Climate Change
Wednesday, 06 February 2013 14:27

Doha talks: a snapshot

WEBSITE: The COP18 Doha talks clearly suggested that the window period for taking action on the spiralling effects of climate change is closing in on us.

As reports poured in that global temperatures are on track to rise by at least 4ºC in the coming century, the COP18 conversation switched from prevention to adaptation.

Many developing countries have placed the responsibility for dealing with this squarely on the shoulders of developed nations that are responsible for emitting the bulk of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But the European Union (EU), United States (US), China and other major emitters were reluctant to explicitly accept responsibility. “The big players, the US, EU and China accepted the agreement with varying degrees of reservation,” the BBC reported.

While some promising compromises were made at COP18,  the absence of a strong commitment to slash GHG emissions and help vulnerable populations adapt to climate change was evident in the conference’s 39 decisions, according to IRIN News.

Loss and damage
Poor countries – including small island states and the least developed countries – were looking for a viable decision to create an international mechanism to address losses and damages caused by climate change.

The loss and damage mechanism aims to open the door for affluent countries to compensate poor countries facing the mounting costs of extreme climate events. It would consider both their economic and non-economic losses, and possibly explore technological interventions.
Additionally, a work programme collecting data on loss and damage caused by slow-onset disasters, such as droughts, received an extension. The programme will also consider the impact of climate change on migration patterns and displacement, as well as efforts to reduce risk.
The compromise agreement leaves the possibility of establishing an international mechanism to address such impacts. In the end, the least developed countries would have to settle for the possibility of this happening at the 2014 COP19 talks in Poland, according to IRIN News.
A key issue for poor countries – how to address loss and damage from climate change – saw tough fights between developing countries, especially  the United States, who at that stage faced the burden of resolving their economic “fiscal cliff”. The key to the United States agreement was the positioning of the loss and damage mechanism under an existing process promising to mobilise US$100-billion a year for poor nations to adapt to climate change, the BBC reported.

Tweeting from the conference, one of Argentina’s negotiators said the decisions do not feel groundbreaking,  but are more  likely saving face.  “What we got for it, is only loss and damage and nothing else,” the negotiator said. Still, the fact that the possibility of such a mechanism was mentioned in the decision at all was considered a breakthrough.
There was also such a deadlock on a separate demand by least developed countries and these  most at risk of sea level rise that provision had to be made for the losses they suffer due to climate change – a phenomenon they blame on the West’s  polluting ways since the industrial era, according to Sapa-AFP.

Commenting on the new clause, Martin Khor of the South Centre, an association of 52 developing nations, said  the fact that the term “loss and damage” is in the text is a huge step in principle. “Next comes the fight for cash,” he noted.
According to IRIN News, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society will likely have to wait a long time for affluent countries to make firm commitments on funding, as well as risk transfer mechanisms, such as insurance and technology, to help poor countries improve their resilience to climate change. Given that funding to help vulnerable populations adapt to climate change has been ad hoc and insufficient, there is little optimism for funds being made available for compensation.

Adaptation finance
At the 2009 Copenhagen negotiations, developed countries committed to pay U$100-billion per year by 2020 to help developing countries adapt to climate change and reduce their emissions.
They also promised to provide US$30-billion by 2012 under the Fast-Start  Finance Programme to help poor countries adapt to climate change. “With its fast-start finance,  the US made a down-payment on climate finance, but in Doha it was time to pay the mortgage and they did not deliver. The European Union, in turn, was incapable of exerting sufficient leadership in these negotiations because they were unable to get their house in order on everything, including a 30% reduction in emissions,  the carry-over  of surplus emissions under the Kyoto Protocol and  public climate finance,” the aid organisation Oxfam commented.

Developed countries reported that they had reached the $30-billion target, but academics and civil society disputed this statement. “It is very difficult to know where that finance went and how,” said scientist Saleemul Huq of the International Institute for Environment and Development. “We need to come up with procedures for monitoring, reporting and verification of these finance figures. We need to agree on some format so that money can be tracked effectively. It hasn’t been tracked previously,” he noted.

The Doha agreement failed to commit nations to scaling up their climate finance from 2013 in line with this promise. Developed countries further indicated that, with the global recession, they are unable to make firm commitments to finance poor nations’ efforts to adapt. Instead, a decision was made to set up a work programme in 2013 to help developed countries to identify ways to raise this money.

Individual pledges by five European countries – including the UK, France and Germany – have been made. But cumulatively, these fall far short of the US$60-billion that developing countries had requested for the interim.  IRIN News states: “It is also unclear whether the five pledges are specifically for climate change adaptation, or whether they form part of the official development assistance (ODA) that developed countries provide to the developing world. The United Nations  Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) requires that developed countries provide money for climate change adaptation that is additional to their ODA.”

While some countries, such as the United Kingdom (UK) and Germany, made welcome announcements on their plans to increase public financing, others such as Australia, France and Canada gave only vague signals of their intentions. The United Stated (US) and Japan remained mum on the subject. As a result, public finance could fall in 2013 – at the very moment it needs to be increased.

Emission cuts
As more evidence pours in that global temperatures could rise by more than double the 2ºC  recommended by scientists and that sea levels are rising faster than previously thought, the emphasis has switched from preventing climate change to how we will cope.  This sentiment is the strongest among developing nations that are poorly equipped to handle the loss and damages that they are already experiencing and they are looking at rich nations – the polluters – to take responsibility.

