The 19th annual UN climate conference (COP19) concluded in Warsaw on Sunday November 24. Although delivering a set of relatively low decisions, Warsaw produced enough to keep countries on track to agreeing a new global climate deal at COP21 in Paris in 2015.  This is on the proviso that substantive progress is made in the coming 12 months on putting some meet on the bone in terms of reduction targets. Whether negotiators did enough to keep the world on a path to less than 2°C of warming is far less certain however.

The key points coming out of the summit are as follows:

  • Countries kept talks on track toward a new global climate deal in 2015, but the form and timing of submission of new commitments were weakened, raising fears that the ambitions of the new deal will be lowered.
  • The role of sub-national governments has been recognized in helping to raise climate action ambitions in the period to 2020, with agreement to facilitate learning from and sharing of sub-national government experiences.
  • A ‘Loss and Damage’ mechanism to help vulnerable developing countries cope with severe climate impacts has been established, but without a clear means of adequate funding.
  • Discussions on climate finance, in particular the capitalization of the Green Climate Fund and how to mobilize US$100 billion per year by 2020 failed to bridge key divisions, with countries agreeing to continue talks in 2014.
  • On a positive note, countries agreed to modalities governing ‘results-based finance’ for developing countries that halt deforestation. Some US$280 million of new funding to support initial efforts was announced by the governments of Norway, the UK and the US.
  • Overall, Warsaw was procedurally successful, delivering a suite of decisions that keep the UNFCCC process ticking over. But from a climate protection perspective, it joins a growing line of COPs that have fallen short in terms of collective efforts to reduce emissions.

So the obvious question to ask is where does all this actually leave us? In short, a long way from where we need to be. In the lead up to Warsaw, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) released its latest Emissions Gap report, highlighting that the world’s annual emissions are likely to be 8 to 12 gigatons above where they need to be in 2020 to maintain a reasonable chance of keeping below 2°C of warming, the accepted scientific target. Unfortunately the substantive outcomes from Warsaw do little to change things.

2014 is likely to be a crucial year in paving the way forward.  The World Economic Forum will dedicate a full day of its Davos conference to climate change in January. This will provide an early and critical opportunity for bringing the scientific, policy and business case for much greater ambition to the attention of top political and business leaders.

In March and April, meanwhile, the IPCC will release the second and third parts of its Fifth Assessment Report. Dealing with ‘Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation’ and ‘Mitigation’ respectively, the reports will lay out both climate risks and the opportunities of direct relevance to decision makers in business and government.

Bothe of these supporting initiatives are expected to provide much needed impetus to the UNFCC process and deliver greater progress that 2013. Without this, the hopes of an ambitious global deal and the likelihood of keeping below 2°C are likely to slip from the world’s collective grasp.

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