The 19th conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will try to commit countries to a timeline to declare their emissions goals post 2020. The European Union is among the major key players wanting governments to present their offers in September next year, at another UN climate summit hosted by secretary general Ban Ki-moon.
The agreement is meant to be concluded in 2015 in Paris and to come into effect by 2020.
"In Warsaw, we must agree to prepare strong pledges for the 2015 deal and to step up emissions cuts over the rest of this decade," said EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard.
One of the major stumbling blocks is financing the cuts in emissions, and how poorer countries can realistically shift their industries to cleaner energy sources and adapt to a shifting climate. During the talks in Warsaw, vulnerable states such as small island nations are expected to raise their demands for compensation from climate impacts, such as rising seas and droughts.
During climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009, developed countries agreed to scale up climate financing to $100 billion annually by 2020, but current flows fall very well short of this. Oxfam, a British charity, estimates that around $16 billion in contributions have been announced by richer countries in 2013, some of it as loans.
Key details of the 2015 deal are still to be worked out, including whether or not to make part or all of it legally binding, and when and in what form governments will present their offers of emissions cuts after 2020.
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barosso says he is concerned about the impact on competitiveness on the bloc if it firmly acts on climate change when others do not. It comes as the EU prepares to unveil a new chunk of green energy law next year. Barosso also dismissed those who deny that climate change is real.
"If it's not more urgent [than the economic crisis], it's more important because it's an essential threat to our planet. We should not relax our efforts. For that we need a global commitment. In Europe, we have been front-runners," said Barosso, speaking to the news agency Reuters.
Poland under scrutiny
Coal-reliant host nation Poland has come under criticism from climate activists, who have questioned it presiding over a coal conference at the same time as the UN talks.
On Saturday, Greenpeace activists projected a slogan (seen above) on a cooling tower of Belchatow Power Station, Europe's largest coal-fired power plant, around 160 kilometers south-west of Warsaw.
For its part, Poland has emphasized collective action, rather than leadership, on emissions reductions, and says the EU should rethink its approach.
"This tendency of some European politicians stressing that the EU is a leader is in my opinion counterproductive," said Polish environment minister Marcin Korolec. He said EU efforts enabled bigger polluters to leave the hard work to a bloc that emits just 11 percent of global greenhouse gases.
jr/dr (Reuters, AP)