COP19: Warsaw

warsaw climate summit
Teaser Image Caption
Warsaw Walk Out - NGOs are leaving the Climate Summit

Low expectations

New hopes for a legally binding global climate regime were up again when in Durban 2011 Parties agreed to negotiate by 2015 latest a global agreement to enter into force after 2020. And the newly created Ad-hoc working group on the Durban platform for enhanced action (ADP) established a workstream II that is supposed to deal with scaling up ambition before 2020 – the crucial time period during which global emissions need to peak (namely in 2015 according to IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri) and adequate and predictable finance is needed to secure low carbon development in the North and South. The UN climate conference in Warsaw, however, was the COP with the lowest expectations ever – and lived up to that in every respect.

The devastating effects of typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines and surrounding countries right before the beginning of COP 19 also touched both delegates and observers. Yeb Sano’s (Philippine delegation) emotional appeal not only turned him into the only hero of COP 19 but also soon let many to join his voluntary fasting in solidarity (some media reported it as a hunger strike) – a first time for a UN climate conference and probably a clear signal that climate change has already overtaken the multilateral negotiations’ ability – absent political will and trust – to urgently address its anthropogenic causes as well as to provide the necessary collective support to those countries and people most affected. Yeb Sano and a growing number of followers have even pledged to continue fasting on the 13th of each month in remembrance of the COP 19 fasting.[1]

But while climate change is here and now, this sense of urgency seems lost to the minds of policy makers in the EU and other Annex 1 countries, who are self-absorbed with their problems of sliding ever more deeply into a structural economic and financial crisis of global impact and seem to have relegated multilateral climate action as a distant “other issue” on their political agenda.  

While expectations were low for Warsaw, those with an optimistic mind nevertheless hoped for some implementation progress at the halfway mark for a new agreement by 2015, specifically routing for at least the following things to happen:

  • agreement on a clear (and tight) timeline for delivering mitigation pledges by all Parties for the 2015 deal;
  • agreement to measure the pledges or contributions against a set of clear set of indicators to ensure both ambition and equity;
  • concrete numbers and pathways to scale up climate finance after the fast-start finance period post-2012 toward fulfilling the commitments of USD 100 billion by 2020 annually and – at a bare minimum – replenish the financially starved Adaptation Fund;
  • to establish an international mechanism for loss and damage as agreed in Doha;
  • concrete decisions on ways forward to close the gigatonne gap that remains when looking at 2020 pledges and pathways to stay within the 2 °C or even 1.5 °C target.

Low ambition and no equity in the context of the ADP

The ADP decision named “Further advancing the Durban Platform” ( carries a misleading title since it does in fact not further advance but rather weaken the Durban mandate! Parties spent the first week of COP 19 in open-ended consultations and the second week fighting over a draft decision text that is now down from 6 to 3 pages and in the process lost almost every meaningful substance.

The most important content is contained in § 2 (b):

“To invite all Parties to initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions, without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions, in the context of adopting a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties towards achieving the objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2 and 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) in a manner that facilitates the clarity, transparency and understanding of the intended contributions, without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions;”

The wording “intended nationally determined contributions” not only resolves a fierce disagreement between developed countries and emerging economies over “commitments for everyone” versus “commitments for developed countries only and (voluntary) actions for developing countries” but also very much points out the one issue that all major economies / emitters (from the North and South) are ready to agree on: whatever countries are willing to contribute in the context of the 2015 deal shall be bottom-up pledges only and determined solely by what countries see fit in their national circumstances, not based on urgent global emission reduction needs.

This is far away from science and equity parameters as well as external review – all of which would need to play hand-in-hand to have any hopes for scaling up mitigation targets. And the timeline is also not as tight as hoped for: contributions are to be put on the table only in the first quarter of 2015 and not before, for example at UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon’s High Level Climate Summit to be held on September 23, 2014. (This loose timeline is partly driven by US domestic politics with upcoming midterm elections in early November 2014.)

One positive thing to notice, however, is that small islands and other progressive Parties managed to insert the reference to Article 2[2] in that paragraph 2 (b). This ensures a top down element that must temper the nationally determined contributions. And even though China and the USA should be happy to now read that all of this should happen “without prejudice to the legal nature of the contribution” this openness leaves a very small chance to turn things right before the end of 2015 – a fight to fight another day. And even a small chance is better than no chance at this point.

