COP 19 Reflection: Can we beat climate change?

December 10, 2013

With the tragedy of Typhoon Haiyan setting the stage for the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 19th conference of parties, there was a good deal of hope that significant progress would be made in Warsaw.   Prior to COP19 the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that there is a clear influence by humans on climate and unless something is done to mitigate emissions global temperatures will continue to rise.  As an atmospheric chemist I was encouraged that going into the COP seemingly all of the parties were listening to the science being presented to them and agreeing that climate change was a problem.  However, in what might be an over-generalization, that was all anyone seemed to be willing to do.  In fact Japan and Australia both scaled back their emissions reduction goals.  

 As could be expected, the process got bogged down in finances and who to blame for the current climate.  The developing countries wanted the developed countries to take the blame through a set of historical inventories, which the developed countries were obviously opposed to.  In my opinion, since the developed countries have to help the developing countries with money and technology anyway, getting rid of playing the blame game could really speed up the process. In the end climate change is a global problem and it while the rich should fund the solution, its up to everyone to solve the problem.

While its easy to complain about the lack of progress at COP19, there was some text put together establishing the “Warsaw Mechanism,” which is supposed to address loss and damage funds for developing countries affected by the adverse effects of climate change.  This text was put together almost as a last ditch effort to get some progress from the COP near the end of the second week and it definitely felt like it was a huge push forward considering nothing had been done to that point. 

One thing I learned about myself during these negotiations is that I am not suited to for these processes and should probably stick to science. COP19 was my first experience with international climate negotiations and I was incredibly frustrated by the process.  I feel like the time invested in formalities etcetera could be, and should be, put to a better use; for example, solving climate change. I understand that its common courtesy and tradition to bring along all the formalities that are part of an international meeting and some of it might even be necessary to organize the number of delegate in attendance.  That being said, something needs to change if we are going to come to an agreement in 2015 at the Paris conference of parties (COP21) and eventually fix this problem. 

--Jon Franklin