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It’s that time of year again when climate negotiators from around the world head to the jamboree known as the Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or, in UN summit jargon, the UNFCCC COP. This year’s COP, held in Warsaw, will be the 19th annual round of global talks on averting a planetary catastrophe.

I asked CGD senior associate Michele de Nevers, formerly a senior official at the World Bank and the veteran of many previous COPs, to join me on the Wonkcast to discuss the prospects for the Warsaw COP.

“That this is the 19th annual round of climate talks says a lot,” Michele explains.

“It says that climate change continues to be tremendously important, especially for developing countries. But it also says that we haven’t gotten very far with the UN process. If it’s been going on for 19 years and we don’t have a legally binding treaty or anything close, what is this process really doing?” Michele asks.

I ask Michele if there was ever a time when people felt more hopeful about what these meetings could achieve. She recalls several times of high hopes, such as the 1997 meeting in Kyoto, Japan (COP 3), that resulted in the Kyoto Protocol, and the 2007 meeting in Bali, Indonesia (COP 13), where there was agreement on a broad framework of issues that were equally relevant to both developing and developed countries.

Michele also recalls the “huge expectations” leading up to the 2009 climate negotiations in Copenhagen, Denmark (COP 15). “Expectations were so high, in fact, I think they contributed to a sense of failure that wouldn’t have existed if expectations had been more realistic,” she says.

“I don’t think there’s been a COP as important as Copenhagen since but now all eyes are turned to the COP that will take place in France in 2015. Last year in Doha, it was agreed that in 2015 countries will agree to set targets that will be implemented by 2020.”

Despite the lackluster outcomes of past meetings and the low expectations for the Warsaw COP, Michele does not doubt the importance of the COP meetings as a forum for networking and exchanging ideas.

As for actually agreeing upon and taking on steps to address the problem, Michele says that there is increasing attention to smaller groups that agree to work together on a voluntary basis. As an example she cites a new report from the Oxford Martin School, Now for the Long Term, that calls for “inclusive minilateralism” and a “multi-stakeholder coalition” that would bring together countries (a “C-20” utilizing the existing G-20), companies (a “C-30” selecting 30 companies affiliated to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development), and cities (working through the existing C40 Cities initiative). We also discuss the idea that if the US and China, a “C-2” could come to an agreement, others would fall into line.

As for CGD’s participation in the Warsaw COP, Owen Barder, CGD senior fellow and director for Europe, will be attending. At the COP, Owen will, among other things, seek input on a proposal he is developing for opening the EU Emissions Trading System to participation by developing countries—yet another option for inclusive minilateralism as an alternative to the stalled UNFCCC COPs.  

My thanks to Catherine An for a draft of this blog post, and to Kristina Wilson for recording and editing the Wonkcast. You can follow Michele on Twitter at @MicheledeNevers, me at @LMacDonaldDC and the Center for Global Development’s institutional feed at @CGDev).