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COP 19 Warsaw Climate Talks: What's at Stake?


This year's 19th Conference of Parties (COP 19) the the UNFCCC will prepare for the launch of the loss and damage mechanism for countries most affected by climate change, as well as further develop a comprehensive agreement on emissions reductions that will be finalized and signed in the Paris Conference of Parties in 2015.



On November 11-22, COP 19, otherwise known as the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 9th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol will take place in Warsaw, Poland.  


What: COP 19/ Warsaw Climate Conference

When: 11-12 November.  See Schedule for details.

Where: National Stadium in Warsaw, Poland.

Side events, sponsored by NGOs and other organizations, will be held from the 10th until the 22nd of November, many following daily themes, such as Young and Future Generations Day (Thurs Nov. 14), GENDER Day (Tues Nov 19th) and Cities Day (Thurs, 21 Nov).   See the schedule of side events.  



The Kyoto Protocol  is an agreement that came out of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which initially required mostly developed nations to reduce Carbon Dioxide and other "greenhouse gas" emissions by 5.2% between 1998-2012.    A second, more modest commitment period, 2013-2020, was added in 2012, but has not been legally entered into force.  Delegates to the Warsaw meeting will work on a new treaty to limit carbon dioxide emissions in all nations, expecting to complete the text in France in 2015, while targets will take effect in 2020.  


While 192 Parties (191 States and 1 regional economic integration organization) signed the Kyoto Protocol, the United States, the world's largest carbon emitter per capita, never ratified the treaty- a source of major criticism of both the US and the agreement.  Noting the US' refusal to adhere to the agreement, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol in 2012, and many other countries have since left (See a chart of the countries that signed, ratified, and entered the Kyoto Protocol into force.)   Another criticism of the treaty was that industrialized nations had to cut back while rapidly emerging economies– like China, India and Brazil – were not obligated to reduce emissions.  This was problematic because, for example, China today accounts for 47 percent of global coal consumption, according to the EIA,  "almost as much as the rest of the world combined."


At the end of the first Kyoto commitment period in 2012, global greenhouse emissions rose by 58% from 1990 levels, rather than the five per cent reduction sought by the treaty.  However, ironically the United States' energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2012 were the lowest in the United States since 1994, largely because the use of coal declined relative to natural gas, which emits less carbon dioxide, as well as other factors.  And China's emissions rose dramatically, not surprisingly, given their voracious appetite for coal.


In 2010 at the UNFCCC Convention in Cancun, Mexico, envoys from 190 nations agreed upon a goal of holding temperature increases to two degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels, selected because it is considered the "tipping point" beyond which destruction caused by climate change would be catastrophic.  From that meeting also came the Cancun Adaptation Framework, where countries agreed upon a plan of action to prepare for the effects of a changing climate– including flood protection, new agricultural practices, improved monitoring, and new water governance structures.


This year, as delegates gather in Warsaw, they will weigh the findings of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)'s annual "Gap report", just released on Tuesday, which highlights the efforts needed to avoid catastrophic climate change.  According to the UNEP, the modest 2 degree celsius target set in Cancun will not be met–  emissions will , in fact, be 8 to 12 billion tons higher than target levels in 2020 given the current targets set by the international community.  This outcome will make it increasingly difficult and expensive to limit warming to safe levels.  The report recommends more ambitious emissions targets, as well as international and national action on energy efficiency, fossil fuel subsidy reforms, and more environmentally sustainable farming methods, as the best path forward.


"It is clear that we need to go faster, higher, and stronger if we are to stay within the 2 degree limit," warned UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres in the COP 19 opening press conference .   She outlined the three main issues to follow during the Warsaw COP as: 1) The mobilization of finance between now and 2020;  2) The launching of the Loss and Damage Mechanism to support developing countries with their struggles with the unanticipated effects in climate change, and 3) Clarification of the elements that will go into the draft agreement that will go to the draft table in Lima, then Paris in 2015.



Simon Maxwell, Member of the Steering Committee of the Emissions Gap Report 2013: