Foreign Policy Blogs

Round 18: Climate Talks Start in Doha

Round 18: Climate Talks Start in Doha

Photo: AP/Osama Faisal, File

The United Nations climate change negotiations, or the long form: the 18th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 8th session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties (CMP) to the Kyoto Protocol, got underway today in Doha, Qatar. The conference, controversially being hosted by a major oil and gas nation that is ranked as the world’s highest per capita carbon dioxide emitter, is being attended by some 17,000 participants, including all UN member states, NGOs, International Organizations, academic institutions, among other actors.


This meeting is tasked with expanding on COP 17’s outcomes last year in Durban, South Africa. There member nations agreed to the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which ties nations to structure a new and binding global climate agreement to reduce carbon emissions. The intent is for the agreement to be reached by 2015 and for the measure to be implemented by 2020 with both developed and developing nations as parties.


The EU’s Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard noted, “Doha must build on the breakthrough we achieved in Durban and make progress in preparation of the 2015 legally binding global climate agreement.”


Various supporters and activists worry, however, that the conference will not lead to the necessary solutions without strong leadership. The European Union has played that role in the past, but with fiscal difficulties front and center back home, their ability to exert direction for the talks may be dimmed. Compounding the possibility is the double-edged sword that their emission target of 20 percent emission reduction by 2020 was met this year. Adversely, there has been no further commitment, thus locking in internal inaction.


In a recent statement, though, the EU’s chief negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger seems to be loosening that stance by saying, “We are ready to step-up our ambition from 20 to 30 percent if other major economies would also move up to the higher end of their pledges.”


Many actors consistently hope the United States will play a greater role. On the sidelines in Doha, however, Jonathan Pershing, the United States delegate and deputy climate envoy, said the nation would not increase its prior commitment of cutting emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. He did highlight the substantial strides the nation has taken to slow climate change and to help the poor nations most affected by it. Mr. Pershing stated, “Those who don’t follow what the US is doing may not be informed of the scale and extent of the effort, but it’s enormous.” Specifically he mentioned the Obama administration’s increased fuel efficiency standards, increased renewable energy production and funding of climate finance for less developed countries.


The conference comes on the heels of reports by UNEP and the World Bank both warning about the ramifications of a warming planet, the unsustainable emissions today, emission predictions for the future and the widening gap among nations.


Through the UN, it has been agreed that a potential treaty must focus upon limiting global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees C (3.6 F) compared to pre-industrial times, which is viewed as the tipping point for increased climatic effects. However, the concentration of greenhouse gases has increased 20 percent since 2000, according to the aforementioned UNEP report. Scientists say that current pledges to mitigate greenhouse gases were falling dramatically short to limit warming.


The World Bank’s report concluded that a planet that is 4 degrees C (7.2 F) warmer, which it forecasts is possible with current trajectory of insufficient action and commitments, would see coastal areas inundated and small islands flooded, more common heat waves, food production reduced, species wiped out, stronger cyclones and diseases broaden to new locales.


Topping the talks is an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s only binding pact for curbing carbon emissions, with the first commitment period set to expire on December 31st of this year. The treaty, agreed to in 1997, specifically states for 37 party nations (Annex I Parties) to reduce emissions by 5.2 percent from 1990 levels.


It has been a struggle for a consensus on crafting a new commitment period for Kyoto due to differing opinions ranging from defining a time period for action—EU is offering 8 years while the developing world desires a longer commitment—to quantifying the reduction targets to simply what nations are willing to sign on for the next term. Currently neither China nor the United States, the world’s biggest emitters, are party to Kyoto. In addition, it is believed that New Zealand, Russia, Japan, and Canada will not sign an extension, but the EU and Australia would ratify an extension.


A consist point of contention during negotiations is the responsibility for action between the developed and the developing world. The developing world says it lacks the resources to adapt to climate change, which they claim has been accelerated by the developing world. In the climate negotiations, the term “common but differentiated responsibility” has become vogue aiming for the developed world to lead action at various commitment levels for climate change mitigation. But details and results have been left clouded. In China, for example, emissions are predicted to rise until 2030, despite its increased green policies.


Developing nations consistently lobby for an extension to the agreement citing receiving aid to help minimize the impacts of climate change through an adaption fund and technology transfer. Seyni Nafo, spokesman of the African group of nations said, “Failure to extend Kyoto would leave only national actions, with no legally binding UN framework. The Kyoto Protocol is going to be very important for us…and ambition is very low.”


Another topic to follow is the development of the Green Climate Fund. At the Copenhagen climate summit (COP 15) in 2009, developed countries promised to commit $100 billion a year by 2020 for climate mitigation and adaptation, with a $30 billion “fast-start finance” upfront compact for 2010-2012.


Actions have not equaled commitments, though. A new study by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) has found developed nations have fallen short on these promises of financial aid to poorer countries in order to help them fight climate change. While $30 billion in new aid was pledged over a two year period ending this year, the report found less than $23.6 billion had been committed, most of it in loans that would have to be repaid.


Another study by Oxfam also estimated that only 33 percent of the fast-start finance promised at COP 15 could be considered new. Secondly, developed nations have not made any pledges clear for the the promised $100 billion a year by 2020. The vast majority of the funds were repackaged from older aid commitments. Environmentalists and developing nations say it is a moral obligation for developed nations to fund the aid. They continue that developed nations are most responsible for climate change—they emit 75 percent of emissions while making up 20 percent of the population—and developing nations suffer the most effects with not enough means to combat the challenge.


However, the technology, the funding and the policy options to remain below the 2 degrees Celsius goal are achievable, provided that governments and society act to focus on crucial tasks ahead of them to move forward in the global response to climate change while in Doha. Executive Secretary of UNFCCC Christiana Figueres said earlier, “Expert analysis consistently says that we do have the possibility to keep on track and that to act now is safer and much less costly than to delay.” She continued, “but the door is closing fast on us because the pace and the scale of action is simply not yet it must be.”


The next two weeks will tell if nations are able to come together to act upon Mrs. Figueres’ message.




Joe Gurowsky

Joe Gurowsky focuses on energy, environment, geopolitics, trade, international development and climate related issues. Recently, he worked in Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania regarding different energy related programs . Joe has also traveled to Costa Rica, Ghana, the UAE, Germany and Alberta, Canada for aspects of energy and environmental policy.