The latest round of U.N. climate talks extended the worldwide drought on climate-fighting leadership. Things were going so badly on Thursday that many of the world’s biggest environmental groups stormed out in frustration.

But late during the two weeks of negotiations in Warsaw, Poland, known as COP19, which ended Saturday, a few drops of refreshing news splashed down. Here’s a full rundown.

The big news

In 2015, each of the planet’s nations will offer a proposal for contributing to a reduction in worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. This agreement didn’t come until Saturday night, a day after the talks were supposed to have ended. The AP reported that the “modest deal” averted “a last-minute breakdown.”

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The U.S. and other countries plan to publish their commitments to reduce emissions in early 2015 — ahead of what’s supposed to be a final round of negotiations for a new climate treaty in Paris in late 2015. But India, China, and other developing countries have argued that they shouldn’t be forced to spend their own money fighting climate change. As such, they refused to agree to make such commitments. (This despite the fact that nearly half the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were put there by the developing world, and that China and India are respectively the world’s worst and fourth-worst climate polluters.)

At the last minute, a compromise emerged: Instead of publishing “commitments” in early 2015, countries have agreed to announce their “intended … contributions” to fight climate change “well in advance” of the Paris meetings. India and China choreographed the semantic gymnastics because they don’t want to hear “legal” this and “contract” that if they fail to follow through. From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Nearly 24 hours into extra time, a plenary meeting approved a modified text that had been thrashed out during an hour-long emergency huddle.

Negotiators agreed that all countries should work to curb emissions from burning coal, oil and gas as soon as possible, and ideally by the first quarter of 2015.

“Just in the nick of time, the negotiators in Warsaw delivered enough to keep the process moving,” said Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute think tank.


Deforestation through fires, logging, and conversion of forests into fields is responsible for 20 percent of global warming. And the signature achievement of the Warsaw talks was agreement over efforts to tackle deforestation.

The main agreement related to the awkwardly named Redd+. Acronyms generally suck, but we’re going to go ahead and use “Redd+” because it’s better than the alternative, which would be to write, over and over again, the phrase “reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation — plus activities that reforest the world.”

The BBC explains from Warsaw:

A package of measures has been agreed here that will give “results-based” payments to developing nations that cut carbon by leaving trees standing. …

Earlier this week the UK, US, Norway and Germany agreed to a $280 million package of finance that will be managed by the World Bank’s BioCarbon fund to promote more sustainable use of land.

Now negotiators have agreed to a package of decisions that will reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation plus pro-forest activities (known as Redd+).

The conference agreed on a “results-based” payments system that means that countries with forests will have to provide information on safeguards for local communities or biodiversity before they can receive any money.

Observers praised the forestry agreements. “Negotiators provided the bare minimum to move forward on the climate deal,”  said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “But the talks made gains on the international technology mechanism [which will help developing countries use technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change] and hit it out of the ballpark with REDD+.”

Loss and damage

Developing countries are pushing for compensation from the West when weather that’s worsened by our greenhouse gas emissions causes them harm. The idea is not popular with developed countries. (The U.S. has tried to rebrand “loss and damage” as “blame and liability.”)

During the Warsaw talks, developed countries agreed to discuss proposals about providing expertise, and possibly aid, to help developing countries cope with climate impacts through what will be known as the Warsaw International Mechanism. (This assistance would be in addition to that provided through the Green Climate Fund, which is intended to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to climate change using $100 billion a year starting in 2020.) In exchange, developing countries agreed to delay those discussions until 2016 — after the next climate treaty is finalized.

But that’s pretty much it. And it’s not nearly enough.

“It is irresponsible of the governments of Poland, US, China, India and EU to pretend to act against global warming and catastrophic climate change while agreeing on baby steps at COP19,” said Martin Kaiser, Greenpeace International’s head delegate, in an emailed statement. “The comatose nature of these negotiations sends a clear signal that increased civil disobedience against new coal plants and oil rigs is needed to prevent catastrophic climate change.”

Here’s hoping the drought of climate leadership breaks for the next round of U.N. climate meetings late next year in Lima, Peru.