The 19th Warsaw COP meeting

The ABC led off on Sunday morning in the radio news with a warm and fuzzy statement that the Warsaw meeting had agreed to a compromise that would move the business of combatting climate change on to Paris in 2015. It wasn’t at all clear what all that meant. In the same morning the ABC also told us that those activists keen on combatting the Japanese whale hunt were getting read to depart, and that there would be a public welcome or farewell, I don’t remember the noun exactly. The reference to the public gathering seemed to me more like advertising than news, but then I’m not a supporter of this pseudo-David-versus-Goliath stuff, and just a tad suspicious of the political culture of the ABC. Do I complain to the ABC? Not any more, but you can read this.

Back to Warsaw. The BBC described the meeting as ‘fractious’, and that sounds a fair description. Everything about it suggests that it was two weeks of a bun-fight inside a religious revival, and if it has indeed provided a roadmap to Paris I think that anyone who follows that will be utterly lost. It began with a noisy protest (said to be by 50,000, but I don’t believe crowd figures) against the meeting and in favour of coal-powered electricity. Poland has ample supplies of coal, which produces by far the bulk of its electricity.

The destruction of the Haiyan typhoon in the Phiippines provided the context for the opening, and that engendered cries of despair from the representatives of developing nations to be compensated for these extreme weather events, which were apparently the consequence of rich nations’ emissions of carbon dioxide. Alas, the IPCC has not said that there is any observational evidence to connect the two, and the developed countries weren’t having any of it.

At one point several hundred environmental campaigners staged a mass walk-out from the negotiations, complaining that nothing was happening quickly enough for their liking.  You might wonder what they were doing there in the first place, given that this meeting is supposed to be one of representatives of governments. The meeting went on without them. Donna Laframboise, whom I’ve mentioned before, wangled her way in as a reporter from a mainstream newspaper, and discovered that green groups of all kinds have a favoured position there, while sceptics have no status at all. You can read her reports here.

At the end there was deadlock, and a further thirty hours of negotiation were needed before delegates could agree on a document that would sum up the ‘advances’ made at the meeting. The whole point of these protracted meetings is the generation of a global treaty that would replace the Kyoto Protocol. The position of the developed countries, like Australia, is that such a treaty must involve real commitment by all those who sign.

But the developing countries, led by China and India, objected to the world ‘commitments’, on the ground that only the industrialised countries should have  real commitments, because they had caused all the problem. The others should simply have to ‘enhance action’, whatever that might mean. Could the delegates all find a word that would replace ‘commitments’ but satisfy both sides? They could: it was ‘contributions’, and they all went home.

What has been gained? It’s hard to see it. Canada, Australia and Japan were the bad guys at the Warsaw meeting, each having done something that showed their lack of faith in the need for a global treaty. All the evidence suggests that there is no prospect of a global treaty anyway. The time for that has passed, and the pause in warming continues. The next meeting is in Paris, and it is supposed to produce the Treaty.

I can’t see it happening, any more than I can see the rich countries’ agreeing to pay damages to the poor for extreme weather events, another demand by the developing countries at the Warsaw meeting that got diverted. They don’t like the word ‘adaptation’, because it suggests that these typhoons just happen, and aren’t caused by greenhouse gas emissions. They made a lot of fuss, and the document was changed in a minor way to appease them. But there’s still no money for extreme weather events, and there won’t be, not through the climate caper, anyway.

The Australian media by and large ignored the meeting, other than a few references about how  some people thought Australia was ‘an embarrassment’ for not sending a proper Minister-led delegation. Minister Hunt said that it was unnecessary, and that Australia would consider what happened at Paris and what other countries had agreed to do before entering into anything. My guess is that Australia will not be alone in this approach. If the pause continues for another two years the Paris COP, the twentieth of these meetings, might well be the last.


Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • John Gardner says:

    Good post, Don. Regarding the “walkout” by the enviros, my understanding is that it happened just before the official end of the conference, and sceptics have commented that it looked like a well orchestrated attempt to divert media attention from the fact that they had achieved zilch. I sincerely hope that your last sentence is prophetic.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Yes, I think that was the timing — the conference went on for a further thirty hours because they needed to come up with a consensus document.

  • PeterE says:

    Thanks. If these climate talks are really about changing the climate I’ll eat three Big Macs in a row. Talk about useful idiots.

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