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Expert Comment: Addressing climate change and the Warsaw climate talks

Stephen Axon - image Wednesday 27 November 2013

Stephen Axon, a part time PhD student in Liverpool Hope's Department of Geography, looks at the outcomes of the Warsaw Climate Change Conference, which took place earlier this month.

Discussing climate change will always evoke strong opinions, not just amongst climate scientists but also policymakers, economists and environmentalists. Scientists, policymakers and senior ranking environment and climate change ministers from across the globe discussed, and debated, the ways in which climate change should be addressed from an international level in Warsaw, Poland (11th-22nd November).

Addressing climate change is a contentious subject, and attempting to solve such a complex environmental issue is not easy. As with all international meetings aiming to come to an agreement to address climate change, the climate talks in Warsaw also saw it’s fair share of tense debates.

The conference was marred by numerous walkouts by environmental campaigners, NGO’s and negotiators during sessions because they felt little progress was being made. The fractious meeting had been met with disagreement over climate finance (supporting countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change), compensation to developing countries for loss and damage as well as developing the framework for a new global treaty.

The Conference of the Parties (COP) seeks international collaboration (and consensus) on addressing climate change, towards a legally binding agreement that could is to be signed at the 2015 climate talks in Paris. It is certainly rare to hail a climate change conference a success. Most often, they are often seen as failures with squabbling between “developed” and “developing” countries.

This year was no different. The chief negotiators from China and India argued over a single word in the paperwork, that only the term “commitments” should apply to “developed” countries such as the USA. After hours of negotiating, the term “commitments” was altered to “contributions”. In the language of addressing climate change at the international level, this allows emerging economies such as China, Brazil and Venezuela the freedom to enhance, and support, the action of the “developed” countries.

Despite the endless debates surrounding the action that “developed” and “developing” countries should take to address climate change, the annual COP are not failures. Instead, they should be seen for what they are. They are, in fact, a process of discussion, engagement and international collaboration for the purpose of addressing global climate change.

Left unaddressed, climate change has the potential to change the face of the planet. Rising temperatures, melting ice caps, rising sea levels, mass human migration and displacement are all well known impacts. But addressing climate change has the potential to create a sustainable society; a sustainable global economy; and, perhaps more importantly, a more sustainable future.

The advantages of taking action are vast, and far outweigh the advantages of inaction. Averting irreparable damage to the physical and human environments; constructing sustainable cities and lifestyles; and preventing significant damage to the planet are just some of the benefits of taking action. There are a multitude of approaches to save the planet and keep the lights on without destroying the planet that all countries can agree on.

The next climate change conference will be in 2014, in Peru. Wishing for success at such an event may seem unrealistic, and naive. But it is with that thought that we should be reminded that the USA reduced their carbon emissions by 11.8% in 2012 (compared to 2005 levels). In a country where discussing climate change is an extremely divisive topic and taking action is often met with scepticism and dismissal, there may be hope after all.

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