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Leaders gather in Warsaw for climate change negotiations

By Jan Cienski (Financial Times) - November 11, 2013

Delegates from across the world on Monday met in Warsaw to begin climate change negotiations, which are expected to make only modest progress in halting global warming, but could lay the groundwork for a comprehensive agreement in two years’ time.

The two weeks of talks are being held in the wake of the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which concluded that it is “extremely likely” that humans are the leading cause of global warming in recent decades, and that without emissions curbs global sea levels would continue to rise and Arctic ice would continue to shrink.

“We approach the meeting in Warsaw at a pivotal moment in the international process to address climate change,” Christiana Figueres, the UN’s climate chief, said before the Warsaw meeting. “We still have time and the means to limit warming to the internationally agreed 2 degrees Celsius target. But to meet this international commitment, we must respond to what science is telling us.”

Talks in Warsaw are expected to focus on the architecture of an eventual agreement to be signed in Paris in 2015, how many years it would take to enter into force, whether or not it would be obligatory and the mechanisms of such an agreement.

Such a technical approach “shifts the discussion away from the merits of the debate” and allows Poland, which generates about 90 per cent of its electricity from coal, to play a “sincere” role in leading the talks, said Agata Hinc, director-general of DemosEuropa, a Warsaw-based think-tank.

Marcin Korolec, the Polish environment minister who will be leading the talks, said in a recent interview with the Financial Times that he will work to ensure that there is no repeat of the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, which ended in failure.

The key, he argued, is to finesse the perennial disagreements between developed countries, responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions that created the global warming problem, and developing countries, which are quickly increasing their pollution levels. “We cannot treat everyone according to the same measure,” he said. “If we want an agreement in Paris, we have to think how ‘applicable to all’ can mean ‘ratifiable by all’.”

Poland, which is hosting its second climate summit in five years, is hoping to be able to straddle the divide as a country which only recently joined the developed club of nations. Warsaw has been unenthusiastic about ambitious EU emission reduction goals, arguing that keeping energy prices low is crucial to boosting growth.

It has courted controversy by hosting an international coal summit during the climate change talks, infuriating environmental groups. Other issues to be tackled in the two weeks of negotiations include the green climate fund, a funding mechanism that is supposed to spent $100bn a year to help developing nations deal with the effects of climate change.