Doha Climate Talks and Major Decisions

By Gabriel Temesgen
Dec. 18, 2012

The 18th conference of the parties (COP-18) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was undertaken in Doha, Qatar, where around 17,000 representatives of nearly 200 countries met in oil-and-gas-rich Qatar for annual talks on slowing Global warming.

The summit was the latest round in two decades of U.N. climate talks that have sought to stem rising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which climate scientists warn will lead to devastating sea-level rise, changes in weather and other natural systems.

In 2009, at talks in Copenhagen, negotiators established a goal: Cut emissions enough to curb global warming at 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above the pre-industrial average, and so avert the worst repercussions.

Over the last two weeks, negotiators were, once again, taking a crack at narrowing the gap between this target and the current emission trajectories, which some worry have placed the planet on a track for considerably more warming and more devastating effects. The discussion was the latest of the annual series talks regarding global climate change that the UN hosts every year.

Here are some of the main points which the negotiators have discussed in Doha:
First, the Kyoto Protocol, which was signed in 1997, a bunch of countries have pledged commitments to achieve their greenhouse gas emission targets to be finalized on December 31, 2012. Delegates are expected to negotiate a new commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, the first phase of which will run out at the end of this year. Many poor nations demand the wealthier countries to take on substantial new cuts in their carbon emission levels in the next five years.

The UN has been holding climate talks for over the past twenty years, but the meetings have not fulfilled their main purposes: reducing green house gas emissions to keep the global temperature from rising by more than 2 C° (3.6 F°), compared to that of pre-industrial times. Unfortunately, our planet has already warmed an extra of 0.8C° (1.4C°) in the past century alone, according to report of climate scientists. Worse of all, the global temperature could increase by 4 C° (7.2C°) by the end of this century, which may possibly lead to the rising of the sea levels, ocean acidification, and extreme heat waves.

Many of the negotiations were involved in trying to extend the Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in 1997 and expires this year. It committed all rich countries to cut carbon emissions 5 percent below that of 1990 levels by 2012. However, the U.S. never ratified the Protocol and developing countries have refused to sign it unless rich countries continue cutting their emissions. Despite these problems, the Kyoto Protocol remains the only global treaty on climate change. Unfortunately, while the countries who signed it enjoyed some success in meeting their commitment, carbon emissions from the developing countries have increased dramatically, particularly in China, which owes its booming economy at least partly to all of its exported goods.

Second, it is also likely that there will be serious disputes about finance and issues of “hot air” – the carrying over of unused permits to emit carbon. Developing countries have requested developed countries to come out with a roadmap that show how the Green Climate Fund will be distributed between the years of 2013 and 2020. The poor countries argue that the fund should reach $100 billion by the year of 2020. However, developed countries do not want to discuss the loss and damage that their accumulated carbon emissions have done to developing countries over the years. Moreover, they are reluctant to facilitate rapid transfer of technology to developing countries using intellectual property rights as an excuse. Developing countries also argue that
developed countries should take emission reduction measures in areas such as aviation and navigation to international organizations instead of taking unilateral actions.

Third, right now, the world is on a path that would blow right by the 2 degree warming target and head straight for 4 degrees, which would have disastrous effects. Yet, there is still a question of ambition on the mitigation front. While the parties have put forward their own 2020 emission reduction targets, they still need to determine whether those targets are strong enough, and what comes after 2020.

Fourth and final, there is a long-term agreement on the horizon. At Durban, a year ago,
negotiators looked further into the future, laying the groundwork for a new agreement to be set up by 2015 and to be implemented in 2020. However, many important details of this agreement remain to be resolved. The Long-Term Cooperative Action deals with long-term issues such as the pledges of emissions reductions various countries have made and implementation of the goals that should be included in new climate change treaties after 2020. Long-term emissions reduction goals and negotiation results based on the Action should be further implemented in the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action and in future treaties.

Finally, the delegates have reached on an agreement on the following important issue:
1) The participants of the conference agreed to make an eight-year extension of the Kyoto Protocol up to 2020, the only legally binding U.N. pact for combating global warming.

It now obliges about 35 industrialised countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of at least 5.2 percent below that of the 1990 levels during the period of 2008-12. The nations will pick their own targets for 2020. But proponents of the Kyoto Protocol will dwindle starting from 2013 to a group of including the European Union, Australia, Ukraine, Switzerland and Norway. Together they account for less than 15 percent of the world greenhouse gas emissions.

Other countries of the original Kyoto Protocol group like Russia, Japan and Canada are pulling out, stating that it is time for big emerging economies led by China and India to join in setting targets for limiting their surging emissions.

The United States has signed but never ratified Kyoto Proptocol, arguing that it would cost much for the U.S. jobs and complaining about some wrongly omitted goals of developing nations. Developing nations have insisted on maintaining the Kyoto as a sign that rich nations shall continue leading the combat against global warming.

Under Saturday’s extension, there will be a possibility for tightening targets in 2014. The European Union, for instance, has promised for cuts of at least 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.

2) The countries have also laid out a timetable for working on a new global deal which will be due to be agreed in 2015 and to enter into enforcement from 2020 that would apply to all nations. However, the Kyoto Protocol now sets targets for industrialised nations only.

Negotiations would be split into two “work streams” – one looking at actions to combat climate change from 2020 while another looking on how to step up ambition before 2020.
They agreed to hold a first session of talks from April 29 to May 2, 2013, in Bonn, Germany, perhaps another summit in September 2013, and at least two sessions in 2014 and two in 2015.

The talks are named the “Durban Platform” after the South African city that hosted talks last year where the new push for a global deal from 2020 was decided.

3) The conference stopped short of obliging developed nations, facing austerity at home, to give a timetable about how they would achieve a promised tenfold increase in aid to $100 billion a year by 2020.

The text “encourages developed country parties to further increase their efforts to provide resources of at least to the average annual level of the (2010-12) period for 2013-15.” It would extend work on identifying new sources of funds by another year.
Developed nations agreed on the Copenhagen summit in 2009 to give developing nations $10
billion a year in aid to help them adapt to a changing climate for 2010-12. They also set a separate goal of $100 billion for 2020 although they did not mention what would happen from 2013-19.

4) The meeting agreed on ways how to address the rising losses of developing countries from the impacts of climate change, ranging from droughts to a gradual rise in sea levels.

The summit also decided to set up new arrangements to address the loss and damage,
including establishing a new international mechanism at a next meeting in 2013. The text includes no promise of new cash. The delegates said that the United States was the most adamant country that opposed any new project which would be in addition to the $100 billion funds promised from 2020 to help the poor.

Gabriel Temesgen
Adigrat University, Ethiopia