“Polluters Talk. We Walk.” NGO’s Make Themselves Heard at COP 19

December 10, 2013

“Polluters talk, we walk” was the chant two weeks ago, as thousands of climate change activists walked out of the 19thUnited Nations Council of Parties (COP 19) conference a day before negotiations were scheduled to end. A spokesman for Oxfam blamed negotiators for insufficient outcomes to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius as outlined by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

If agreeing to limit emissions is hard, deciding who should pay for its consequences is even harder: It came as no surprise when COP 19 negotiations stalled on the issue of Loss and Damage, a still undefined process by which rich countries pay poorer ones for the costs of climate change resulting from historic emissions.

Discussions at COP 19 aimed to produce a timetable prior to 2015 when the Durban Platform, a legally binding agreement for post 2020 emission mitigation among all member states, is scheduled to finalize.  This would have required agreement between the Umbrella Group, consisting of developed countries led by the U.S., and the G77+China group, mainly consisting of developing countries led by China and India. The US proposes all parties share their emission reduction commitments prior to the 2015 meeting.  Developing countries oppose any such mechanism, claiming they lack the resources for mitigation commitment and can only pledge contributions. Negotiations stalled and negotiators huddled several times during the last night of the conference. Consensus within the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform, a subsidiary body that was established during COP 17 in Durban in order to develop the new legally binding protocol, wasn’t reached until noon on Saturday, two days after the convention had been scheduled to end.

Despite the negotiation stalemate there were some bright points to the conference, including a bold plan from a new organization: The Association of Independent Latin American and Caribbean States (AILAC), which includes Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, Guatemala and Panama, pushed for mitigation independently from the financial and technological support of wealthier nations, a historic feat for developing countries new to climate negotiations.

NGOs played a new and heightened role at COP19. Civil society, including non-profit organizations, researchers and private business demonstrated fresh leadership on climate change.  Whether chanting “stop this climate madness,” fasting with Philippines representative Yeb Sano in solidarity with the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, or walking out from the meeting on Thursday, NGOs attracted ample media attention. Their increasing influence and China’s continued efforts to demonstrate the feasibility of ETS as a means to reduce carbon emissions represented promising developments in the effort to combat climate change.