Were Those Cheers or Jeers? Warsaw Leaves Doubts on Support for Developing Countries to Address Climate Change

December 2, 2013

The shouting began just before 7 p.m. on what was supposed to be the last day of the COP19 (19th Conference of the Parties) negotiations inside the vast temporary metal and fabric plenary rooms constructed right on the soccer field in Warsaw, Poland’s national stadium.  At first, the shouting from activists outside in the bleachers sounded like football cheers, but then they grew in volume. 

Polish Environment Minister and COP19 President Marcin Korolec joked that “we are reminded that we are inside a football stadium.”  Then it grew louder and more menacing: “Stop climate madness!” again and again.  Delegates put on headphones to be able to hear the speakers, even though most did not need the simultaneous translation being produced by teams in seven separate soundproof cabins on a platform at the back of the room.

But then the shouting died down, and Karolec’s gaveling began in earnest.  Agenda item after item was gaveled through:

“Hearing no objections, it is so decided.”

That was the easy stuff.  The main text on climate finance, sweated over for two weeks by a group of delegates from nations around the world, met an objection from Nicaragua, speaking for the Group of 77 and China bloc, actually 134 developing nations representing nearly six-sevenths of the world’s population. The issue for this negotiating group was how two promises made at the contested Copenhagen negotiations in 2009 would be kept.

At Copenhagen, wealthy nations agreed to provide $30 billion over the three years (2010-2012), in an effort to provide financial assistance quickly to show their seriousness about helping the developing world.  The funding was to be “balanced” between support for reducing fossil fuel use in their growing economies (mitigation), and to help them prepare for the expected increase in climate-related disasters (adaptation).  This was the first promise, for so-called “Fast-start Finance,” and whether that promise was kept is sharply disputed.

The second promise was that the average of $10 billion a year over those three years would “scale up” to an amount approaching $100 billion annually by 2020.  Being the first year after the “Fast-start” period meant that Warsaw was an important place to explain how we’d do that “scaling up.”  Many activists called the meeting “The Finance COP,” in expectation that the topic would dominate the discussions. 

In the end, that was not really to be the case.  A new mechanism on “loss and damage” and a finalized agreement on avoiding deforestation were two major outcomes.  Meanwhile, the “Long-term Finance” text debated for two weeks behind closed doors by the negotiating group was sharply divided.

After submissions of proposed text to the UNFCCC Secretariat, two weeks of negotiations, and a ministerial-level meeting on finance, a slim one-and-a-half page decision on a “Work Programme on Long-term Finance” was presented to the world’s nations on the last day at Warsaw.  It included 13 brief numbered paragraphs, largely urging and reminding Parties to report on what they were doing on finance, to do their best and to continue their discussions. 

On scaling up from $10 billion to $100 billion, just one key paragraph had any significant action, and that was modified by the weak verb, “urges.” The Work Programme states that the Conference of the Parties:

7. Urges developed country Parties to maintain continuity of mobilization of public climate finance at increasing levels from the fast-start finance period in line with their joint commitment to the goal of mobilizing $100 billion per year by 2020 from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources, in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency of implementation.

Some Parties believed this wording implied a straight line from $10 billion in 2012 to $100 billion in 2020.   When the text got its turn in the big final plenary session where the protestors were chanting outside the metal rooms on the soccer stadium’s field, Nicaragua spoke for the G77 and China group of developing countries in favor of specifying a mid-term target along the way, saying: “On Long-term Finance, we would like to add the text ‘with at least $70 billion by 2016.’”

Bolivia chimed in: “We are very much disappointed about the text we have in hand. This was expected to be the COP of financial and technological support.  We were supposed to emerge with a roadmap to get us to 2020, instead we have unclear language.”  Speaking for the 48 Least Developed Countries group, Nepal said “My group came to Warsaw with great expectations.  We called for pathways on finance, pre-2020 ambition, and called for a “loss and damage” mechanism separate from adaptation.  We have compromised on many issues, but there is a limit to compromise, from the most vulnerable countries in the world.”

The U.S.’s negotiator Todd Stern responded calmly that the Long-term Finance text was a significant compromise for them, and that if it was reopened, that the U.S. would bring up more issues of its own.  

Later, COP President Korolec instructed negotiators to join a huddle to work out their differences on this and other core issues remaining at the end of the negotiations.  Quietly, the mid-term target demand for $70 billion by 2016 disappeared entirely from the list of demands for the text, and it passed to applause in the giant hall.

“Hearing no objections, it is so decided.”

For years now we’ve heard how promises not kept erode the trust so badly needed to make these critical negotiations a success.  Without mid-term targets that create urgency to get us to that substantial 2020 target, it is hard to see how trust can be built.  It also makes sense that one does not arrive expecting to win a 90-minute soccer match having only trained for 10 minutes at a time.  Annual mid-term targets escalating by about $11 billion a year would get the finance team into shape for 2020 and build confidence that developed countries are good for their word. 

So when 2015 comes, will we hear cheering from the stands, or jeers?  Delegates from China and the Philippines expressed feelings of frustration common among developing countries. The Philippines stated, “Finance is the big disappointment of this COP.  We engaged sincerely in these negotiations and we received in return nothing except a very unbalanced text.”  China said, “The Long-term finance text has no balance in it.  We need to see a timeframe, some milestones.”  The Chinese representative added: “We are not asking too much—the current text does not meet the minimum requirements of developing countries.”

Beyond some small contributions to the Adaptation Fund and for a forests initiative, Warsaw should be seen as a lost opportunity to build trust and fulfill our commitment to create predictable and adequate funding for developing countries to green as they develop, and survive the storm ahead.