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UN Climate Talks in Warsaw: What Is There to Negotiate?


Oxfam protesters, climate change conference, Warsaw
Oxfam protesters at the United Nations conference on climate change in Warsaw, November 2013, which has attracted more than 190 countries. OXFAM INTERNATIONAL

GENEVA — The persistence of climate change negotiators huddled together in Warsaw from over 190 countries is laudable. Even when countries are failing to reign in their greenhouse emissions that is causing a rise in global temperatures, the negotiations keep going. This is their 19th attempt under the Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which meets every year to get member countries to take action on climate change. But ‘action’ seems to be an elusive and a constantly receding goal.

The Warsaw gathering is not expected to lead to immediate actions that everyone is hoping for, namely collective and concrete measures, and financing to bring deep reductions in the global emissions. Also, the link between multilateral negotiations, agreed goals and financing remains weak. Instead it is expected to lay the foundation for a global pact to deal with climate change beyond 2020.

Why 2020? At the 2011 Durban climate conference, it was agreed upon to establish a new global climate treaty that will set emission targets for all UNFCCC parties. This will replace the Kyoto Protocol, the first legally binding agreement for developed nations and whose second commitment period ends in 2020. The blueprint coming out of Warsaw will be discussed at climate talks in Lima next year, before a global accord is signed in Paris in 2015, and will likely go into force in 2020. It is a long journey from Warsaw via Lima, Paris and other negotiation hot spots before we see any substantive action to bring down emissions. To keep up the pressure, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will organize a global summit on climate change next September.

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While concerns are being expressed about the architecture of agreement to be signed in Paris, whether it would be obligatory for all parties and what the delivery mechanism are going to be, a lot depends on how much negotiators are able to narrow their differences in Warsaw and raise ambition levels of member countries to take long-term action.

Why bring the UN into the negotiations?

Climate change is a problem without passports. It affects everyone, and yet no single country can provide all the solutions. International cooperation and collective action is inevitable to produce a climate-safe pathway for the present and following generations. The UN, because of its universal membership, legitimacy and convening power, plays a pivotal role. It ensures that negotiations continue at the multilateral level and transparency is maintained in this increasingly complex universal problem. Avenues exist for civil society organizations to attend sessions as observers and exchange views with the delegates.

Multilateral processes can be cumbersome and slow. Each country, blocs and groups advance their interests in negotiations — trying to gain as much as possible while ceding little by building alliances, striking compromises and introducing new submissions for deliberation. But the inclusiveness also makes the eventual outcome more effective. The breakthroughs usually happen incrementally and require countless hours and sleepless nights during the conference of parties meetings to come up with a document that is acceptable to “all.” This document then forms the basis for further negotiations and action.

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Negotiations on the UN platform can be fast-tracked and action phase brought earlier if all member states demonstrate the political will to act and make reasonable compromises between national interests and collective interests, and between short-term gains and long-term advantages. Unfortunately, this political will is eluding the climate change negotiations, and the pace of negotiations remain slow.

To read the complete paper, go to  UN Climate Warsaw: What Is There to Negotiate?

This is an opinion essay.

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Vikas Nath is the associate director of the Future United Nations Development System (FUNDS), a project of the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies. Nath previously was head of media and communications at South Centre, an intergovernmental group in Geneva that provides policy advice and other services on development issues. He has a master’s degree in environment and development from the London School of Economics and a second master’s degree in forest management from the Indian Institute of Forest Management. His undergraduate degree is in math from Delhi University.

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