The Warsaw negotiations have delivered empty new shells in the name of finance and technology to the developing world and repackaged existing financial commitments towards the poor countries in a green-coloured envelope

The Warsaw negotiations delivered little on climate change issues but the fortnight served as a warning about the perilous task that lies before countries to produce a global compact by 2015 which matches expectations.

The developed countries reached Warsaw empty-handed. There were three expectations from them. Primarily, developing countries wanted to see them give a timeline for the delivery of the already committed annual $100-billion kitty starting 2020. Instead, the developed countries came looking to improve the investment climate in developing countries for their green technologies. Then, there was an expectation that they would allow the setting up of a separate channel of fund flows for vulnerable countries that suffer loss and damage from inevitable climate change. Again, the move was stonewalled. It took the moral authority of some countries to get a face-saver on this count. A third asking of the rich nations was to build trust that they would up their existing pledges to reduce emissions between now and 2020. Instead, they asked that emission reduction actions — undertaken outside the U.N. climate convention which do not follow the principles of the convention to be taken account of.

The shirking on the part of the developed world ensured that the Durban coalition stitched by the European Union along with the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) began to come undone.

The Small Island States, with all the moral voice at their command, had failed in two years to convince their senior partners — on whom they are also economically dependant — to deliver. Their inability to hold the developed countries accountable was again on show in Warsaw when they keeled over quickly in the endgame on their demand for a midterm target for finance. In fact the Philippines, a vocal member of the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC), advocating the adherence to the principle of equity, took over the mantle of the “moral voice” in the climate talks. For several years the AOSIS, claiming urgency, had demanded action even at the cost of ignoring existing, unmet obligations of the rich world. The takeover was visible in the way the vociferous civil society altered its position too. AOSIS, on the other hand, had to partially come back to the G77 fold to find solidarity for their Loss and Damage agenda, and in return support the Brazilian proposal asking for acknowledging historical emissions.

Battle over 2015 agreement

Very early in the talks it became evident that the real battle in Warsaw would ensue over the move to set up the basic framework for the agreement which is to be signed in 2015 at Paris and to become operational from 2020.

The developed countries were keen that the basic framework for the 2015 agreement put together at Warsaw ensures that the existing distribution of burden between developing and developed economies would not remain so in the new regime. The irony was not lost when they used the phrase “equity” to do so, giving it a whole new meaning even as they tried to shift their existing obligations to the post-2020 new regime which would inevitably require the burden to be spread over emerging economies. Till two years ago, the same developed countries had negotiated to marginalise references to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and relegated the principle of “equity” to a discussion topic for workshops. South Africa, which had initially backed this new notion of equity — and had moved considerably away from the BASIC countries in the last three years — came back to also reinforce the principles of the convention at Warsaw. The Brazilian move backed by the G77, including the LDC, the AOSIS and the Africa Group, to account for historical emissions in the negotiations, was blocked by the developed countries. Instead, some of the same developed countries proffered an index of sorts to “equitably” share the burden of emission reduction under the post-2020 regime. The outright rejection of the Brazilian proposal made it evident that eventually, the key parameter of “historical emissions” would find little or no space in this new index rendering any conceptual idea of an equity reference framework iniquitous in application.

The negotiations have for long run on a lack of trust but at Warsaw they spelt bad faith with the developed countries rather brazenly using their “domestic economic conditions” to shift the burden of providing finance and technology, transfer their mitigation actions into a new regime and then try to make the new regime as symmetrically applicable to all as possible. The U.S. and its close allies did so more blatantly while the EU used more sophisticated language to shift its share of the existing burden into the post-2020 regime.

By the end of the fortnight, the countries that the U.N. climate convention had for two decades tasked to show leadership in fighting climate change only showed negotiating skill to make the world await a post-2020 regime which would more or less forget both science and history. By trying to hitch the developing countries to take on commitments in a post-2020 framework sans historical emissions and after having transferred their existing burden to the future, the distrust grew as the talks turned more into one about economic competition. The BASIC countries came together to protect their economic and atmospheric space. The game drew down to the level that the developed countries refused to use the phrase “commitments” for their actions unless developing countries did so too. In this race to the lowest common denominator, all countries eventually decided that they would “contribute” their actions towards the 2015 agreement — an ominous sign that the new agreement may lack the ambition required to cut the emissions to requisite levels.

Beholden to the developed world

In this battle where the rich world does not want to be the leader on climate change any more, and has forced the emerging economies to defend their economic and atmospheric space, the AOSIS, the Africa group and the LDCs face the most difficult time ahead. The economic and political dependence of many of these countries on the developed nations locks them into a geopolitical position of weakness. They need to decide if they seek ambition at anyone’s cost or through a path of equity. It is difficult at the moment to see how the developed world will find the appetite to lead the battle against climate change in the next two years when they have only engaged in a diplomatic game to whittle down their role since 2009. In such an atmosphere, it would be only tougher to convince the emerging economies, to further reduce emissions and to act beyond their short-term self-determined economic, energy and environmental interests. Asking them to do more under the present circumstances is the equivalent of asking the emerging economies to pay for their future possible “crimes” while asking everyone to forget the actual crimes committed till date. The framework being built since 2009 for the 2015 deal misses the key ingredient for an ambitious deal at the moment — justice. It’s being replaced by a dubious ingredient, called “fairness.”

As a consequence, the negotiations have delivered empty new shells in the name of finance and technology to the developing world and repackaged existing financial commitments towards the poor countries in a green-coloured envelope (called the Fast-start finance). To prevent the 2015 agreement from meeting a similar fate, the global community needs to ensure that the principle of equity is also not hollowed out by the time the negotiators, ministers and heads of states leave Paris in 2015. Or, the new compact would end up being the legal justification for the race to the least inconvenient ambition.

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