UN Climate Standstill Contrasts With Evidence of a Climate Crisis

Skyline of Doha, Qatar at night.

Skyline of Doha, Qatar at night. (© CI/photo by Molly Bergen)

Today marked the arrival of most of the “heavy hitters” to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change climate talks (UNFCCC COP 18) in Doha, Qatar — ministers of environment, special envoys on climate change and several heads of state. Their presence must invigorate these negotiations, which have so far been about as uninspired as they are critical.

At the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) meetings, the air is usually thick with excitement — and frequently tension as well, but the energy and importance of the issues at hand is always clear. Not so with COP 18; instead, things are at a standstill.

Meanwhile, outside these negotiations, evidence rings loud and clear that serious climate change perils face our planet. Several recent reports show that greenhouse gas emissions have reached a record high, polar ice caps and glaciers are melting at rapid pace, and global temperatures are rising faster than predicted. The opportunity to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius — the threshold to avoid irreversible damage to nature and humankind—is slipping through our fingers.

Yet here in Doha, countries are retrenching and revisiting agreed positions, creating an atmosphere of skepticism, apathy and distrust. Although many meetings have already gone into the early hours of the morning, important decisions that have been queued up for resolution at this COP continue to be delayed. Decisions ripe for agreement have been postponed for another year, including a decision on REDD+ that would boost efforts to end deforestation under REDD+.

Moreover, on the critical overall aspiration that this COP must demonstrate increased ambition to resolve the climate challenge, it is falling woefully short. Some developed countries have indicated that they will continue to support developing country mitigation and adaptation actions and, implicitly, to sustain funding for those actions, but few have put numbers on the table.

Commitments to financing must be made clear in the coming days. Parties must follow the example of the U.K., which today pledged £1.8 billion over the next two years to help developing countries adapt to climate change and reduce emissions. And nations must build confidence and cooperation in Doha on the roadmap to a comprehensive 2015 agreement — not a roadmap through a negotiating minefield among adversarial nations, a roadmap to a collective and ambitious global solution.

Building on what my colleague Rebecca Chacko laid out in a blog post last week, here are the four major things we think need to happen between now and Saturday:

  1. A clear roadmap to a new 2015 agreement for all countries.
  2. Successful closure of negotiations on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) so that countries can move forward with implementation on all of the necessary elements: mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer and capacity-building.
  3. An amendment to the Kyoto Protocol providing a robust second commitment period.
  4. Firm commitments to climate financing from developed countries to support developing country mitigation and adaptation through 2015, and establish a pathway to fulfill 2020 financing levels.

This is a tough moment. Nations face financial challenges, with apocalyptic tags such as “the fiscal cliff” or the “collapse of the Euro.” All nations also recognize the magnitude and urgency of the climate challenge and, frankly, the daunting costs and difficulty of the transition we must make to a low carbon global community. Thus, notional commitments are not surprising; they are simply inadequate. Inadequate to addressing the climate challenge and, in Doha, inadequate to strengthen our common resolve and achieve substantive progress.

Fred Boltz

Fred Boltz

As we enter into the final three+ days of COP18, there is a frightening absence of leadership and commitment. When it comes to continued stalling on these negotiations, the clock is no longer ticking. Time is up.

Dr. Fred Boltz is CI’s senior vice president for international policy. Learn more about CI’s engagement at COP 18.


  1. carlos manuel says

    Hi Fred, thanks for the update. It is sad that parties are not willing to move forward REDD+ since it is ready for implementation. I just hope that by the end of this week there can be some kind of agreement on the scope of the 2015 global accord. Saludes a todos.

  2. Alice boltz says

    Yes unfortunately that was the prediction for this gathering in the weeks before it began. Hope your heavy hitters came to play.

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