Warsaw to World Leaders: You Have Your Work Cut Out for You

There is already ample evidence that humanity isn't acting quickly enough to address climate change. The need for greater action in 2015 is obvious. And there are plenty of reasons to believe that countries can get their act together by then.
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The negotiations in Warsaw, Poland have just wrapped up. World leaders have their work cut out for them, but the path is clear. Key countries must outline their proposed new emissions target for the period after 2020 before early 2015. They must come prepared to mobilize even more investment in climate action and adaptation in the developing world. And they must act aggressively now. This meeting clearly signaled that world leaders have their work cut out for them.

“World leaders better get their act together quickly. If they show up empty-handed in 2015 and don’t secure a strong international agreement, they’ll be known as the generation that clearly saw the growing threat of global climate change, and failed to try to stop it.”

There is already ample evidence that humanity isn't acting quickly enough to address climate change. The need for greater action in 2015 is obvious. And there are plenty of reasons to believe that countries can get their act together by then.

World leaders have a clear political signal on three key issues that are quite obvious here in Warsaw: (1) detail their next emissions reduction commitments by early 2015 at the latest; (2) increase financial investments in developing countries to reduce emissions and help address the impacts of climate change; and (3) implement additional actions right now.

Detail their next emissions reduction commitments. Countries accounting for over 80 percent of the world’s emissions already have specific commitments to reduce their emissions. This was an important step that is helping drive action on the ground in key countries. Those targets covered action through 2020 so there is a need to extend those targets for a longer period – most discussion is focused on a 2025 and a 2030 timeframe. And there is need to deepen those commitments as there clear signs that even greater action must follow. The climate conference in Paris will be the next evolution of those commitments — "targets 2.0".

In Warsaw, countries agreed to have their proposed emissions reduction commitment detailed well in advance of the Paris climate summit – in the text these proposed commitments are characterized as “intended nationally determined contributions”. Countries agreed that these commitments would need to be communicated by early 2015 at the latest. The text refers to this agreement by stating that countries are to: “communicate them well in advance of the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so).” These proposals must include all the critical elements to ensure that we can understand them, analyze them, and urge greater action if they fall short – the “full sunset clause”. Specifically the agreement states that these proposed commitments are to be communicated: “in a manner that facilitates the clarity, transparency and understanding of the intended contributions.”

It is clear that when world leaders meet at the 2014 Climate Summit in New York – scheduled for September 23 – they will have to encourage each other to make their proposed commitments no later than early 2015. So they’ll have to look at each other in the eye and get personal commitments that their countries will propose a new climate commitments by a specific date. There needs to be enough time to evaluate each proposal and push countries that have clearly low-balled their proposals.

Increase financial investments in developing countries to reduce emissions and help address the impacts of climate change. Developed countries invested more than $10 billion per year in international climate actions between 2010 and 2012. This is an important down payment, but there is a clear recognition that more needs to be delivered. Countries agreed at the 2009 Climate Summit in Copenhagen to scale up resources to $100 billion per year for climate investments in developing countries. In Warsaw some countries outlined details on their continued commitment to support developing countries, including an injection of $100 million to support the “Adaptation Fund” as the small-island states, African countries, and others called for before the meeting. And the U.K. joined the growing group of countries that are signaling that they’ll stop using public funding to support overseas coal projects – this frees up a bunch of money that could be better used in battling climate change.

A lot more work is needed on financing in the coming months. There is a growing frustration amongst key countries in Africa and the small-island states that developed countries aren’t serious about this commitment. The U.S., E.U., and many others must rebuild some trust that has been lost. These countries better come to New York, Lima (where the next climate negotiation will occur), and Paris with clear commitments, real programs, and new injections of resources. They must be creative, flexible, and serious as they scale-up resources to help developing countries deploy clean energy, address deforestation, and help the most vulnerable countries adapt to climate change

Implement additional actions right now. Countries can’t wait until 2020 to take even greater action. They must act urgently at home to meet their commitments by making the necessary policy changes in their domestic context. And they should seize the near-term opportunities to commit to phase-down the “super greenhouse gas” called HFCs, phase-out public financing of overseas coal investments, double-down on clean energy, and many more actions.

Significant progress wasn’t made on those issues in Warsaw, but our toolbox is bigger than the two-week climate negotiations. Countries will meet intensively in bilateral and multilateral forums to discuss phasing-down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. We hope that Japan, Germany, and South Korea will commit to phase-out overseas coal lending. And more countries must act domestically on renewables like Chile recently did when it adopted a law to significantly increase its renewable generation. Unfortunately, Japan and Australia have signaled that they will dramatically weaken their commitments. This is a disappointing step that is being roundly criticized by governments around the world and added a bad dynamic to these negotiations. And in Warsaw countries agreed to last set of details on the “transparency and accountability” provisions from the Cancun Agreements.

World leaders shouldn’t wait until Paris. They should start taking action now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change. Then, when they meet next year in September, they must demonstrate they are prepared to make further commitments to reduce emissions and mobilize finance to support action in developing countries. They must do so because climate change is the greatest environmental ill of our time. The world community is obligated to act to protect our children and future generations from its ravages.


Photo: Final “scrum” of key negotiators in Warsaw Saturday afternoon, courtesy of Jake Schmidt.

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