The 19th Conference of Parties (COP19) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an important one: not only must negotiators make substantial progress toward establishing the framework for the post-2015 climate change agreement, but they must continue to implement commitments already made – including on gender. Patrick Wylie, Senior REDD+ Advisor with IUCN’s Global Forest and Climate Change Programme, reflects on the opening day of the negotiations from Warsaw, Poland.

As we all entered the National Stadium for our annual climate change pilgrimage, we were welcomed by 67 steps towards the registration entrance. The stairs were a clear metaphor that reminded each delegate of the burdensome workload and road ahead to our 2015 meeting in Paris (COP21) that will hopefully see adoption of the next global climate agreement. As the opening day draws to a close, Poland was poignant and with an air of both urgency and optimism that was absent during last year’s COP18 in Doha.

The urgency – instilled in us by Typhoon Haiyan’s unprecedented wrath on the Philippines and South-East Asia. For each of us as we laid our heads down on Sunday night, we each must have reflected on what role the devastating images – and the stories of personal heartbreak – would play on the ever-present word ‘ambition’ among the talks here.

Personally, I reflected on the chief negotiator for the Philippines’ quote from last year’s COP that reflected on the wraths of Superstorm Sandy on the US/Caribbean and Typhoon Bopa in the Philippines. Yeb Sano last year famously said: “If not us, then who. If not here, then where. If not now, then when.”

At this year’s opening plenary all eyes and minds were on the Philippines, with Yeb Sano providing a sharp-penned and eloquent call for action before revealing his personal story – of the landfall occurring in his hometown; of the personal toll he has been made to bear by the climate inaction of others, and all despite some of the best emergency preparedness amongst vulnerable nations.

One could not help but be moved by the tragedy on all levels, culminating with announcing his voluntary hunger strike for the duration of COP19 in solidarity with his countrymen “that can no longer speak for themselves” and China’s (e)motion to have three minutes of silence for the dead. This felt particularly apt particularly given the other countries’ observance of Remembrance/Veteran’s Day holiday today coinciding with the opening of COP. As many souls are estimated to have been lost in last weekend’s Typhoon as were injured on D-day.

Now, for the optimism – brought here to Poland as an unintended consequence of now being able to count in months (23), not years, the time left until a deal is to be finalized in Paris. IUCN’s message is clear here at COP19: the road to Paris ends at Lima next year (COP20). If an option or idea is not in brackets or on paper by next December in Lima, it simply doesn’t exist. It won’t be part of the global agreement. When we leave Warsaw in two weeks’ time, we need a prioritized workplan, that works backward from Paris and outlines the key issues that need guidance from the global community in order to empower national efforts.

Most importantly, when we leave Warsaw we need space to discuss the issues, and for creative debate of options for the final agreement – three intersessional negotiation sessions are needed next year on the road to Lima. Without space for discussion on issues like agriculture, land-use change and other framework considerations, we simply cannot achieve the goals that we set for ourselves in Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban. If not Warsaw, then when?

Once again IUCN is pushing the message that nature provides many of the solutions in tackling climate change and adapting to its impacts. While some countries and communities around the world are making progress in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the effects of climate change, the global community would do well to make far greater use of the solutions that nature offers us. Sustainably managing ecosystems such as forests, wetlands and coastal areas can simultaneously reduce carbon emissions and help women and men adapt to the impacts that are being felt across the world.

If you are in Warsaw, join IUCN for a side event to explore national and landscape efforts to address Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) and Climate Change Gender Action Plans (CCGAPs). On the road to COP 21 in Paris, we are already seeing positive examples of national efforts to bridge the implementation gap towards ambitious action on climate change. Moderated by Dr Horst Freiberg (Germany – BMU) this event will feature a warm conversation with Pak Heru Prasetyo (Indonesia – UKP4) and members of IUCN’s Global Gender Office, Ecosystem Management and Global Forest and Climate Change Programmes who seek to focus Parties’ attention on what is already working in the continued absence of – and efforts that could shape — a global climate agreement.

IUCN Official Side Event – ‘Giving Life to Acronyms: from Pledges to Action under EBA, REDD+ and ccGAPS – Wednesday, 13 November, 20:15 – 21:45 (Side Event Room: ‘Torun’).