It’s now been a couple of weeks since the UN climate talks ended in Doha, Qatar, where countries made modest progress on the road to a new global climate treaty – although not without the familiar drama of all-night sessions, ignored deadlines and last-minute compromises.
Doha began to lay the groundwork for an eventual agreement that will establish commitments for the post-2020 period, picking up where the current agreements leave off (the Kyoto Protocol and the voluntary emissions targets for 2020 that were adopted in Copenhagen by a number of countries, including the U.S. and major emerging economies).
The Doha talks also showcased some of the usual frictions among countries’ negotiating positions, including:
- The U.S. government focused chiefly on ensuring all countries would participate in a future climate agreement that would collapse the Kyoto Protocol’s rigid divide between developed and developing countries.
- China and India pressed to protect developing countries’ special status.
- Small island states and other vulnerable nations pitched hard for the ambitious emissions cuts and financing commitments they see as essential to their basic survival.
We knew heading into the talks that Doha would be more about process and wrapping up loose ends on technical issues than concrete deliverables, and indeed the outcome in most areas was to continue talking. Some notable outcomes were the following:
1) Negotiating tracks
Countries ultimately managed to agree on a three-part deal that:
- extends the Kyoto Protocol to 2020, although it covers an increasingly small set of countries, as countries such as Russia, Japan and Canada have dropped out, while the United States remains outside the agreement.
- completes the “LCA” track, the parallel round of negotiations dating back to the 2007 Bali Road Map, under which many nations (including major developing countries) took voluntary pledges to reduce their emissions by 2020.
- sets a course for negotiating the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” (ADP), a new climate deal covering all major emitters that is to be agreed by 2015 and take effect in 2020.
With the unfinished business of the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali agenda finally behind them, countries can now face forward and concentrate on crafting the robust new agreement that we so urgently need.
As expected, a large sticking point across the negotiations was climate finance.
Developing countries had entered Doha seeking firm commitments and clarifications of how financing would scale up between now and the $100 billion a year by 2020 they were promised in Copenhagen in 2009, but instead got a workplan and reassurances.
The talks’ modest outcome also failed to send the policy signal needed to unlock critical private investments in climate change.
In contrast to previous years and widely help expectations for Doha, parties made little progress in crafting standards for REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation, plus afforestation and reforestation).
A decision to embrace the use of carbon markets to finance REDD+ was postponed until next year. REDD+ is being held hostage to slower progress on linked issues such as how emission reductions are measured and verified, and on the perennially thorny finance issues.
Noteworthy development: “Loss and Damage”
One of Doha’s notable developments was that, for the first time, the talks broached the subject of compensation from rich countries for the “loss and damage” incurred by the most vulnerable nations due to climate change.
This loss and damage agreement is the next step in the UN’s increasingly reactive response to climate change, and demonstrative of the UN’s recognition that the severe consequences of climate change have become today’s problem. First, the focus was on avoiding emissions. When mitigation efforts proved inadequate, it turned more attention to adaptation. Now, as the effects of extreme weather and rising oceans hit communities from the Philippines to New Jersey, the UN has realized it must begin to grapple with them.
The coming year’s task is to begin debating what promises to be one of the most controversial issues on their agenda, and the discussions are unlikely to result in a formal liability mechanism given the very strong opposition of the United States and other developed countries. But whatever the outcome, the sobering reality is that grappling with the dangerous effects of climate change can no longer be put off to some future date; they are already inflicting harm.
The UN climate negotiators have a busy year ahead of them, with perhaps as many as three interim negotiating sessions before reconvening next November in Warsaw, Poland. But regardless of the coming year’s progress, there remains a wide gulf – nay, chasm — between what countries have pledged to do over the next eight years and what the science demands.
To begin addressing this “ambition gap” there must be progress outside the UN framework at the national and local level, as well as in other multilateral forums, including the International Civil Aviation Organization, the G-20 and the new coalition of countries and environmental groups (including EDF) focusing on near-term actions to reduce short-lived climate pollutants such as methane, black carbon and refrigerant gases.
While more and deeper cuts are urgently needed around the world, we’re seeing real action in national and state-wide climate programs in Europe, Australia, California, South Korea, China and others. It is domestic efforts like these, in tandem with multilateral accords and initiatives, that will get us to a secure climate future.