The alarming facts
The Global Carbon Project reports that carbon emissions have risen by 2,6%  in 2012. Alarmingly, carbon emissions have spiked by 58% since 1990, the baseline year for the Kyoto Protocol – the only legally-binding plan for combating global warming. As such, the fallout from global warming and a need to convert from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources remains an international concern.
Analysis published by the World Bank shows the world remains firmly at risk of seeing temperatures rise towards 4ºC  by the end of the century, creating devastating effects, if current levels of ambition to curb greenhouse gas emissions are not raised.
Likewise, scientific organisations, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), have warned that failing to cut emissions further could increase global temperatures by over 4ºC by the turn of the century. The international goal is to limit this warming to 2ºC, but the International Energy Agency has shown that achieving this goal grows more difficult and expensive with every passing year.
Lesley Masters, a senior researcher at the Institute for Global Dialogue, said: “We see the package before us as deeply deficient in mitigation and finance. It’s likely to lock us on the trajectory to a  3-5ºC  rise in global temperatures, even though we agreed to keep the global average temperature rise of  1,5ºC  to ensure survival of all islands.”

The World Meteorological Organisation says greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere have reached yet another record high at 390,9  parts per million, with no identified change in the upwards trend.  UNEP warns that the gap between what is needed in terms of emission reductions to stay below 2ºC and what is so far promised by countries is still widening, not decreasing.
UNEP urged negotiators to heed the risk from melting permafrost, which could spew billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the air and accelerate global warming at a stroke. Warming permafrost could emit 43-billion to 135-billion tons of carbon by 2100 and 246-billion to 4 150-billion tons by 2200, Sapa-AFP reported.
However, reports underline that the technology, funding and policy options to remain below the 2ºC  goal are already available, provided that governments and societies take the necessary action rapidly enough.

COP18: fast facts
•    The Durban Platform was established at COP17 talks to start discussions on a global deal that would see all nations take on binding emission reductions. The new strand of the talks includes for the first time the possibility of binding emission reduction targets from all countries, not just rich ones. This has led some large emerging economies to take a cautious approach to progress on the Durban Platform.
•    When it comes to the international negotiations, there is a reluctance to take the lead in driving change for fear of the negative implications this will have on the national interest.  In the isolated instances where there has been an effort to take the lead in making the tough decisions, for instance the EU position on taxing air travel in the European airspace, there has been an international outcry.
•    While there has been little leadership initiative at an  international level, at a domestic level many countries have taken a lead in adopting new technology and fighting the effects of climate change – whether it is  China’s renewable energy drive, improved environmental building regulations in the EU, Brazil’s efforts in preventing deforestation or South Africa’s own efforts in installing one-million  solar water heating systems by 2014/15 and the development of the White Paper on Climate Change.

A call for action
•    “The Kyoto Protocol remains the cornerstone of the international climate regime,” states China, speaking for the BASIC group, which also includes Brazil, India and South Africa. “We urge developed country parties to the Kyoto Protocol to raise their level of ambition in Doha, consistent with what is required by science and their historical responsibility.”
•     “Together we face a man-made disaster of epic proportions,” said Marlene Moses of the Pacific island of Nauru, heading the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), which is vulnerable to rising seas. “The Kyoto Protocol must not be an exercise in creative accounting or a public relations exercise. Commitments must be real and must deliver effective carbon emissions reductions,” she added.

Looking back
11 December 2011: Durban Platform agreed at COP17. Parties note the danger of temperatures rising above 2ºC.
13 December 2011: Canada pulls out of the Kyoto Protocol.
6 January 2012: Stephen Hawking predicts climate disaster will wipe out the human race.
16 February 2012: The USA launches the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, aimed at cutting methane, soot and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
15 March 2012: The European Parliament votes in favour of setting a binding renewable energy target for 2030.
26 March 2012: Nature Geosciences reports that the world could see a 3°C  warming by 2050.
13 April 2012: Mexico reveals plans to reduce its carbon footprint by 50% by 2050.
4 May 2012: South Korea’s parliament  votes to establish a carbon market.
15 May 2012: Francois Hollande assumes the French presidency  and calls for EU leadership on the climate.
19 June 2012: G20 leaders commit to full implementation of UNFCCC  COP16 and COP17 agreements.
22 June 2012: The Rio+20 Summit whimpers to an end with inconclusive and weak text agreed by all parties.
6 July 2012: A study  in the journal Nature warns that  Pacific reefs  are heading for “total collapse” due to rising sea temperatures.
24 July 2012: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reports extreme melting of the Greenland ice sheet.
3 August 2012: The US special envoy  for climate change,  Todd Stern, suggests dropping the 2°C  target from future climate deals.
28 August 2012: Australia announces plans to join the EU Carbon Trading Scheme  by 2018.
5 September 2012: UN climate talks in Bangkok, Thailand, close with a “draft” on the second Kyoto commitment period.
7 September 2012: US President Barack Obama reveals that “climate change is not a hoax” in a speech at the Democrat Convention.
12 September 2012: The International Energy Agency (IEA) chief economist,  Fatih Birol, says the world is on a pathway to a 6°C  rise.
13 September 2012: Russia rules out taking part in the “useless” Kyoto Protocol extension.
19 September 2012: NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report that Arctic ice has collapsed to a record low.
20 September 2012: The EU and China sign a deal to cooperate on carbon market development.
20 October 2012: South Korea is selected as host of the Green Climate Fund.
8 December 2012: COP18 reaches an agreement to extend the Kyoto Protocol.

Full acknowledgement and thanks are given to www.rtcc.org, www.irinnews.org, Oxfam International, www.faststartfinance.org and BBC News for providing the information  to write this  article.