Reflecting on COP19, Warsaw

December 6, 2013

The COP19 in Warsaw, Poland concluded in the early hours of Saturday November 23. This followed the last minute scrambling around of delegates trying to get something down on paper with respect to actions on climate change (press release). At the end of two weeks of plenary sessions and discussions a number of decisions were adopted that delegates can take back to their respective countries. Up until now this process has been a black box for me – I usually just catch up on the results from similar conferences on Fox News or CNN but never watch any of the proceedings. Now, having followed the COP for two weeks I feel more knowledgeable about the processes and politics involved. Unfortunately, now I cant shake this lingering feeling of disappointment and frustration with the whole process.

First and foremost, as an observer I cannot stress how frustrated by how inefficient time is managed and how little was actually discussed as a result.

For example, delegates are given a few minutes to discuss their nations respective position on a topic, yet they spend a non-insignificant fraction of this time thanking Poland and acknowledging the chair or the president. I understand the need for diplomacy, but every second spent thanking the organizers of this meeting could be better used addressing the issues at hand.

My recommendation: At the opening of the conference everyone stand up and acknowledge that they are grateful to Poland, applaud, and that’s it. No more wasted time being diplomatic.

I’m not claiming that this is the solution to the problem; however, efficiency provides more time for discussion and two weeks is simply not enough time.

On Thursday, during the high-level afternoon plenary, heads of state gave a three -minute blurb on their nations position with regards to climate change. Why was this so late in the conference? Opening statements at the beginning should be the time to state your position, and then spend the next two weeks discussing specific needs about how you hope to address your concerns. It’s no wonder that in the last few hours that everyone scrambled around and actually made decisions.

While I still think that the level of progress made at Warsaw is unacceptable, I do need to give the UNFCCC some credit. Without question, the big winner was REDD+, with delegates from many developed nations agreeing to contribute funds to developing nations who reduce deforestation. This is a great step forward and I am excited to see how this plays out.

I have been following developments in adaptation throughout the COP and unfortunately I am not very excited by the progress. We have established that adaptation is necessary, yes, very good, but how are we to adapt? The best example that I saw was the unveiling of Africa’s Adaptation Gap Report,  which spells out the problems and estimates for the necessary required funds.  I was happy to see that with the establishment of the national adaptation plan global support program that developing countries can get help with their plans beyond only financing. That will undoubtedly help them get their plans in order. In the second week, the Adaptation Fund Board met and not too surprisingly requested that developed countries contribute more money. I could have guessed this would happen without watching the proceedings.

As a scientist I am frustrated because the science is there. This is a problem, however, we as scientists can only take it so far before we need action from our political leaders. I guess that I don’t know what I expected as an outcome. Was I hoping that in two weeks that we would solve climate change? Have a concrete plan of attack? Maybe? Before observing this process I was frustrated with the lack of progress that we as a planet are making with respect to climate change. After COP19, I am still aggravated but with new insight into the political process at play fueling my frustration. We talk in circles but get nowhere. Do something already! Our climate continues to change while we wait to take action. Simply sitting by and stating over and over that this is a problem is not getting us anywhere. We are reaching a critical impasse and if we do not act now it will be too late. 

-Anthony Carrasquillo