Expert Voices

Warsaw Climate Talks Must Produce Actions, Not Just Words (Op-Ed)

Mount Everest
Mount Everest is the second peak from the left. (Image credit: Pavel Novak)

Duncan Marsh, director of international climate policy, and Sascha Müller-Kraenner, regional managing director-Europe, both for The Nature Conservancy, contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Against the stark backdrop of compelling new reports on the science of climate change, the world's governments meet this month in Poland's capital Warsaw to discuss a new global treaty to reduce greenhouse gases.

Climate change is no longer a disputed area of science. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an advisory body to the United Nations, now reports that the level of certainty about the human causes of climate change is at least 95 percent; to put things in perspective, this is comparable to the scientific certainty that smoking cigarettes may lead to lung cancer.

Perhaps most threatening, however, is that despite increasing awareness of the climate problem, global greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to increase at or above the highest projections of previous IPCC reports. After two decades of talks, the world simply has not yet faced up to the climate change threat. Yet, as people in the Philippines this week can testify — as well as others in coastal communities worldwide affected by increasing storm surge, farmers falling victim to droughts and the people who live in the world's shrinking forests — the impacts of climate change are a real and growing threat. What the world is now hoping for is political leadership.

It is therefore clear that the annual summit of environmental leaders and ministers in Warsaw cannot be business as usual — or another global summit with words and no action — but has to produce results. The recent Philippines disaster should serve as a wake-up call to governments around the world to take serious action to prepare for the impacts of climate change and to take real steps now to reduce future greenhouse gas emissions as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.

This is what political leaders assembling in Warsaw should agree on:

  • First, they must emerge from Warsaw with a clear plan and timeline to reach a global climate deal, set to conclude in Paris, in autumn 2015. This plan should aim for an agreement that is ambitious but sufficiently flexible to ensure active commitment by all major greenhouse-gas emitting countries to significantly limiting emissions, while respecting the "common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities" of developed and developing countries.
  • Second, the global Green Climate Fund, which was announced at the ill-fated Copenhagen conference in 2009, should finally be put into operation. Developed countries should also demonstrate their intent to sustain or increase climate funding for the next two years until an agreement in 2015 to establish a pathway to generating the agreed goal of at least $100 billion in public and private financing for low-carbon, climate-resilient development annually by 2020. These funds provide support to countries vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and to assist countries' transitioning to low-carbon pathways. Not only is this important in order to show continued good faith commitment to developing countries, but the entire global society has a stake in accelerating the pace with which each nation can move to low-carbon development and protect itself from climate risks.
  • Third, nations should agree on a mechanism that helps protect vulnerable countries from the impacts of climate change. New investments must be made into developing and sharing best practices for adaption and disaster risk reduction, including ensuring that disaster risk management planning includes the social and environmental effects of climate change.

Meanwhile, countries all over the world must prepare for reducing emissions at home and, for developed countries, for providing essential assistance to vulnerable developing countries. After all, international negotiations will go only as far as domestic political processes allow.

Negotiators also must understand that not all international climate action flows through the U.N., nor should it. The Warsaw and Paris agreements should embrace parallel partnerships for action, and provide guidance on common accounting rules to increase transparency of countries' efforts.

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Achieving the above outcomes in Warsaw should help countries to stop seeing the negotiations leading to Paris as a protracted struggle between opposing camps of developed and developing countries, blaming each other for failure to act and negotiate responsibly, but rather as nations sharing this one large village called Earth.

Leadership should come from Poland and other European countries: Europe must decide on ambitious greenhouse-gas reduction goals and reform its carbon market.

Leadership should come from emerging economies like China, India or Brazil, who are gradually shifting, if in spurts, toward choosing low-emission pathways to prosperity. Leadership should also come from Washington; the U.S. government should accelerate a shift from fossil- to renewable-energy sources at home, and work with partners to frame an international climate deal for the world.

Warsaw is only a step towards a new global climate deal in 2015. But that first step has to be made if the world's climate, and the people who depend on it, are to be given a fair chance.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on LiveScience.