The removal of the language around equity in the ADP decision is not only disturbing since the idea of an Equity Reference Framework (Download PDF) – brought into the negotiations by NGOs with similar ideas championed by a few developing countries (LDCs, AOSIS, Africa Group - especially South Africa) – had sparked a new dynamic at the last Bonn session. But India – usually a fierce defender of the concept and considered by many the “equity queen” of the UNFCCC – made sure to remove language on equity from several spots in the negotiation text because it considered their reference to be too focused on future mitigation efforts with too little consideration of developed countries’ historical responsibility. But the real reasons behind this move are currently being debated and are likely manifold and include domestic political issues.

Brazil carried this narrow interpretation of equity as historical responsibility even further forward when it tabled a proposal for the IPCC to develop a methodology on historical responsibility as a guide to countries’ contributions for a 2015 agreement. The proposal was later slightly revised and supported by the G77 and China and created strong debates not only between the Annex 1 and Non-Annex 1 countries especially in the first week of the COP but also within the group of developing countries, highlighting the growing divide within the G77 between big emitters on the one side and small islands and LDCs fighting for survival on the other side.

Not every party to the UNFCCC agrees that equity has to feature prominently in a new global climate agreement in 2015 and that it is a prerequisite for scaling up ambition across the planet. But even those countries who want to see it continue as the normative center of the 2015 agreement currently seem quite at loss when it comes to how to put it into negotiations without giving up their own red lines. And this very much points to the general spirit of the negotiations under workstreams I and II of the ADP: when workstream II (pre-2020 ambition) is seen as a stepping stone for workstream I (2015 deal), then no progress under workstream I can be used to prevent any progress under workstream II. Checkmate for the climate.

The way forward for the ADP is not very ambitious: two in-session high-level ministerial roundtables in 2014 (Bonn and Lima) are unlikely to bring more clarity if there is a lack of substantive technical papers and workshops to prepare them. However, they might contribute to raising the political expectations and putting climate change back onto the political agenda where it belongs. Only – it does not simply belong to nice speeches that ministers can hold during COPs and roundtables but into the very heart of all relevant national policy making!

Who is to blame?

Many interpretations exist as for who should be blamed for the bad results. Here are some obvious culprits:

The Umbrella Group managed to turn COP 19 into the first climate conference ever that saw a scaling down of mitigation pledges by developed countries. Canada had already performed its part by leaving the Kyoto Protocol last year when it became clear that tar sands production would prevent it from even reaching its target under the first commitment period. Australia’s newly elected government announced a few weeks before the COP that it would cancel the already quite weak climate legislation of its predecessors. And Japan topped it all when it dared to announce a weakening of it 2020 target in the first week of the COP, using Fukushima as an excuse for non-action – an argument that Japanese NGOs were quick and ready to dismantle right away. The new target now actually allows for an increase of emissions of 3.1 % by 2020 against 1990 levels.

The outrageous and self-righteous behavior of these three countries made the USA – the usual target for developing countries’ anger – look like a nice guy in comparison. Even though some of the Warsaw failures (like the weak timeline for the 2015 agreement or the disagreement over technology transfer) can easily be claimed as US negotiation success. And even the EU was able to hide its internal issues with Poland and its block-wide lack of both emissions reductions ambition and scaled up financial commitments fairly well. Even though there was quite some concern about its potential weak 2030 target. Strong lobby groups in Brussels are currently arguing for a “pragmatic” approach that should be “technology neutral” and stick with an emissions reduction target only while abandoning additional targets for renewable energies and energy efficiency. Such an approach would not only ensure nuclear and “clean coal” a place in the future European energy mix but also further undermine any potential leadership role that the EU could play in the run-up to the 2015 summit in Paris.

Understandably, developing countries were angry and not willing to compromise. And so at least the first full week in Warsaw was lost by simply restating existing positions on all sides without any hope for progress. While the G77 and China, which included the Least Developed Countries, the Africa Group and Small Island Developing States, was able to voice its anger at developed countries’ low ambition with a united front, it was clear that among developing countries the Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC - including Bolivia, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Mali, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and Venezuela) were the least willing to compromise on UNFCCC principles, including the CBDR, in exchange for less than stellar progress. This provoked EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard to publicly accuse the LMDC of blocking progress and being against equity – which in return lead the LMDC to accuse the EU of open hostility. This short verbal exchange of blows only shows how deep the distrust and frustration are on both sides.  

