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Warsaw Talks: The trek to common ground

Posted on November 15, 2013 at 5:00 AM

There is much riding on this 19th annual climate change talks being held here in Warsaw, Poland.


It’s something one hears a lot as one walks the corridors of the National Stadium where the negotiations are taking place.


The event has been dubbed an “implementation” COP (Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), which, roughly translated, means that various items discussed to date — from loss and damage to adaptation financing and mitigation — need to be put on paper for further action at the two subsequent COPS, namely Lima in Peru (2014) and Paris, France (2015).


However, as has been the case at all other COPS, and certainly at the two others I have attended (Bali, 2007 and Copenhagen, 2009) that is much easier said than done. This is despite the good intentions, real or imagined, of the parties to the negotiations, technical officers and ministers alike.


And the challenge to progress is as simple as it is complex. The reality is, in fact, that we — and it’s definitive WE — are caught in a sort of Catch-22-type of scenario. It is evidenced by comments made last month at Jamaica’s national consultations by Dr. Mariama Williams, a noted economist and currently a senior fellow at the South Centre in Switzerland. She indicated — and this really is no secret, but nonetheless, it bears repeating — that climate change is as much an economic development issue as it is an environmental issue, for example. In other words, no country, developed or developing, can take any decision on climate change that does not hold economic development implications for its future.


The result is that no decision on climate change can be taken in isolation from long-term economic development considerations; future generations would likely not thank any of us for that. In the case of the developing world — notably Least Developed Countries and the Alliance of Small Island States of which Jamaica forms a part — climate decisions are a matter of life and death. As Williams herself has put it: ‘Africa will burn and we will drown’.


And this is no surprise. Current greenhouse gas emission levels see the world headed for upwards of a two degrees Celsius rise in global temperatures. Simultaneously, sea level rise puts Caribbean countries under the waters — and we haven’t here factored in yet the impact of extreme weather events, such floods, droughts, heat waves, and hurricanes.


Typhoon Haiyan, which pummeled the Philippines, leaving devastation in its wake, has put the polish on this for us. It has also served as something of an impetus to action for many parties locked in negotiations here, and particularly developing country parties facing the possibility of a similar future of super storms.


Still, despite climate realities, there are economic development realities that cannot be ignored. Fast developing countries, the likes of India, China and Brazil, as well as other developing nations are looking to realise lasting economic and social development for their populations at levels, which reflect the development of Europe and North America.


But that comes at a price and it is high greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide, which is like throwing kerosene oil on a flame as we contemplate climate change. That is save and except that they do so using, for example, green technologies, which are hugely expensive. Further, these would have to be paid for by developed countries, which hold historical responsibility for current emission levels, which has brought the world to this pass.


At the same time, developed countries — the USA and Europe — want to continue to grow their economies and that does not lend itself, without sacrifice, to them facilitating things like technology transfer as well as the transfer of millions from their own coffers into the developing world for things like adaptation — on top of their usual offering of development aid.


Yet, the fact is — and the work of the foremost scientific research body on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has shown this — climate change is fuelled by human action, including the use of greenhouse gas emissions and calls for sustained collaborative action. This COP, as with all the others, then becomes about how to reach a middle ground and one where all parties can comfortably, move ahead to next steps. We will know in the coming days.


— Petre Williams-Raynor

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