Warsaw Shadows

12 Nov 2013

Two shadows hang over this year's United Nations Climate change negotiations in Warsaw, Poland.

The first was addressed by every speaker at the opening of this 19th Conference of the Parties (COP 19) -- Typhoon Haiyan, which claimed 10,000 lives in the Philippines. The storm, one of the largest ever seen, is now heading to Vietnam and China.

COP 19 Warsaw, Poland

A spokesperson from the Philippines rose to thank delegates and others for their expressions of sympathy. His speech was emotional and pointed.

"I wait for news on the fate of my relatives," he said, his voice breaking. "My own brother is picking up bodies with his own hands" even though he has been without food for three days.
The delegate said he will go without food for the duration of this COP in solidarity with all those who are without food in his country.

"We stand in solidarity with all countries" that face the threat of climate change, he said. A year ago while at the COP in Doha there was a major storm in the Philippines and now another has hit. This is "unprecedented, unthinkable."

Even though the country was prepared it was overwhelmed by Haiyan. As if this is not enough, he said, another storm is building. What will happen when it hits people in his country "who are barely back on their feet?"

"Warsaw must deliver" progress toward the climate change agreement that is supposed to be completed in Paris in 2015, he said.

The assembled delegates gave him a standing ovation. Observers at the back of the plenary hall, which is part of a temporary meeting venue constructed on the field of the country's national football stadium, began chanting. Blue uniformed United Nations security moved towards the group (demonstrations, spontaneous and otherwise, are not allowed). China asked for three minutes of silence.

A second shadow is the level of carbon dioxide now in the atmosphere.

"I ask you to take a deep breath," said Christina Figueres, head of the Secretariat for United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). "As you do, be aware that we are the first human beings to breathe air with 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in it."

This level is now well above the 350 parts per million which scientific research has set as a limit after which the world will experience increasingly unstable climate conditions, and more disasters of the kind now being experienced by the Philippines and other southeast Asian nations.

Figueres said climate change has made an "unlevel playing field for coming generations" and it is the goal of these negotiations to begin levelling it.
"The world is ready for action," she said. "A universal agreement is within our reach.... We must win 'the Warsaw opportunity'."

While it may not be the most ringing title for an agreement, this COP needs to deliver progress on financing adaptation, compensation for loss and damage due to extreme events, and the need for countries to live up to pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, among other things. If it does, then the powerful words of the representative of the Philippines will not have fallen on deaf ears.

United Nations Climate change negotiations in Warsaw, Poland.



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