Welcome to Coal-land!

And what about the hosts of COP 19? The Polish energy policy is based on fossil fuels, especially on coal. In the last few weeks before the COP in Warsaw, members of the Polish government in several official statements clearly stressed the role and the importance of continued coal use for the Polish economy and its competitiveness. Poland is also known for blocking any more ambitious climate policy instruments in the EU. Given this context, one is left to speculate why the Polish government offered to host COP 19 in Warsaw. One of the reasons could be just to promote Poland as a tourist destination and showcase Polish economic growth; another more sinister one could have been to seize another opportunity to block – as summit host – efforts for more ambitious developments in the global and European climate policies.

For sure, the role of the fossil fuels business sector (especially the coal sector) was central in the Polish thinking about international climate policy and the whole COP 19 summit and its negotiations. For the first time during the UNFCCC process, big international and Polish companies were invited as (the only) official partners of the Summit, amongst them the Polish Lotos Group (dealing with crude oil production, refining and marketing of oil products[3]) and PGE – the PGE Polish Energy Group (Poland’s majority state-owned biggest power producing company operating power plants based mainly on hard coal and lignite[4]). Additionally, during the second COP week, the Polish Ministry of Economy hosted an International Coal and Climate Summit organized by the World Coal Association under the motto “Clean coal technologies, opportunities & innovations” in Warsaw.

The Polish mainstream media coverage of the COP was also focusing strongly on the need to secure the future of (Polish) coal and on the role of “clean coal technologies” (with this phrase becoming a buzzword during the last weeks in Poland). On the other hand, the mainstream of Polish and international NGOs alike in almost all of their main public activities stressed the necessity to make a shift from the coal-based economy to one based on renewables and energy efficiency. One of the key anti-coal actions during the COP was a small but well prepared demonstration on “Health or coal” organized by CEE Bankwatch Network, Climate Alliance Germany,, LUSH, Cough4Coal and Tools for Action, supported by the Polish Climate Coalition, on the day of the Coal and Climate Summit in front of the conference site at the Ministry of Economy.

Another rather drastic example of the quite disrespectful attitude of the Polish government towards the global climate negotiations was the fact that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk decided to announce the reshuffling of his government in the middle of the second week of the COP, which included replacing the Polish Minister of Environment, COP President Marcin Korolec, with Maciej Grabowski (who used to be a Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Finances) in the midst of difficult negotiations. Officially, Korolec will still be fulfilling his function as the UNFCCC negotiations’ president as a “Government’s Plenipotentiary for the Climate Negotiations”, but practically this is a demotion of both the person (he will now just become an extraordinary civil servant) and the importance the Polish COP Presidency places on the UNFCCC process. While Korelec was not really seen as a progressive Minister of Environment, this change during the COP raised a lot of criticism not only among the international and Polish commentators and journalists, but also among NGOs, who all stressed that it weakened the COP presidency and turned the attention of the negotiators from the process to this administrative issue. This change is even more galling considering the rumoured context that Korelec was replaced as a way to speed up the process of preparing the legal ground for shale gas exploration in Poland.

All these facts find their reflection in the Polish self-congratulatory perception of the COP 19 outcomes. COP President Korolec stated that in Warsaw “all the intended goals were achieved”, listing an emerging consensus that a global agreement is needed, the preparation of a road map to sign it in 2015, and the creation of a Warsaw Mechanism on Loss and Damage as major accomplishments. One of the main successes according to the Ministry of Economy was also to open a dialogue with business during the COP. While Polish NGOs do acknowledge some small content-related wins among the Warsaw outcomes, they strongly criticize the Polish government’s failure in leadership warning that the Polish Presidency will be mainly remembered for its self-serving and ridiculous decisions during the COP (Environment Minister Korolec’s dismissal and the organization of the Coal and Climate Summit chief among them) as well as its willingness to open the negotiations to corporate capture by the Polish and international coal lobby.

