From 11 - 23 November 2013, the 19th Conference of the Parties ("COP19") to the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change ("UNFCCC") took place in Warsaw. This e-bulletin sets out the main developments and decisions taken during COP19 and analyses the remaining challenges for a comprehensive and binding international agreement on climate change in 2015 (the "2015 Agreement").

  1. Agenda

Issues on the agenda of the Warsaw meeting included:

  • commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
  • a road map towards a finalised 2015 Agreement;
  • calls for more funds to tackle and limit the effects of climate change; and
  • the scope and nature of the "loss and damage" payments to developing countries which were agreed in principle in Doha
  1. Nationally determined contributions by March 2015

Limited progress was made regarding a roadmap for the 2015 Agreement. It was agreed that the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), a subsidiary body that was established during the COP17 in Doha, to work towards and develop the 2015 Agreement, would begin to draft a negotiating text at its first session in 2014.

Parties agreed to submit their “intended nationally determined contributions” in 2015 “well in advance of” the 21st Conference of the Parties due to be held in Paris ("COP21"). For parties “ready to do so”, the deadline is March 2015.

Such contributions, which are not legally binding and will merely form the basis for discussion at the COP21 in Paris, might take the form of targets or details of proposed measures to reduce emissions.

This outcome is much weaker in its effect than the national "commitments" to tackling climate change made by all countries as desired by developed nations. In the run up to the 2015 Agreement, it is expected that the EU will propose a 40% cut in its emissions by 2030.

  1. Capitalising the Green Climate Fund

Developed countries agreed to contribute an increased amount of public funds to the Green Climate Fund and initiatives targeted at mitigation and adaptation strategies. The total commitment amounted to USD 100bn by 2020 when the global climate treaty on emissions reduction (due to be agreed in Paris in 2015 at COP21) is expected to come into effect.

The EU announced that it would ear-mark 20% of its seven-year budget up to 2020 for climate spending. Countries including Norway, the UK, the USA, the Republic of Korea, Japan, Sweden, Germany and Finland also made commitments.

  1. No consensus on carbon markets

Hopes of reaching a consensus on carbon market reform did not materialise as negotiations on this point were deferred until the next meeting in Peru next year (COP20).

Developed countries and the EU want to see a carbon market established for developing nations that is sector-focused rather than the current project focused system as part of progress towards internationally integrated economy-wide cap-and-trade systems. However, developing nations are opposed to the creation of a carbon market in the absence of greater commitment from developed countries.

  1. Compromise on loss and damage payments

The issue of "loss and damage" payments ("LDPs"), designed to complement the UN's duel pillars of mitigation and adaptation to the effects of climate change, was one of the most controversial issues of COP19. LDPs are paid by developed nations to provide financial support to developing countries affected by climate change events.

One of the issues at stake was whether funds for LDPs would come from existing aid budgets for humanitarian disasters and whether such payments should be distributed by a newly formed body or using current international institutions.

By way of a compromise, COP19 agreed the "Warsaw International Mechanism", which provides for enhancing knowledge, action and support for loss and damage, as well as strengthening dialogue among relevant stakeholders. However, it merely “requests” developed countries to provide financial support to developing countries and its provisions will be reviewed in 2016.

A block of countries including Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, China and India pushed for a distinction between the obligations of "developed" and "developing" nations (a key part of the 1992 Kyoto protocol) to feature in any future climate agreement. Critics of this approach argue that 21 years on from Kyoto the distinction (which groups China, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases alongside small island nations) is largely redundant.

  1. Summary of other developments
  • New technical rules for the measurement, reporting and verification of emissions were adopted. The "international consultation and analysis" will be carried out in respect of each country by a group of experts. The rules apply equally to developed and developing nations.
  • A package of decisions created the "Warsaw Framework for REDD+" which addresses institutional questions as well as methodological issues. UNFCCC parties agreed to use the Green Climate Fund to distribute money to developing nations for REDD+ forestry projects directed at reducing emissions caused by deforestation. Such funds will only be distributed to those nations who evidence compliance with the Cancun social and environmental safeguards and demonstrate a corresponding drop in greenhouse gases in accordance with newly adopted monitoring, reporting and verification criteria.
  • Outside the COP, the UK and the USA have resolved to end their support for public financing of new coal-fired power plants abroad. Domestically, the USA has reduced permissible emissions from such plants and China has halted construction plans for its new coal-fired power plants.
  1. The way forward

The latest round of negotiations has left open a lot of questions, ranging from core principles to more detailed technical aspects, and has left an increasingly packed agenda for the next round of negotiations in 2014. The ADP will reconvene from 10-14 March in Bonn. Another preparatory meeting of various subgroups in preparation for the next Conference of the Parties is scheduled to be held from 4-15 June in Bonn. The UN has organised a climate summit in New York on 23 September 2014 which precedes the next formal UNFCCC Conference of the Parties to be held in Lima, Peru from 1 - 12 December 2014 (COP20).