The nineteenth Conference of the Parties (COP-19) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change begins in Warsaw, Poland, on Monday, 11th November. After the failure to agree on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol at COP-15 in Copenhagen in 2009, the 195 parties to the UNFCCC at COP-18 in Doha, Qatar last year extended Kyoto while a new treaty is negotiated. COP-19 is supposed to be the beginning of those negotiations. A complete draft is due to be released at COP-20 in Lima, Peru in 2014, and the final version is due to be signed at COP-21 in Paris in December 2015. The UNFCCC aims to have the “Paris Protocol” ratified and in effect by 2020.
That’s the schedule that has been agreed upon, but so far there is little sign that much progress will be made in Warsaw over the next two weeks. One obstacle to making substantive progress is an ongoing dispute over procedural issues. The UNFCCC makes decisions by consensus of the 195 member countries, but Russia objected last year at COP-18 in Doha that the chairman had ruled that a consensus had been reached to extend the Kyoto Protocol even though Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus strongly objected. At the annual meetings of the subsidiary bodies in Bonn last summer, Russia successfully blocked proceeding with the agenda until the issue of decision making was considered.
Now, Russia has sent a letter to the UNFCCC Secretariat asking that defining consensus be placed on the agenda for Warsaw. On the other side, Mexico and Papua New Guinea in 2011 proposed that when a consensus cannot be achieved, decisions can be agreed by a majority of at least three-quarters. India and China strongly objected to that proposal.
Assuming that these procedural squabbles don’t take up the whole two weeks, three of the main issues that could be considered are flexibility, inclusivity, and payoffs. The Kyoto Protocol is a set of mandatory emissions reductions targets and timetables that were initially applied to 37 developed countries. The United States never ratified Kyoto, and Canada withdrew last year. United States senior climate negotiator Todd Stern in a speech in London last month said that the successor to Kyoto must be much more flexible. This flexibility could go so far as to allow each country to devise its own plan to lower emissions. The European Union, on the other hand, supports continuing with legally binding targets.
Inclusivity is a key issue because of the rapid increase in greenhouse gas emissions in China and India. China is now the world’s largest emitter by a wide margin over the United States, and India’s emissions have also increased fairly rapidly. Thus, most developed countries naturally think that China (and India and Brazil) should undertake economically-damaging emissions reductions just as they have. India, in particular, strongly disagrees. India argues that the West caused the problem and so must solve the problem. India recognizes that their continuing economic progress depends on inexpensive fossil-fuel energy.
As for payoffs, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama rescued COP-15 in Copenhagen in December 2009 from collapse by coming up with an agreement to create an annual fund of $100 billion beginning in 2020 to help poor countries deal with climate change and pay for climate policies. So far, the U. S. has increased climate aid by re-designating regular foreign aid already in the budget as climate aid. But the entire U. S. foreign aid budget is not enough to make up its share of the annual $100 billion. The poor countries that would divvy up this booty are starting to get nervous that the money is never going to appear. And so they are likely to pressure the U. S., the European Union, and Japan for some assurances in Warsaw. Note that President Obama leaves office three years before the bill becomes due.
Australia’s new environment minister, Greg Hunt, announced this week that Australia would be represented at COP-19 by a career diplomat because he would be too busy to attend. He will be too busy because he is in charge of introducing and moving the bill to repeal Australia’s carbon tax when Parliament convenes next week.