Warsaw international mechanisms for loss & damage associated with climate change impacts

Loss and damage is caused by a lack of sufficient and urgent mitigation and the lack of sufficient support (finance, technology and capacity building) to adaptation.  Significant adaptation actions can prevent and reduce loss and damage. However, there are limits to adaptation.  The increasing extreme climatic events both in terms of frequency and severity, as well as the slow onsets of impacts like sea level rise, increasing temperatures, or ocean acidification are making adaptation more difficult and even impossible particularly in vulnerable developing countries. The loss and damage associated with climate change impacts are of both economic (losses in livelihoods from crop failures due to temperature rise, loss of productive areas due to slow onsets like sea level rise) and non-economic (cultural losses due to displacement or planned relocation) values. A number of institutions and bodies under the UNFCCC exist to deal with adaptation.  However, under their current mandates and considering the complexity of loss and damage issues, an international mechanism on loss and damage is therefore needed to deal with residue impacts that go beyond adaptation.

The establishment of such a mechanism as agreed in Doha last year was a red line for many developing countries and one of the first items that was passed on to ministers to resolve – it being less of a technical but more of a political problem. The “Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage associated with climate change impacts” (Download PDF) was established under the Cancun Adaptation Framework where it was originated. The decision also establishes an executive committee that will function under the guidance of and will be accountable to the COP. The Warsaw international mechanism will be reviewed at its twenty second session (COP 22 in 2016).

The mechanism is given many functions, including (a) Enhancing knowledge and understanding of comprehensive risk management approaches to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including slow onset impacts; (b) Strengthening dialogue, coordination, coherence and synergies among relevant stakeholders; and (c) Enhancing action and support, including finance, technology and capacity building, to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, so as to enable countries to undertake actions.

This can be a first step to deal with climate change associated loss and damage. The decision adopted acknowledges that loss and damage are ‘beyond adaptation’ and signals that there is a difference between adaptation and loss and damage. However, putting the mechanism under the Cancun Adaptation Framework whose scope is on adaptation might limit the scope of the mechanism and keeps it focused on adaptation and risk management, making loss and damage a kind of subset of adaptation.  This is more a step back than a step forward, rather than having the mechanism on its own, as proposed and demanded by a number of developing countries.

The COP decision mandates for the Executive Committee to have an initial meeting which is considered a high level political start, where modalities can perhaps be agreed by COP 20, and by then the workplan can also be finalised, making the body start the real work right after COP 20.  The review of the mechanism at COP 22 in 2016 could also be the platform to bring the mechanism out of the Cancun Adaptation Framework.

Climate Finance

Developing countries came to Warsaw with the expectation that COP 19 would be the “Finance COP”, a promise they felt was made to them implicitly in Doha to get them to support the “Doha Gateway” package.  With several finance decisions pending in Warsaw (on long-term finance, the Green Climate Fund, the Standing Committee on Finance, or the Fifth Review of the Finance Mechanism), the inadequacy of current provision of public finance by developed countries to developing country as core means of implementation to address mitigation and adaptation was certainly front and center in the negotiations in Warsaw. The lack of progress – read specific financial commitments and a concrete time-line and pathway for how developed countries aim to fulfill the Copenhagen pledge of USD 100 billion annually by 2020 by scaling up from the USD 10 billion annually of the Fast-Start Finance period with ended a year ago – contributed to a further deterioration of the already largely eroded trust between developed and developing countries.  It was also the major reason for the insistence of developing countries that developed countries fulfill their current obligations on emissions reductions and finance first before developing countries were even considering their own voluntary commitments for the 2015 agreement.

For two years, since Durban, a UNFCCC work program on long-term finance had discussed ways to raise sufficient funding from multiple sources for mitigation and adaptation action, but shied away from working out concrete intermittent numerical targets to scale up primarily public climate finance between 2013 and 2020.  The Warsaw decision on long-term finance (, while reaffirming the 2020 USD 100 billion per year goal and deciding to continue deliberations on long-term finance fell likewise short of providing any concrete numbers, despite the push by developing countries to anchor a commitment to USD 60 – 70 billion per year halfway to 2020. Instead, developed countries succeeded in anchoring passages on developing countries “enabling environment” for finance from multiple sources (and presumably including contributions by Non-Annex 2 countries) in the decision – largely in the context of welcoming primarily private finance leveraged by smaller developed country public finance contributions. The only concrete new request to developed country Parties in the decision was to prepare biennial submissions on their approaches and quantitative and qualitative elements for a finance pathway to 2020 and to commit to biennial high level ministerial dialogues on climate finance, both starting in 2014.

