Just days before the UN Climate Change Conference began in Warsaw, delegates from the 194 nations that would be represented there received a terrible reminder of why they were about to spend two weeks discussing the future of global climate policy. When Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, it brought winds of over 350 kilometres per hour and battered the coast with six-metre-high waves. When the storm moved off towards Vietnam a few hours later, it left behind scenes of utter devastation. Over 5,000 people were dead, hundreds of thousands had lost everything, and more than four million were forced to leave their homes.
Storms are nothing new, but they have never been as frequent and as powerful as they are today. A report by reinsurer Munich Re, for example, found that nine of the ten most costly and deadly hurricanes to have occurred since 1980 struck in the last ten years. Rising temperatures are making it more likely that storms will be increasingly severe. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that global warming is a reality. The authors write that average global temperatures have risen by 0.89C since the beginning of the 20th century. The devastation in the Philippines raised hopes that the delegates in Warsaw would take decisive action towards agreeing a global climate deal.
At first it sounded like the person chairing the talks, then Polish environment minister Marcin Korolec, would make good on these hopes. During his opening speech, he said, “I can promise you that here in Warsaw and over the next twelve months I will spare no effort to find a consensus.”
However, things didn’t sound quite so rosy if you dug beneath what he was actually saying. When he announced that “one country or even a group cannot make a difference. But acting together, united as we are here, we can do it,” he was simply repeating the Polish government’s position that Poland and the entire EU must wait until all countries agree on a compromise. There was no mention of the many countries (such as the USA and China, the world’s biggest carbon emitters) that are investing heavily in renewables and energy efficiency despite the lack of a global agreement. Instead, the fact that some countries are unwilling to agree to binding targets was used as an excuse to do nothing.