It was with an air of resignation that tired delegates watched the gavel come down on the latest round of decisions under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) after 9 p.m. on Saturday, more than 24 hours past the anticipated conclusion. And despite the fact that some minor decisions have been made, the cavernous conference center in Qatar seemed to highlight the space that continues to exist between countries’ positions on how to address the climate crisis.
The two-week meeting, intended to kick-start the process to develop a new global treaty, concluded with an “agreement” called the Doha Climate Gateway; the question is, a gateway to what?
The lackluster results come in stark contrast with recent extreme weather events felt by people across the globe. Even as the delegates talked, yet another major storm pummeled the Philippines, leaving more than 700 dead in its wake.
Meanwhile, the scientific reports continue to roll in. Permafrost in the Arctic is melting at a truly alarming rate. Sea levels may be rising 60% faster than we previously believed. And while studies show that it may still be feasible to halt global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius (the UNFCCC goal), the World Bank warns that even if current commitments are fully implemented, we should prepare for 4 degrees of warming — a future I personally find unimaginable.
Despite these dire predictions, the talks here in Doha have done little to alleviate concerns. Nations failed to take concrete actions to address climate change, or to push forward the proposed 2015 agreement that may give us a chance of doing so — an agreement that wouldn’t even be implemented until 2020.
But these are complex talks, so let’s take a look at what has been accomplished — and what hasn’t.
In Doha, a few countries signed up to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, preserving the only legally binding mechanism we currently have to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, Canada, Russia, Japan and New Zealand dropped out, making the Kyoto Protocol a shadow of its original intention — one that has little chance of achieving the needed impact on its own.
Finance for climate adaptation and mitigation in developing countries was a hot topic in Doha. It’s clear that more money is needed if we are to avoid the kind of price tags that come with disasters such as the recent Superstorm Sandy. But developed countries struggled to make financial pledges given the global economic crisis.
Ironically, the U.S. federal government is now trying to come up with US$ 60 billion to aid the recovery from Sandy — exactly the same amount CI and others were suggesting all developed countries provide between 2013 and 2015. Money is needed now if we are to provide climate solutions instead of climate “Band-Aids.” Instead, we saw a meager US$ 5 billion in pledges in Doha, indicating that climate finance may actually decrease just when it is supposed to be ramping up.
This framework is supposed to put us on a pathway to a comprehensive 2015 treaty for all countries that will be implemented by 2020. Delegates hardly pushed off in a bold and ambitious way in Doha, though; instead we see:
- Vague chances to increase ambition before 2020 — critical to achieving the 2-degree goal.
- Small progress toward clarifying how to fairly divide developed and developing country responsibilities, which will have strong bearing on how the new agreement works.
- Modest opportunities to include adaptation and financing, both of which need to be part of the 2015 deal.
Ad-Hoc Working Group for Long-Term Cooperative Action (LCA)
Between 2007 and 2012,this group convened to make decisions on climate action, ranging from adaptation to mitigation to financing, for all nations. Like so much else here, work on these items was pushed off to the future. While I’m glad that these issues will continue to be discussed in other forums, such as the Durban Platform, it’s hard to feel that Doha brought a meaningful and concrete conclusion to the LCA’s work.
Adaptation has long been overshadowed by mitigation discussions; yet the longer those negotiations stall, the more important it becomes.Fortunately, countries have paved the way for enhanced action on adaptation through the approval of a three-year work plan for the Adaptation Committee, which will also convene a forum to mobilize further awareness and action on adaptation. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) will also fund countries in the coming year to start the process of creating national adaptation plans.
While progress in these areas is a positive sign, these developments will likely be insufficient to ensure that adaptation is given the attention it needs without major shifts in upcoming UNFCCC negotiations.
Loss and damage
With global efforts to mitigate and adapt not keeping pace with climate change, “loss and damage” has been one of the most contentious issues of this conference. CI believes that it is undeniable that the world is now experiencing losses and damages due to climate change, and that there will likely be impacts that we will not be able to adapt to.
So I’m glad that countries were able to agree to explore the extent of climate impacts and resulting needs of the affected nations. CI hopes the UNFCCC will be able to move forward with solutions next year as it considers creating a framework that could ultimately provide options for rehabilitation and compensation.
In order to set up a functional system to compensate developing countries for protecting their forests, we need to establish rules about monitoring and measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) of carbon. Countries reached agreement on the “M” and the “R”, but the “V” proved to be a political sticking point, preventing any technical decision on REDD+.
An even bigger challenge is scaling up REDD+ finance and action. A forum was created for future discussions — but will decisions come soon enough? We don’t have a lot of time left to protect the world’s remaining forest or to limit climate change to 2 degrees.
So what does any of this mean for the future? Clearly, we are far from where we need to be. The impasse will continue unless countries go home and do what needs to be done so that they can come back to the UNFCCC prepared to offer something meaningful in the months to come. Each country must think about what it can offer in terms of climate solutions, instead of focusing on what others should do, as they’ve done throughout 2012.
Hopefully a new year can bring new energy — not just for climate talks, but also for the climate “walk.” It is clear that action on the ground cannot wait for political frameworks. Countries, corporations, communities and individuals must redouble their efforts and do what they can to mitigate and adapt.
Can the Doha Climate Gateway be a gateway to 2 degrees? Only with a lot of work in the year and years to come.
Rebecca Chacko is CI’s senior director of climate policy.