COP19: Hurricane Haiyan puts ‘loss and damage’ front and center

19 November 2013

COP19 in Warsaw, Poland, runs from November 11-22, 2013. As part of our involvement in COP19, Damian Ryan our Senior Policy Manager, is providing news and analysis as well as live tweeting. Today Damian reports from the beginning of COP19's second week. 

Damian writes:

Week two of the 19th UN Climate Conference (COP19) got underway today in Warsaw with a feeling of predictability familiar to observers of the process.

As is normal for this stage of the conference, negotiators spoke of divisions still to be addressed and the significant amount of work to be done in the “final few days”. Events of the first week have certainly left Parties with some difficult nuts to crack, although progress was made in a number of areas.

Hurricane Haiyan puts ‘loss and damage’ front and center

For many, week one was defined by the news of the devastation wrought in the Philippines by Hurricane Haiyan. The personal connection of the Philippine’s lead negotiator with the worst affected area, put a very real and personal face on the tragedy for many in Warsaw.

Understandably, the destruction caused by the most powerful hurricane ever recorded put the politically sensitive issue of ‘Loss and Damage’ center stage in the discussions.

Parties agreed last year to consider the establishment of an ‘institutional mechanism’ for loss and damage in Warsaw, but remain divided over what such an instrument should look like in practice.

Finance remains a flashpoint

Closely linked to the issue of loss and damage, as well as a range of other areas, has been the negotiations on finance, where countries have also been unable to reach consensus.

Developing countries, especially the most vulnerable, are seeking early and substantial flows of funds into the new Green Climate Fund, which is seen as the main vehicle for mobilising US$100 billion per annum in climate finance by 2020.

Developed countries, however, have been unwilling to put firm figures on the table, with Australia’s government provocatively stating (albeit in private) that climate finance was “socialism masquerading as environmentalism”.

Japan’s new target a blow to ambition

The announcement late in the week from Japan that it was reducing its 2020 emission reduction pledge from 25% to just 3%, sent a further wave of anguish through the negotiations.

The closure of the country’s entire fleet of nuclear plants, and the loss of the low carbon electricity they produced was given as the reason for the dramatic reduction in ambition.

In an attempt to mitigate the reputational damage, Japan announced it would be providing an additional US$16 billion in funding for climate efforts in developing countries.

But a deal must be done

Against such a backdrop of dramatic news, there is perhaps a feeling of trepidation for many as officials and then ministers work their way towards a final set of COP decisions by the end of the week.

Although the talks may barely register on the radar of those outside the climate bubble here in Warsaw, the success or otherwise of COP19 will have ramifications far beyond Poland’s capital.

If Parties are unable to agree a clear pathway for talks through 2014 to a new global deal in 2015, the hopes of peaking emissions this decade and keeping global temperature increase below 2oC may finally slip from the world’s grasp.

In the wake of Hurricane Haiyan, such an outcome would be a sad and damning reflection of the world’s collective political ambition to tackle climate change.

Related news:

Days before COP19 in Warsaw begins, read our overview

COP19 begins in Warsaw: "A new universal climate agreement is within our reach" - Christiana Figueres

COP19: Pressure is on from scientists and energy experts in wake of Philippines typhoon

Image by UNFCCC

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