Climate change talks hit by walkout protest
By Claudia Ciobanu
WARSAW - The G-77+China group of 133 developing countries negotiating a new international deal at COP19 in Warsaw to combat climate change walked out of the talks early on Wednesday to protest against developed countries' reluctance to commit to loss and damage.
"Today at 4 am, the delegation of Bolivia and all delegations of G-77 walked out because we do not see a clear-cut commitment by developed countries to reach an agreement," Bolivian negotiator Rene Orellana said on Wednesday morning at the COP19 climate summit.
What seems to have happened at the closed night-time session of the so-called contact group of loss and damage is that Juan
Hoffmaister, the Bolivian negotiator on loss and damage, who was representing the entire G-77 + China group, walked out in the name of developing countries. The walk-out has a strong symbolic value and is unprecedented in the last decade of climate talks.
Orellana further explained that the walk-out was sparked by the attitude of developed countries, among them Norway, which proposed that loss and damage be discussed not under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as developing countries requested but under the looser Rio+20 sustainable development framework.
"G-77 put forward a very constructive proposal on loss and damage and have been engaging meaningfully with all countries, but [during the loss and damage session taking place into the early hours of November 20], Australians were behaving like high school boys in class, their behavior was rude and disrespectful," said Harjeet Singh from the NGO ActionAid International on Wednesday.
"On top of that, in the middle of the night, Norway came up with a proposal whereby they rejected everything; they rejected discussing socioeconomic losses, non-economic losses, rehabilitation, compensation," said Singh. "But these are the crucial elements of loss and damage; if you do not discuss these, how can you discuss loss and damage?"
Developing countries negotiating at COP19 have repeatedly stated that creating an international mechanism under UNFCCC to address loss and damage is the biggest expectation they have of the Warsaw meeting.
G-77+China last week proposed a text meant to provide the basis of negotiations for creating such an international mechanism for loss and damage, which called for this issue to be treated as a third, separate, pillar in the UNFCCC process, in addition to mitigation and adaptation.
The super-typhoon Haiyan which hit the Philippines right before COP19 started brought even more to the fore the fact that some countries are already suffering the deadly impacts of climate change, having moved into the so-called "post-adaptation" phase. For these countries, assistance to deal with the loss and damage already caused by climate change would be crucial, argued G-77+China.
But developed countries have been reluctant to give such a prominent role under UNFCCC to loss and damage.
According to a US document outlining Washington's negotiating position at COP, which was leaked to the media during the first week of the Warsaw meeting, accepting loss and damage as a third pillar would mean "focusing on blame and liability". That is, developed countries would have to accept historical responsibility for emissions causing climate change and commit to paying the price.
Australia and Norway appear to have carried this reluctance towards loss and damage into the midnight session.
Speaking on Wednesday, UK negotiator Ed Davey confirmed his country's support for the developed countries' resistance. Davey said, "We do not accept the argument on compensation. I don't think the compensation analysis is fair and sensible, but that does not mean we are not committed to helping the poorest countries adapt."
EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard stated that it was concerning that developing countries took such a tough stance and made an appeal for countries not to backtrack on talks.
While the walk-out makes developing countries vulnerable to the accusation of being responsible for holding back the Warsaw negotiations, developing countries and NGOs are pointing out that it was the attitude and behavior of developed countries that forced them to issue such an ultimatum in the first place.
"We are very disappointed by the slow process on negotiations on loss and damage, the most important measure of success here in Warsaw," said Philippines negotiator Yeb Sano on Wednesday.
"The walk-out happened because a very strong proposal for a loss and damage mechanism put forward by G-77 and China did not receive enough traction," explained Meena Raman from the NGO Third World Network. "This is a postponing tactic by developed countries in order not to make a decision on loss and damage here in Warsaw."
Since COP19 began on November 11, developed countries have given few signs of being committed to a meaningful international climate deal.
This week, Japan announced that it would cut a previous commitment of reducing CO2 emissions by 25% by 2020 to a 3% cut only. Australia recently announced an intention to scrap an existing carbon tax, while Canada indicated it might not meet a pledge to reduce emissions made at the Copenhagen 2009 COP.
Developing countries have indicated that they are ready to discuss more if developed countries take a more serious stance. As an example, Indian Minister of Environment Jayanthi Natarajan declared on Wednesday upon arrival in Warsaw that her country would be open to temporarily using the existing Green Climate Fund for doing immediate disbursements for loss and damage, until a proper international mechanism is set in place.