This week in Warsaw, Poland, delegations from across the globe are gathering to discuss one of the biggest issues of our time at the 19th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 19). Before heading to Warsaw, Shyla Raghav, CI’s senior manager of climate adaptation policy, took time to answer some of my questions.
Q: After minimal progress at the annual climate meeting last year in Qatar, many in the climate community aren’t expecting much big news coming out of the Warsaw conference. Why go through with the conference at all?
A: Those of us who work on climate change issues work more than two weeks a year. Despite the somewhat dismal state of negotiations, oftentimes the main highlight of COP meetings is the platform it provides participants to share ideas, expand the scientific and policy knowledge base and forge partnerships that catalyze action at various levels around the world. Particularly for an international organization like CI, COPs allow us to pull together our staff, expertise and experience from across the globe to collaborate and coordinate our efforts, learning from successes and challenges alike.
I would be remiss not to mention, however, the disappointment within the climate change community regarding the snail-like pace of the negotiations. The increasing body of science indicating the need to act on reducing emissions and building resilient societies has not been matched with adequate political will to take concrete steps to confront the climate crisis. However, thanks to the Durban Platform — the outcome document of the 2011 COP — there is tremendous potential for the process to produce a comprehensive new climate treaty in 2015 that puts our global community on a pathway to reducing emissions.
While we must continue to support the negotiation process (after all, the world has no other forum that will allow us to confront global challenges collectively), the biggest end result of this COP may in fact be a revitalized understanding of how climate change links to all aspects and sectors of life. There’s tremendous scope to advance beyond what has been discussed at COP through civil society networks and platforms.
Q: Do you think the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report will influence the negotiations?
A: Absolutely. The IPCC’s Working Group I (WGI) report, which explores the physical science basis of climate change, has reconfirmed that climate change is real, caused by humans, and has already resulted in severe impacts such as droughts, floods and increased storm intensity.
While these impacts are already severely impacting many regions of the world, the consequences of inaction will continue to amplify based on our current and future emissions. Having surpassed an atmospheric concentration of 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas driving climate change, the urgency to act is ever more prevalent if warming is to be limited to 2 degrees Celsius, beyond which catastrophic impacts are projected.
The IPCC findings will serve as an important reminder to negotiators and COP participants and will likely form the foundation of discussions and negotiations.
Q: Name one country that you think should serve as an example to others of how to pursue climate change action.
A: Peru is a fantastic example of a country that has made significant progress on implementing strong climate change programs both through and apart from the UNFCCC process. Peru is home to the ecologically rich 450,000 acre Alto Mayo Protected Forest in the region of San Martin. Although protected since 1987, the forest faces significant deforestation risk due to pressure from surrounding communities. CI partnered with the Peruvian government and local partners to implement the Alto Mayo Forest Carbon Project to incentivize the protection of the forest, thereby reducing deforestation and generating carbon credits. The pioneering project has set up more than 240 conservation agreements with local communities to ensure that those who live near and rely on the forests benefit from the conservation of the forest, through job training, distribution of efficient cook stoves, and support linking farmers with distribution channels. The project is the world’s first verified REDD+ project located within a protected area.
Success on the local scale on REDD+ programs in countries like Peru should fuel enhanced action at the international level to continue to financially and institutionally support REDD+. Projects like Alto Mayo demonstrate that REDD+ and climate change programs have the potential to contribute to sustainable development in tangible ways. CI will be highlighting the contributions of REDD+ to supporting green economy development in Peru during our side event in Warsaw, to be held on November 14. As the host of the next COP in 2014, Peru’s success serves as an important reminder and backdrop to the continued activities, negotiations and processes within the UNFCCC.
Q: What outcomes would CI like to see at COP 19?
A: The Warsaw COP will not result in a final resolution to the climate crisis. However, it is important to recognize that the incremental progress made at this COP will set the basis for further discussion and concrete action on the national and sub-national level. The next two years offer a critical window of opportunity to establish a new global climate change regime that will reduce emissions to a safe level. COP19 will offer critical negotiating time toward crafting and designing this agreement, which must be finalized by 2015. CI would like to see a transparent process to negotiate the terms and scope of the agreement, as well as relevant connections made to other convention mechanisms and processes such as REDD+ and loss and damage.
Finance remains one of the most significant challenges to addressing climate change globally. Without a clear roadmap on mobilizing funds to meet agreed goals ($100 billion per year by 2020), negotiators are unable to adequately scale up both public and private sector sources of funding.
The issue of finance strongly influences the viability of many of the convention’s mechanisms. For example, financing for REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) must materialize to provide the signal necessary to countries to put in place the rules, policies and mechanisms to implement REDD+ programs. This forest carbon initiative has already proven to be a successful and viable mitigation tool that delivers concrete benefits. Increased financial support and adoption of REDD+ will allow it to contribute to broader sustainable development goals in many countries. Further, the lack of clarity on finance puts into question the future of the implementation of urgent adaptation needs. The funds created by the UNFCCC to support adaptation actions (Adaptation Fund, Green Climate Fund) are either suffering a severe shortage of resources or have yet to be capitalized.
Loss and damage, which refers to both economic and non-economic losses brought upon by climate change, such as disaster relief or loss in crop yields, will continue to be one of the most contentious issues at the COP. Due to the fundamental differences of opinion between parties on the role of the UNFCCC to set up a mechanism to compensate countries or communities for these losses and damages, it would be a huge step forward to see agreement at COP19 on the definitions and ambit of loss and damage.
While COP 19 may not directly nor immediately spur the level of action necessary, we remain hopeful that the platform that the UNFCCC provides will have a catalytic effect in communities and organizations worldwide.