Representatives of 194 governments came away from the latest climate summit in Doha with a deal too weak to have any significant effect on the global warming that is gathering pace. But the 2012 summit of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change did start to move towards an important principle in international negotiations – a country that suffers loss and damage due to actions of other countries should be compensated.
This was opposed tooth and nail by the US delegation – which has many lawyers – because they feared it would open up an entirely new avenue of litigation on compensation for liabilities. But it did find mention in the final document, called Doha Climate Gateway.
Measuring all the greenhouse gases (GHG) – mainly carbon dioxide – that is now in the atmosphere and warming up the earth has shown that most of it has been put there by rich nations since the start of the Industrial Age. The US continues to be the world’s second largest GHG emitter. Hence the frantic attempts by the US and its allies to talk about the ‘flow’ of GHG emissions rather than the ‘stock’. China is now the world’s largest emitter and India the third largest. But the stock matters a lot, because a carbon dioxide molecule stays in the atmosphere for well over 100 years.
Developing countries – especially the poorest ones among them – turned this issue of “loss and damage” into a make or break issue, together with the money they should be given in the next eight years to deal with climate change effects and move to a greener development path. Climate change is already affecting agriculture worldwide, making droughts, floods and storms more frequent and more severe, and raising the sea level. Right now the effects are most pronounced in tropical areas, so poor countries are being hit the hardest.
To deal with this, they were promised $30 billion between 2010 and 2012, and $100 billion a year from 2020. Developing country representatives came to Doha determined to get a financial pledge from 2013 to 2020. Pa Ousman from Gambia – current chair of the Least Developed Countries group – said they wanted “20 billion dollars in 2013, ramping up to 60 billion a year by 2015.” But rich countries, still hit by the economic slowdown, said they are not in a position to make any pledge. Once again, the US led the hardliners on this, with its deputy delegation leader Jonathan Pershing choosing to ignore persistent questions about it from the media, leave alone representatives from poor countries. The weak Doha deal finally went through partly because six countries made individual pledges totalling about $6 billion next year.
The other big issue in Doha was the start of a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol – the only legally enforceable protocol which, in its first commitment period, obliged rich nations to reduce their GHG emissions by 5.2% between 2008 and 2012, compared to 1990. The US never ratified the protocol, Canada has walked out of it, Japan and Russia have refused to make any commitment after 2012, and other rich countries have been saying they will pledge emission reductions only if China, India and other developing countries pledge to arrest emissions after 2020. Big developing countries have rejected such a quid pro quo, with India reiterating the theme of equity, pointing out that rich nations with small populations have taken up a disproportionate percentage of the carbon space in the atmosphere, and that developing countries need more of that space to provide electricity – for instance – to all their citizens. This debate – which has been on for two decades – raised serious questions about the start of the second commitment period. It was finally agreed upon, but it remains an empty shell, with most of the rich countries yet to pledge the extent by which they will reduce their GHG emissions.
Deep divisions between the developing and the developed world over these issues led to a Doha deal too weak to combat climate change, despite recent dire warnings from scientists. The World Meteorological Organization has just reported that concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are now the highest in recorded history. The United Nations Environment Programme has warned that current emission reduction pledges fall about 40% short of what is required to keep global temperature rise within two degrees Celsius. The World Bank has made some dire prognoses of what will happen if the temperature rises by an average of four degrees.
Speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, Tony de Brum of the Marshall Islands said what was at stake at this conference was “more than scientific and financial and legal wrangling as far as we are concerned. Islands are already being inundated with salt, our food security is being threatened and there’s very little we can do. Most perplexing is the failure of our partners in development to see the urgency of this issue.”
Finally, representatives of 194 governments and the European Union could only reach a very weak agreement indeed. Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, president of the conference, later described it as a “gateway to the future”. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, said what was needed now was greater “political will” by all governments. “Doha is another step in the right direction, but we still have a long road ahead. The door to stay below two degrees remains barely open. The science shows it, the data proves it.”
Environmental NGOs were scathing in their criticism of the deal. It failed to deliver increased cuts to carbon pollution, nor did it provide any credible pathway to $100 billion per year in finance by 2020 to help the poorest countries deal with climate change, according to the 700 NGOs who are members of Climate Action Network-International (CAN-I).
WWF’s Tasneem Essop said, “These talks have failed the climate and they have failed developing nations. The Doha decision has delivered no real cuts in emissions, it has delivered no concrete finance, and it has not delivered on equity.”
Tim Gore, International Climate Change Policy Advisor for Oxfam, said, “Developing countries have come here in good faith and have been forced to accept vague words and no numbers. It’s a betrayal.”
Jennifer Haverkamp of the Environmental Defence Fund said, “Not until we get clarity on how all countries will participate in reducing emissions, and on the legal structure of the agreement and its institutions, will we see substantial funds flowing to address climate change, both inside and out of the UN process. Doha barely began to answer some of those questions.”
“Any government walking out here saying it is a success is suffering from a terrible case of cognitive dissonance,” said Kumi Naidoo, executive director, Greenpeace.
Lina Li, Climate Policy Specialist of Greenovation Hub, China, pointed out, “There is no ambition increase from the Cancun and Durban emission reduction targets, or specific numbers for mid-term finance for developing countries to respond to their urgent need for climate change adaptation and loss and damage, nor on closing the ‘trust deficit’ among countries.”
Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy, Union of Concerned Scientists, was the most scathing. He said, “There were some winners here. The coal industry won here, the oil industry won here, you saw on display the power of these industries and their short term profit to influence the governments of the world… We need to change the mentality.”