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An Action Network (CAN) activist is seen during CAN press conferance at United Nations Climate Change COP19 as she announces that Fossil of the Day Award goes to Japan in reaction after Japan decision to slashing its goal for reducing climate-altering carbon emissions during CAN press conferance at United Nations Climate Change COP19, on November 15, 2013 in Warsaw. (Photo credit should read WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

No progress

Andrea Rönsberg / bk
November 17, 2013

The climate conference in Warsaw began under the shadow of last week's disaster in the Philippines. But despite passionate appeals, the conference moves into its second week without any significant progress.


"There is no Planet B" the demonstrators shouted, and "leave the coal in the hole." Around 1,000 young people gathered in the center of Warsaw and set out towards Poland's national stadium - the venue for this year's World Climate Change Conference. Dozens of policemen lined the streets, equipped with batons and tear gas, mainly to protect the climate activists from potential attacks by nationalist counter-demonstrators.

"The name of the march is 'Against climate change and for social justice'," Filip Ilkowski, one of the few Polish demonstrators, told DW. "I think it's really important to connect these two issues. Climate change must be stopped - but in such a way that the world becomes more just, not less."

Meanwhile the talks continue inside the national stadium. A number of technicalities are to be sorted out in advance, so that the ministers - due to arrive in Warsaw on Tuesday (19.11.2013) - will be left with deals in which only political questions are still up for debate.

Time to roll up the sleeves

But there are still plenty of catches to address on a technical level, too. "Work is being done," said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). "But there are no concrete results to report yet." She added that there was "very much a roll-up-our-sleeves-and-get-the-work-done attitude."

Climate protester in Warsaw Foto: DW/A. Rönsberg, aufgenommen am 16.11.2013 in Warschau
Around 1,000 climate demonstrators headed to Warsaw's national stadiumImage: DW/A. Rönsberg

Not everyone sees it this way. Switzerland's chief negotiator Franz Perrez expressed deep frustration with the progress made in the first week. "We began the conference with a strong appeal that we should not continue business as usual, and that we have to move towards concrete decisions," he said. "Too often we were moving back to traditional finger-pointing, and not searching for solutions."

Disagreement on criteria

This is the situation ahead of the global climate agreement, due at a climate conference in Paris in two years' time, when all countries - both industrialized and non-industrialized - will be expected to put figures on the table and declare by how much they intend to reduce their carbon emissions.

Discussions about fundamental criteria are already being held in Warsaw. Delegates are trying to come to a common understanding on criteria such as which year will be used as a point of reference for emissions targets, and how the tonnage of carbon emissions will be calculated. And there are plenty of disagreements.

Delaying tactics

Brazil, for instance, wants the historical responsibility of the industrialized countries to be taken into account. Their industries, so their argument goes, have been releasing carbon into the atmosphere since the end of the 18th century - much longer than industries in the developing world. But the European Union suspects that this argument is disingenuous.

Martin Kaiser, Greenpeace Bild: DW/Anne Allmeling November 2012
Kaiser: Brazil looks set to delay an agreementImage: DW/A. Allmeling

"From the EU perspective we have no problem with discussing historical emissions," said EU negotiator Jürgen Lefevere. "But we have a number of serious procedural and substantive concerns with this proposal," since histroric emission rates would then serve as the only indicator in this equasion. With that, "the proposal poses a very serious risk of delaying the agreement beyond 2015, because of the time that would be needed to develop the indicator and then apply it to parties' commitments.

Martin Kaiser, climate expert at Greenpeace, agrees: Even though he says Brazil was right to argue that the industrialized countries should pay for their historical responsibilities, this shouldn't be used as an excuse to delay an agreement. "Brazil looks particularly bad in the negotiations - like a country that wants to postpone and delay talks, presumably also because of their presidential election next year."

Japan changes its mind

There were generally more steps back than forward in the first week of talks. Even though countries were supposed to present figures showing how much they intended to reduce emissions before the global agreement comes into force in 2020, environmentalists often saw a lot to be desired when it came to actual progress in that direction - prominently so in the case of Japan: Its representatives declared on Friday that it was giving up its target altogether.

Instead of reducing emissions by 25 percent until 2020 - compared to 1990 - it now wants to allow emissions to increase by three percent. With a hint of an apology, Japanese chief negotiator Hiroshi Minami declared that since the nuclear accident in Fukushima in March 2011, none of Japan's 50 reactors were producing electricity.

Previous climate target estimates, he explained, were based on the assumption that 40 percent of Japan's energy needs would be covered by nuclear power - now they had to assume that the nuclear reactors would not produce any power, meaning that fossil fuels would have to be used instead.

[11655279] Braunkohlekraftwerk Frimmersdorf hinter Garzweiler Hinter dem Braunkohletagebau Garzweiler stößt das Braunkohlekraftwerk in Frimmersdorf Rauchschwaden aus. Das Kraftwerk ist nach einer Studie des World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in den
Climate killer: coal fired power plants such as this one in Germany's Garzweiler are a global environmental threatImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The EU expressed disappointment with the move, as did Christiana Figueres. Kaiser, meanwhile, said Japan's move was more than just disappointing.

"Japan's announcement of reducing its own goals sends a fatal signal to India and China," he said. "And those are countries that we desperately need to be part of a future climate change agreement."

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