The Road to Paris

cop19“UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw keeps governments on a track towards 2015 climate agreement” is the headline from the official final press release from the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

It has been a long, agonizingly slow process from Rio in 1992 when the Framework Convention was created to Japan in 1997 when the famous Kyoto Protocol was introduced to Bali in 2007 from whence we were supposed to have a final new agreement in Copenhagen in 2009.  Well, Copenhagen wasn’t the breakthrough that had been envisioned but it wasn’t the failure that so many called it.  Last year, in Doha, the parties to the Convention aimed for 2015 and Paris for a comprehensive package carrying us away from catastrophic climate change.  This year’s conference in Warsaw was supposed to keep the parties on course toward that goal.

This year’s conference saw a mass protest walkout by environmental groups, a hunger strike by the head of the delegation from the Philippines, and modest but reasonable gains toward a full agreement in Paris.

Perhaps the most significant agreement was on mitigating greenhouse gases from deforestation and other land-use changes.  The Green Climate Fund will be empowered to allocate money to countries that are showing progress toward curbing land-use changes.  Reuters reports here that the “results-based” funding rules will open up pathways for multi-billion dollar investments.  The venerable Environmental Defense Fund called the Warsaw Framework for REDD+ the “highlight” of the talks.  Nathaniel Keohane, their Vice President for International Climate, said:  “We can’t solve climate change without saving our forests – and this agreement ensures that protecting forests and the people who depend on them will be an important part of the toolbox for climate action.”

We must also realize, as perhaps more and more people do, that the UN process is not the be-all and the end-all for avoiding a full-blown climate crisis.  We’re already well along that path but we are also working on scores of fronts, from clean tech to bilateral agreements to the work being done by sub-national entities like our cities all over the world, to mitigate our production of GHGs and adapt to the growing impacts that our behavior has wrought on the physics and chemistry of Earth.

Still, the UN process, along with talks at the G-20 and other international groupings are critical.  At the end of the Warsaw Climate Change Conference, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres briefed the media on the outcomes of the conference.

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