It is doubtful that much can be achieved in such high level ministerial meetings absent of political willingness to put substantial numbers on the table if the two-day High Level Finance Ministerial that was held in the second week of the COP is any guide as it resulted in few concrete “new and additional” financial commitments. In the end, developed countries got out of the “Finance-COP-that-never-was” quite cheaply, really.  They simply replaced a time-table to raise the USD 100 billion per year with the much more manageable, but largely token effort to help reach the Adaptation Fund’s fundraising goal of USD 100 million for 2013 (thanks to new pledges by Germany, France, Finland, Norway and Switzerland) – a bad trade-off for affected communities in developing countries, if a life-saver for the Adaptation Fund which saw its projected income shrink because of dramatically falling carbon prices over the last years (Download Report of the Adaptation Fund Board, PDF). Developing countries in Warsaw got neither the commitment to devote at least 50 percent of all public climate financing to adaptation (which remains chronically underfunded internationally) nor firm pledges for the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which is to channel a significant share of new multilateral financing for adaptation eventually. In Warsaw, only one new pledge for the Green Climate Fund was forthcoming (roughly USD 45 million from Sweden, in addition to an older pledge from South Korea for another USD 40 million), although several European countries hinted that they were ready to contribute substantially to the GCF once it was fully operationalized and ready to manage funding. The COP in its guidance to the GCF (Download Report of the Green Climat Fund, PDF) was thus left with urging the GCF Board to finalize essential policy requirements it set at its last meeting in Paris in October (to be tackled by the next two GCF Board meetings in the first half of 2014) so that developed countries can make “ambitious and timely contributions” for an initial GCF resource mobilization process before COP 20 in Lima next year. The guidance also reaffirmed the eligibility of all developing countries to receive funding from the GCF, which is to pursue a country-driven approach and to balance its allocation between mitigation and adaptation.

The finance related discourses in Warsaw made clear that developing countries see the GCF as the main financial instrument also for the new 2015 agreement, while developed countries continue to perceive the GCF as only one of many competing climate financing mechanisms (many of them administered outside of the UNFCCC). Developing countries will therefore consider how much developed countries pledge to the GCF’s initial resource mobilization effort, expected around the Ban-ki Moon Climate Summit in September 2014, as the test case for developed countries’ seriousness and ambition for the post-2020 timeframe and will respond in kind in Lima and the lead-up to the 2015 COP in Paris.


Unexpected for some and yet long overdue in the view of others, in Warsaw countries adopted a package of seven decisions finalizing the governance framework for REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), establishing the “Warsaw Framework for REDD+ Action”. Parties agreed that finance for REDD+ activities should be provided only based on results after countries seeking results-based payments have provided information on how safeguards have been addressed and respected (Download Report of the Green Climat Fund, PDF). The Green Climate Fund, which at its last Board meeting in October in Paris already confirmed REDD+ implementation as one of its investment areas, is to play a key role in channeling such REDD+ related results-based financing.

However, as if to mock this decision, three countries which have yet to pay into the GCF, pledged a combined USD 280 million to a new multilateral facility outside of the UNFCCC and managed by the World Bank, the BioCarbon Fund Initiative for Sustainable Forest Landscapes, which aims to move towards a broader land-use mitigation approach (combining efforts in REDD+, climate-smart agriculture and biomass energy). The United States will be the new fund's smallest national donor, compared with Norway's $ 135 million and the United Kingdom's $ 120 million. The USA pledged $ 25 million only.

Interestingly, Brazil – one of the key forest countries in the world – came under heavy pressure in Warsaw when Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira had to explain why for the first time since 2005 deforestation rates in the Amazon region went up again. Brazilian NGOs, of course, pointed out the obvious: deforestation rates started to increase after the forest code was changed in 2012 (creating an amnesty for past forest crimes amongst other changes).

