We came to Warsaw but we did not conquer: These climate change talks are not fit for purpose

Future generations will ask how we did so little to mitigate global warming

Related Topics

If governments needed reminding of what’s at stake in the UN climate negotiations now entering their second week in Warsaw, Poland, it duly arrived with Typhoon Haiyan. Images of humanitarian suffering might have been expected to reinforce the evidence of climate science to galvanise action.

Instead, we have had a week of inertia with the prospect of more to come. In the Warsaw national stadium, you could cut the gloom and complacency with a knife. As one negotiator put it to me, “there are no negotiations, just grandstanding and exchanges of carefully rehearsed scripts.” 

There is still time to avoid dangerous climate disaster – but not if we carry on like this.  We are just two years from a 2015 summit in Paris, where governments are scheduled to adopt an agreement aimed at keeping global temperature increases below 2C.  Currently, the world is on an energy trajectory that could see the entire 21st Century carbon budget used up by 2030.

While the UN climate talks are running in slow motion, we are heading at warp speed for global warming of 3-4C in the lifetime of our children.

The Warsaw talks provide an opportunity to build the momentum needed to change this picture and achieve an ambitious global deal.

Seizing that opportunity will not be easy. At the heart of the gloom in Warsaw is a trust deficit between developed and developing countries. That deficit has widened with the decision by Australia, Canada and Japan to reduce their emission reduction targets. Yet rich countries could dramatically improve the mood music if they acted on commitments they have already made.

Take the issue of climate finance. Developed countries have promised to deliver an additional UD$100bn in support for carbon mitigation and support for resilience in poor countries. Some new money has been mobilised. Unfortunately, the reporting systems documenting the real money are riddled with inconsistencies, opaque accounting and repackaging. It is impossible to tell how much of the money is new and additional. Basic transparency would help to build trust.

Then there is the issue of support for adaptation. Take a look at the devastation in the Philippines and you get a sense of the social and economic cost of financial disaster. Yet rich countries have provided just US$5bn for supporting climate adaptation. Germany spent twice as much helping its citizens recover from last year’s floods.

This sends the wrong message. Rich countries can protect their citizens with flood defences, insurance and social welfare programmes. But when climate disaster strikes the central Philippines or the Horn of Africa, it can destroy overnight the assets and the hopes of people living on the margins of existence – people who, unlike the citizens of rich countries, bear no responsibility for the climate crisis.

The negotiating environment in UN climate conferences is not conducive to practical action. Put technical representatives from over 190 countries in a summit without effective political direction, and you would struggle to negotiate an agreement on the time of day. But small groups of countries could work together to cut through the negotiating fog. For example, rich countries could unilaterally pledge to cut the US$90bn they spend annually on the fossil fuel subsidies that promote investment in carbon-intensive energy systems, benefiting energy companies while driving the world towards climate disaster. Britain could lead the way by withdrawing tax concessions for energy companies involved in North Sea oil exploration and fracking.

We cannot afford the inertia on display in Warsaw. Future generations will look at images of the devastated city of Tacloban in the Philippines. They’ll look at the evidence of climate science. And they’ll ask how we allowed a generation of political leaders to stand-by and do nothing.

There is an alternative. But time is running out.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, with her boyfriend, fellow vlogger Alfie Deyes  

If children are obese then blame food manufacturers, not Zoella

Jane Merrick
Amos Yee arrives with his father at the State courts in Singapore on March 31  

Singapore's arrest of a 16-year-old YouTuber is all you need to know about Lee Kuan Yew's legacy

Noah Sin
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat