Australia: Warsaw COP 19: From a Durban Platform to a Warsaw Mechanism (via a Doha Gateway)

Key Points:

Warsaw COP 19 achieved four key outcomes, but more needs to be done to get tangible and legally binding commitments to cap or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Delegates of more than 190 signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 1992 (UNFCCC) met in Warsaw between 11-23 November 2013 to participate in international climate change negotiations at the 9th yearly session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to the UNFCCC and the 9th session of the Meeting of the Parties (CMP 9) to the Kyoto Protocol 1997.

In a style that has become typical of international climate negotiations, the final stages of the climate talks at Warsaw involved a marathon 30 hours of non-stop negotiation to deliver outcomes from COP 19/CMP 9. Parties were reluctant to make any concrete commitments geared towards closing the emissions gap to ensure that the rise in global temperatures stays below 2Co. Rather, the decisions represent the continuation of the incremental steps towards the adoption and implementation of international climate policy.

The key outcomes of the Warsaw Convention are:

  1. Advancing the Durban Platform, being the commitment to enter into a new climate agreement by 2015;
  2. Establishing the Warsaw Mechanism for loss and damage associated with climate change impacts;
  3. The Warsaw REDD+ Framework;
  4. Climate financing arrangements, including arrangements for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and long-term financing.

The Warsaw climate talks were not without drama, as the developing countries group of G77 + China and a group of 800 representatives of NGOs walked out of the Warsaw Mechanism negotiations to mark their disapproval with the level of commitment shown by certain developed countries.

Australia's own participation at COP 19, represented by a non-ministerial delegates, occurred against the backdrop of the progress of the Government's carbon tax repeal bills, which passed through the House of Representative on 21 November 2013.

Advancing the Durban Platform

Recent international climate change negotiations have focused on life after the Kyoto Protocol. The Durban Platform and the Doha Gateway attempted to deliver a roadmap for these negotiations, providing for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol under which some parties have agreed to meet voluntary emissions targets, as well as outlining a process for agreeing to a successor instrument by COP 21 in Paris in 2015, due to come into effect in 2020.

The climate negotiations at Warsaw were therefore focused on the form and content of this successor agreement. The COP 19 decision "Further advancing the Durban Platform" includes a process for meeting this deadline. The Ad Hoc Working Group of the Durban Platform (ADP) is responsible for its development. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the new agreement will apply to both developed and developing nations, however it will allow for differentiation of commitments. The level of differentiation continues to be a contentious issue between developed and developing countries.

At COP 19, parties discussed the utility of including a quantified global goal in the new agreement as well as the need for the agreement to be flexible and adjustable to developments in science and capabilities. Most parties agreed that it should build on and enhance the existing financial institutions of the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. Capacity building and transparency were other key factors for inclusion.

The UNFCCC has asked the ADP to accelerate the development of the draft agreement and to present a draft negotiating text to parties by May 2015, before COP 21 in Paris. The COP 19 decision requests that the ADP ensures the highest possible mitigation efforts by all parties.

Parties are requested to prepare national contributions for inclusion in this legally binding agreement and to provide this information to the ADP by April 2015, or for those developed countries who are in a position to do so, as early as possible in 2014.

The language of the COP 19 decision on the new agreement was watered down from talking about "commitments" to "contributions", at the last-minute request of India.

The Warsaw Mechanism

A new body was established at COP 19: the Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage associated with climate change impacts. The Warsaw Mechanism will facilitate developed nations in providing expertise, and potentially aid, to developing countries hit by slow onset climate-related impacts, such as heatwaves, droughts, floods, desertification and rising sea levels. Parties did not provide commitment on funding for these initiatives.

The Warsaw Mechanism is established under the UNFCCC, rather than as an independent body in its own right, like the GCF. There is a scheduled review of the Warsaw Mechanism in 2016, in which its position under the UNFCCC will be revisited.

The REDD+ Framework

Negotiators significantly progressed the details of the REDD+ program to produce a suite of decisions that are the result of eight years of negotiations. The REDD+ program aims to provide financial incentives to developing countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Following COP 19, REDD+ will become a functioning, formal mechanism of the UNFCCC utilising performance-based financing mechanisms. Financing is requested for all phases of REDD+ implementation and the US, Norway, and the UK have already made pledges of $280 million. Financers, including the GCF, are to collectively channel finance in a fair and balanced manner. An information hub will be established on the UNFCCC website to publish information on the REDD+ implementation activities and corresponding results-based financing.

Climate finance

In addition to those financial decisions relating to the REDD+ Framework, developments were also made in relation to the GCF and long term finance. Parties urged that predictable, adequate, sustainable and transparent funding was required to protect developing countries from the adverse effects of climate change.


The GCF is an independent body that is an operating entity of the financial mechanism of the UNFCCC. The aim of the fund is to provide financial resources to mitigation and adaptation activities in all developing countries.

At COP 17 in Durban, parties agreed that they would mobilise US$100 billion per year for the purposes of the GCF, yet no assurance or details were provided as to how this level of finance would be raised. The negotiations at Warsaw resulted in a commitment to mobilise these funds from a variety of public, private, bilateral and multilateral sources. The GCF decision calls for "ambitious and timely" contributions from developed countries that "should reach a very significant scale".

Long-term finance

In relation to long-term finance, developed country parties are requested to prepare biennial submissions on their updated strategies and approaches for scaling up climate finance from 2014 to 2020.

Adaptation Fund

An Adaptation Fund was established as a mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol to finance concrete adaptation projects and programs in developing countries. At COP19, the UNFCCC acknowledged the progress made in building up the Adaptation Fund, with Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland having either paid or pledged US$100 million.

Bali Action Plan

The Bali Action Plan constituted a road map on long-term issues. At COP 19, the UNFCCC resolved to achieve full implementation of the Bali Action Plan and pre-2020 ambition.

Climate technologies

The UNFCCC continues to encourage and promote technical examination of mitigation opportunities and information-sharing among the parties. The Climate Technology Centre Network will start taking requests for technology assistance from developing countries in December 2013 and countries have pledged approximately $22 million to fund this work.

The future?

The next COP/CMP is due to be held in December 2014 in Lima, Peru. If history is any indication, international negotiations will continue at their incremental fragmented pace.

The 2015 deadline to conclude a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol that is binding on all countries is now only two years away, and the UNFCCC cannot afford a repeat of the near-death experience of Copenhagen in 2009 where COP15/CMP5 commenced without an agreed draft text of a decision. It will be imperative that a draft negotiating text be delivered well in advance of COP21/CMP11 in Paris and this can only be achieved if there is an early indication of the desire of all countries to accept tangible and legally binding commitments to cap or reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

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