But this also coincides with the launch of the country’s first trade in land and forest credits (offsets) through the newly established Bolsa Verde (Green Stock Exchange). And so even though Brazil lobbied heavily (and successfully) against a market approach to REDD+ on the international level, the Warsaw framework does not stop countries from implementing national or bilateral REDD+ markets. And that again, is very much in the interest of the powerful agrobusiness lobby in Brazil and elsewhere.

Gender and Climate Change

Last year in Doha, the gender decision that was reached at COP 18 urging progress toward gender balance in COP Parties’ delegations and in COP bodies was hailed as the “Doha miracle”.  In Warsaw, one year later, gender and climate change was formally on the agenda of the SBI in a workshop and subsequent contact group that had Parties and observers going beyond a mere consideration of a balanced participation of men and women in UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol bodies by discussing capacity-building needs and ways to implement gender-sensitive climate policies in the UNFCCC especially in the areas of mitigation, adaptation, finance, capacity-building and technology. The COP adopted the conclusions by the SPI conduct group, although the most important aspects, namely the call for a framework with a time-line to undertake action toward gender-sensitive policies in the UNFCCC, were tugged only in an annex to the conclusions text (Download PDF).

Unfortunately, further work will only be taken up at COP 20, not at the June SBI session, increasing the fear among gender advocates that the post-Doha momentum towards action might be lost. Gender and women’s rights activists were also quite upset with the official UNFCCC side event on November 19th, “Gender Day”, when UNFCCC Chef Christiana Figueres urged participants to focus on “visions” not implementation of the Doha gender decision.  Of course, it is exactly the lack of progress toward implementation of gender-sensitive climate policies in the UNFCCC that has to be at the heart of the COP discourse about gender and climate change. And for that it is not enough to deal with gender as a separate COP agenda item in isolation, but gender considerations must be integrated into all workstreams and thematic focus areas of UNFCCC work, including on finance, technology, loss & damage, adaptation and mitigation. While in contact groups and informal discussions in these areas references to gender-sensitive approaches were made – in some areas, including in finance, more so than in the past – ultimately few gender-specific text references remained in the final Warsaw outcome text besides the gender text, most notably in a provision in the Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage calling for gender-disaggregated data and the Nairobi work program on adaptation calling for a gender-sensitive approach, as well as a reference in the review of the financial mechanism, which considers its contribution to gender-sensitive approaches one criteria for its effectiveness .[5]

The end of the Kyoto Protocol?

Even one of the issues that should have been a no-brainer was in the end impossible to achieve in Warsaw: the ratification of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) that was launched in Doha last year. Countries are still struggling with how to calculate the emissions allowances for the second commitment period. In light of this, a last minute deal reached at COP 18 in Doha which ensured the continuation of the KP beyond 2012 proved to be a (fairly wise) decision, even though it came at a cost: In Qatar, Russia did not agree but was overruled by the Qatari COP Presidency. As a consequence, in Bonn, Russia demanding that decision-making under the COP be addressed under the SBI, managed to block almost the entire SBI discussions during the June session this year. Because of this and still in Warsaw, no decision was taken and the issue postponed to 2014. This means that it will be very difficult for the EU to ratify and implement the second commitment period – a prerequisite for the G77 and China for continuing any discussions under the ADP.

And in that context it should be noted with caution that it was Venezuela (member of the G77 and of the LMDC) who insisted to keep open other KP implementation issues until all issues were resolved. A baseline position? A smart strategy? Pure tactics? It will definitely not make it easier for the EU to move forward with its post 2020 climate and energy package. And Russia, Poland, Ukraine and others will continue to haunt the UN climate talks with “hot air”.

But why exactly was it so difficult to resolve technical issues that would enable the ratification process? The USA walked away from the KP long ago. Canada did not implement it and ultimately reneged on the agreement it had ratified. The second commitment period has very few participants (EU, Australia, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Monaco, Liechtenstein, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan) and with less than 15 percent covers only an insufficient fragment of global emissions. It is unrealistic to believe that there will ever be a third commitment period. Both rich developed countries and large emitters in the developing world have made it abundantly clear that they will not consider commitments post 2020.

