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The Doha Gateway: Road to nowhere?

The outcome of recent climate talks

It was a nail biting finish on a non-ball game, this 18th conference of parties (COP) to the climate convention, which meets, once a year, to push towards action to cut greenhouse gas emissions – so intertwined with economic growth, that the world has been haggling for the past 20 years on who will cut and how much. By Sunita Narain


The fact is that in this same 20 years, since 1992, when the convention was signed in Rio, the science of climate change has become more certain. The world is beginning to witness what the future will look like – more extreme events like tropical storm Sandy are expected to cripple life and livelihoods across the world. The ocean nation of Philippines has seen 17 killer typhoons in the past year. So much so, that its delegation to the conference spoke emotionally “the world has run out of time”.

* Words but no action and the issue of equity
But even as science has become more certain, action it would seem has become more uncertain. The Doha package is full of words but no action. The second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) has been agreed upon, but with weak targets and loopholes. The US has not put any meaningful emission reduction of the table. The financial package, essential for adaptation of the most vulnerable countries is a broken promise.

But what is important at Doha is the fact that the world has not dismantled the principles that will govern the world’s efforts to cut emissions. These principles, after bitterest of bitter fights, have been retained and strengthened. The outcome of the conference states that efforts of parties will be taken on the ‘basis of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respected capabilities’.

For the US, the issue of equity in the allocation of responsibility to the problem and action based on this contribution has been a red line. The US delegation has made its complete aversion to any mention of the words equity or historical emissions clear to the point of blackmail. At Copenhagen COP 2009, bowing to US pressure, these words had been erased from the draft decision.

* US opposition to historical responsibility
In the Durban Platform (ADP) negotiations, which will now work to build the agreement for emission reductions post-2020, the word ‘equity’ has not been used for this reason. But instead, it has been agreed, that action will ‘under the climate convention’, which in turn is embedded within the framework of equity.

It is no surprise then that the US made its reservation and right to future rejection known on these two references. In the final plenary, US climate czar, Todd Stern, said in no uncertain words that his government will ‘revoke all attempts to invoke’ these principles. Now that the world has to come together to raise ambition to meet the climate change challenge, this issue of who will cut and how much will have to be decided urgently. The US opposition to the principle of equity and historical emissions will make the road bumpy and more difficult to traverse at the pace that is so urgently needed.

* Loss and damage
Doha also agreed, importantly, to include the principle of ‘loss and damage’ – estimating the economic and livelihood cost of the growing impacts of climate change to the most vulnerable. This is crucial as the runaway extreme weather events are devastating economies. It is also agreed that there are linkages between extreme weather events and slow-onset events – the variable rains that lead to droughts, for instance. This was the key demand of island nations and least developed countries. They wanted a mechanism to estimate and compensate for these damages. After much resistance, again from the US, it has been agreed that the world will decide on this mechanism by COP 19 – to be held in Poland next year.

But in final assessment, at Doha, the world agreed not to raise its level of ambition to meet the giga-tonne and financial-gap in climate negotiations. It had been agreed at the Bali conference, held in 2007 – five years ago – that the already industrialised world needed to cut 45 per cent below 1990 by 2020 to world at temperature increase of 1.5-2° C – considered to be safe levels. It was agreed that this would be done by Kyoto Protocol parties increasing their levels of ambition and by non-Kyoto Protocol parties, mainly the US by cutting emissions at ‘comparable’ levels.

* Doha scores very low
The Kyoto Protocol was given its second commitment period – in other words there is a continuation of a multilateral and rule based regime to reduce emissions. But the targets set by its party countries are weak and meaningless. The agreement has been weakened also by the fact that there are huge amounts emissions that are available to countries like Russia to trade and sell in this commitment period because their economies collapsed post the agreement. These assigned amount units (AAUs) were at bitterest fight at Doha as Russia, Belarus and Ukraine struggled to keep these emissions free to trade. The final agreement was not satisfactory to Russia, which raised severe reservations. European Union and all other KP parties pledged that they would not buy these ‘hot air’ emissions.

The US, which was to cut ‘comparable’ levels of emissions, has agreed only to reduce by 3% over 1990 levels. Its target is a cruel joke on the planet.

Doha scores very low – perhaps fatally low – on the ambition to keep the world within safe limits. The world is on course for a deadly 2.5 to 5° C increase in temperature, which would be catastrophic by any count. If there is hope it lies in the fact that the world has, in Doha, agreed to strengthen the framework for future action. But it is action that is needed now. In the words of the typhoon-struck Philippine delegate “If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”

Sunita Narain is Director of the Indian Centre for Science and Environment in New Dehli.

Recommended citation: Narain, Sunita (2012) ‘The Doha Gateway: Road to nowhere?’, World Economy & Development In Brief (WDEV), Luxembourg, 11 Dec (www.wdev.eu)

Posted: 11 Dec 2012

Sunita Narain on the Doha outcome

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