Climate Change: The eleventh hour

27 November 2013

Climate Change: The eleventh hour

The Socialist International has been closely following the Warsaw Climate Change Conference, COP19/CMP9, which concluded on 23 November in Poland. Regretfully, once again little progress has been achieved on the most vital issues. There have been some positive developments and the SI welcomes these, but on the most pressing points, in particular that of sealing a new global agreement to replace Kyoto, and on firm and sufficient financial commitments from the developed world, decisions were weak or absent.

On a new global treaty to be agreed by 2015 and to take effect by 2020, negotiations were extended due to a lack of agreement but, unsurprisingly, this did not present any changes to the timeframe agreed on last year at Doha. Furthermore, commitments – ‘clear and transparent plans’ – are to be finalised in the first quarter of 2015 ‘by those parties ready to do so’, providing an irrefutable escape clause for parties that are unwilling to commit. While this COP did produce a greater level of engagement by countries that have previously been unwilling to negotiate, other countries remain reluctant, and this ongoing debate over who should take the most responsibility hindered parties once again from finalising details on substantial commitments, contributions and cuts.

The SI has already expressed disappointment at the planned time scale of 2015-2020, which risks further years of stumbling and time wasting. COP19 President, Marcin Korolec, has stated that ‘Warsaw has set a pathway for governments to work on a draft text of a new universal climate agreement so it appears on the table at the next UN Climate change conference in Peru’. All nations should ensure clear, transparent, and sufficient plans, are submitted by the first quarter of 2015, to act decisively and urgently.

On the issue of the Green Climate Fund Board, whilst it was reported to be on track to complete its final steps, it appears some essential requirements for management are not yet finalised and mobilisation seems weak – another point the SI expressed concern over last year. We strongly urge the international community to support the fund with sufficient financial contributions.

However, this COP has shown just how drastically financial pledges have dropped. The Socialist International is deeply disappointed that the question of finance continues to damage real and concrete plans for action. Whilst some developed countries have announced forthcoming contributions to support developing nations, the annual pledge of US$100 billion by 2020, which was negotiated at the COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, has never materialised and the figures suggested at COP19 are staggeringly lower.

There were nevertheless, some encouraging aspects of COP19. The first is that a financing agreement for the REDD+ program was decided with the backing of US$280 million by a number of developed countries. A second positive outcome was the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, a new initiative to address loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change. Work on this has been scheduled for early 2014 but, in underscoring the urgency of this matter for developing countries that have already been affected, the SI strongly urges this mechanism is treated as a priority. As we have stated repeatedly, developing nations continue to be the worst hit by climate change and the least able to deal with the consequences. Last year’s COP18 was memorable because typhoon Bopha struck the Philippines causing devastation, whilst the delegates in Doha struggled to find common ground on climate change agreements. This year, the impact of typhoon Haiyan on the Philippines, causing more than 5000 deaths, occured just days before delegates assembled in Warsaw for COP19. These tragedies stand as a stark reminder of the shocking impact of global warming taking place right now.

In summary, it is clear that parties have attempted to advance on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action and a number of decisions have been adopted. However, the timescale is too protracted, and calls for firm commitments too weak. Solid plans must be finalised at the COP20, and the subsequent deadline for countries to submit proposals must be met, in order for a new global treaty to be signed at the COP21 in Paris at the end of 2015. This treaty must ensure effective targets are achieved across the board. The Green Climate Fund Board needs to be functioning, and financial aid and support for climate change mitigation and adaptation must flow to those countries in need.

Time is running out. In May this year, it was reported that the concentration of climate-warming dioxide in the atmosphere has passed the milestone level of 400 parts per million and, in September after meeting in Stockholm, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared the global 2 degree warming threshold will be breached in the next two to three decades if we continue to emit greenhouse gasses at the current rate.

As the consequences of global warming hurtle towards us, the nations of the world face increasing threats, which are perhaps closer than anyone would like to envisage. A world of devastating and unpredictable weather with the power to wipe out entire populations, a world of disappeared nations, of drought and hunger, and one in which we will experience new wars for resources.

The room for negotiations and debate is coming to an end, and the time for action and implementation is now. This must be based on the very simple realisation that world leaders and national representatives taking part in climate change negotiations share a common responsibility. The task is a common task. It is one that transcends the debate over whether countries are rich or poor but binds the fate of all nations. It is the most crucial task of this generation, to secure the stability of the planet for the human race, and action must be seen from every corner of the world, from every nation of the globe.

The Socialist International has long called for action on climate change through sustainable development and energy use, low-carbon technologies and policies that can, and will result in economic growth. The report of the SI Commission that worked on this issue and that brought together leaders and personalities from across the globe, argued that this could and must be done, not simply for a sustainable future, but for a future that is prosperous for all citizens from all parts of the world. So yet again, we urgently call for a unified response by the international community to climate change, to act now, in the interest of all, towards a world which is more just, more equitable and more respectful of the environment, and to definitely move from a high carbon economy to a low carbon society.