The lack of progress on this agenda item shows how the Durban mandate casts a shadow forward. An agreement supported by all based on differentiated contributions seems far out of reach at this point – and 2015 is just around the corner. The legal form of the 2015 agreement does matter, of course, and right now it is unclear how valuable elements of the Kyoto architecture (its legally binding nature, the compliance and accounting rules, comparability of effort, etc.) can be retained in a bottom-up pledge and review deal. Such a deal – if it were to consist of little more than a number of COP decisions – cannot compare to a protocol or similar legal instrument. It appears that most governments prefer to continue to play games: the mutual blame game to deflect from their own inaction and to pretend that climate change is a zero-sum game.

Those who walk out and those who stay - civil society at COP 19

Ever since COP 15 in Copenhagen 2009 NGOs active in the UNFCCC have discussed the option to just walk out of the process or rather turn their back on it. Now that, of course, can be done in very different ways. Quite a few organizations, especially from the more critical civil society spectrum and groups representing developing country grassroots movements, did actually walk away from the process after Copenhagen. They no longer come to the COPs and have few expectations that the international climate negotiation process can deliver significant results at all. Others have re-shifted priorities and resources and are using far more staff resources, money and time working to address climate change at the national and local level – although they might still attend the yearly climate circus at the COPs. These developments, of course, must also be seen in light of changing strategies and support priorities of NGO funders.

In Warsaw, many of those civil society representatives who have stuck with the process and continued to try to either lobby Parties from the inside or to build bridges between inside and outside strategies felt discouraged by what they observed.  And so it was that for the first time during a COP more than 800 NGO representatives from all over the world walked out of the Warsaw stadium on Thursday afternoon of the second week. The message was loud and clear: We don’t believe this COP will deliver any progress. But we will not abandon the process altogether. We will be back in Lima (#volveremos). The action was largely prepared and dominated by the “C7” (WWF, Greenpeace, Oxfam, Action Aid, Christian Aid, Friends of the Earth international, International Trade Union Confederation). And their collective PR machinery power did make it headlines in the media around the globe.

Those NGOs who remained in the stadium (for different and mostly very legitimate reasons) managed to organize a collective “cheering crowd” in the ghostly empty inside of the stadium during the closing plenary of COP 19. Their loud cheering and chanting echoed approval or discontent with the statements of the delegations in the tents at the bottom of the soccer field. This is about as loud as a protest from within can get at this point. But it obviously in the end was not enough.


Photo: Adopt A Negotiator. CC-BY-ND. This image is licensed under Creative Commons License.

How much the Warsaw Walk Out has contributed to building up pressure on governments to deliver climate action and whether it has further created new conflicts within civil society or rather helped to rebuild bridges between inside and outside remains to be discussed and cannot be finally answered now. But together with the fasting and some direct actions in the conference centre that lead to the debadging of climate youth activists in the first week, it is a sign of both growing frustration and growing courage that might well in the run-up to Paris 2015 create much more than a PR storm.

Meanwhile, even within the UNFCCC context, quite a few individuals and organizations are searching for radical approaches beyond incremental change. Work to be mentioned in that context include the research on the carbon majors, the radical emissions reduction approach of the Tyndall Centre, the call for a (net) zero emission target by 2050 (see for example IDDRI) or the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s “Call for a Strategic Reset”-Paper. There is probably and hopefully a lot more out there and even more to follow in the coming two crucial years to spark both - hope and radical ideas.

But all of this will need more discussions after the dust has settled; a delegate was overheard speaking to Christiana Figueres on the last day of the COP. Which dust? She said. His answer: Coal dust.


The authors would like to thank a number of anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback and additional insights!


[1] @yebsano: „I will continue to do fasting on the 13th day of each month, as a remembrance of the 13 days of #FastingForTheClimate" #COP19”

[2] Article 2 of the UNFCCC refers to the ultimate objective of the convention: “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”

[5] Aside from the conclusions text on gender and climate change, other gender references in the Warsaw outcome documents are found in: Warsaw intl. mechanism on loss and damage (para. 5.a.ii.) –;  Nairobi Work Programme on Adaptation (Preamble) –;  Climate Technology Centre and Network Modalities and Procedures (Preamble and para 4) –;  Fifth Review of the Financial Mechanism (Annex para 3) -; Consultative Groups for National Communic