WARSAW, Poland – Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the developing islands of the Philippines, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. It occured only four days ahead of the 19th round of the UN climate change negotiations in Warsaw, Poland.
Environmental activists hoped this catastrophic event would set the stage for countries to take action on climate change, giving immediate context to the urgency of these problems.
The goals for the summit were to set an international framework for damages and losses due to climate change, as well as a fixed timeline for commitments on emission restrictions and finances from richer developed nations. After 14 days of negotiations, the representatives of 197 countries argued and debated but in the end simply agreed to carry on talking.
One of the cruel ironies of climate change is that the poor countries that have contributed the least to the problem are expected to face the harshest consequences of climate change. “No nation will be immune to the impacts of climate change,” said a major World Bank report on the issue. “However, the distribution of impacts is likely to be inherently unequal and tilted against many of the world’s poorest regions, which have the least economic, institutional, scientific and technical capacity to cope and adapt.”
With financial commitments at the center of the Warsaw meetings, it is prudent to see what sort of action the wealthy nations have taken already. Between 2010 and 2012, the world’s developed nations provided around $35 billion for such climate change issues, as were committed to in the previous UN Climate negotiations in Copenhagen (full breakdown of these pledges from the World Resources Institute here.)
It has been pointed out, however, that these climate pledges have not always added up to what the spirit of the deal was. Oxfam International reported that according to their findings, most of the aid was not new aid, but instead much of it was foreign aid that had already existed and was simply switched to the programs and purposes of those addressing climate change.
According to the U.S. state department, $7.5 billion was provided in climate finance between 2010 and 2012, by the U.S. government. But Oxfam reported that total includes existing development aid that had already been approved by Congress. The State Department used an argument that these programs produced “climate co-benefits.” The way it was packaged also included loan guarantees that are primarily intended to benefit U.S. companies.
Todd Stern is the State department envoy on such matters, and he was quoted recently saying “The fiscal reality of the United States and other developed countries is not going to allow it,” Stern said. “This is not just a matter of the recent financial crisis. It is structural…We must and will strive to keep increasing our climate finance, but it is important that all of us see the world as it is.
Developing nations and their delegations don’t seem to share the same sentiment, or lack of urgency. Especially in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the lackluster response to the crisis that has been widely reported.
The demands in Warsaw, and the frustration over the lack of progress, mainly due to a failing prioritization of the problem by developed nations, was very well put into context and understood by Dr. Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank.“Poverty reduction and climate change are linked…We have powerful new evidence that even if climate change falls short of the much-discussed 4°C, we could witness the rolling back of decades of development gains and force tens of millions more to live in poverty.”
He concluded: “If we don’t confront climate change, we won’t end poverty.”
– Tyler Shafsky
Sources: Washington Post, Bloomberg, Yahoo News
Photo: The NY Post