21 in Paris, when governments will have to adopt a universal, binding agreement on climate change to curb greenhouse gas emissions, replacing the Kyoto Protocol, which will take effect from 2020.

“Climate change negotiation” and “deadlock” seem to be inseparable. Meetings on climate-change issues have come and gone since the 1990s, but it has always been hard to reach a fundamental and binding consensus although greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise significantly. In last year’s COP in Doha, for instance, countries failed to move beyond the emission reduction pledges that have been on the table since the 2009 COP in Copenhagen.

It is true that the Copenhagen Accord was agreed to by 194 nations affirming the target of keeping earth’s temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius. But it lets each nation voluntarily set its own targets for 2020 without any strong mechanism to ensure the adequacy of the national targets.

Pessimism has been rife ahead of the Warsaw conference. But, by taking a UN report that revealed global carbon dioxide emissions had reached a new record of 34.5 tons in 2012 into consideration, we should not let the stagnation perpetuate in Warsaw.

It is too early to link global warming and increasing natural disasters. Nonetheless, some scientists have argued that natural disasters are more common around the globe now. In the northeastern provinces of China, massive floods, believed to be the result of global warming, has drastically cut China’s corn production. In Australia, the Australian Climate Council had suggested that there was a strong connection between climate change and the recent extreme bushfires in New South Wales.

Increasing negative impacts of global warming should be of the concern of policymakers, including Indonesian negotiators, gathering in Warsaw. They do not have any choice but to use this year’s COP to achieve progress on a global deal on climate change. Negotiators should at least have to shorten a yawning gap between what our goal is, where we are now and what we must do to curb global warming.

The main obstacle in climate-change negotiations are the economic interests of participating countries. Leaders used to take no position that could harm domestic interests, which makes sense because they were politically elected by domestic constituencies, not by the international community.

They are careful in taking stands on carbon tax because the tax has been widely perceived by the public as nothing more than a hit on business and bad news for consumers. But difficult global challenges need collective wisdom that sometimes forces leaders to sacrifice their narrow view of “national interests”.

One obvious sign of the lack of mutual trust among nations in tackling climate change is the failure of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to garner firm pledges from major aid donors during the GCF board’s meeting in Paris last month in. The GCF was formally inaugurated during the COP-16 in Cancun, Mexico, in 2010 as a mechanism for developed nations to financially assist developing nations in adapting and mitigating climate change challenges.

After three years, the operational implementation of the GCF has yet to be materialized. In the GCF Paris meeting, countries could not agree on a specific timeline for raising new funds.

To avoid or at least minimize a stalemate in Warsaw, world leaders’ political will and sense of urgency are needed. Leaders from the Global North and South have to advance engagement among them to alleviate latent grievances in some contentious issues. The developed countries have to stop blocking progress on key issues.

In the current obvious transition of global order, they are required to realize that some parts of their privileged economic statuses have come from excessive carbon emissions in the past. Some developed nations that often positively contributed to climate change negotiations, such as the European Union and the Scandinavian states, need to encourage fellow developed nations, especially those who withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, to reconsider their withdrawal for the sake of a credible collective commitment.

On the other hand, emerging powers in the developing world have to move beyond the old stigma that “the richest countries caused the problems in the past, but the developing and least-developed nations are suffering from its effects the most”. Nevertheless, their more prominent diplomatic positions in international fora also imply their increasing responsibility in climate change.

Despite the interminable development challenges at home, such as poverty, a high unemployment rate and increasing income inequalities, Indonesia and emerging powers need to show more constructive involvement in dealing with climate-change problems for at least two reasons: (1) they have now already become among the largest CO2 emitters, meaning that they are also part of climate-change problems and (2) with their status as middle-income countries, they have some capability to act as more active actors in climate-change mitigation and adaptation.

Together with Gulf nations and small-but-rich nations, such as Brunei and Singapore, emerging powers should not only provide financial and technical support to the poorer and more vulnerable nations, but also contribute to the GCF. These actions would put pressure on developed countries to realize their commitment to the GCF.

A successful COP 19 in Warsaw needs a paradigm shift from both developed and developing nations. Both fronts have to re-acknowledge that climate change problems are beyond the capacity of any individual country or regional cooperation.

Climate-change negotiations need a new confidence-building measure, based on the belief that all countries in this growing pluralistic world have to make immediate, major and well-respected international commitments.

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