Does Doha matter?
This is an exclusive guest article by Damian Ryan, Senior Policy Manager at the Climate Group.
Twelve months ago, as diplomats left the UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, there was a sense that after years of incremental discussion, key divisions between countries were finally being unlocked. After all, negotiators had made agreements across three key areas:
• that a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol should begin from January 2013;
• that parallel negotiations on so-called ‘long-term cooperative action’ (which crucially included both the US and China) should be wrapped up within a year;
• and that a new global climate treaty should be agreed by 2015 and in effect from 2020.
Given this progress it was felt by many that the next conference – beginning in Doha, Qatar on November 26 – would be a low key affair, a staging post on the way to the new global deal in 2015. Events of the past year, however, have underlined that far from being a run-of-the-mill meeting, the Doha Climate Conference, otherwise known as COP18, is in fact a crucial juncture in global efforts to address climate change for two interconnected reasons.
The first of these is that the progress in Durban hid or only partly bridged many of the critical divisions between countries (a not unfamiliar outcome). ‘Constructive ambiguity’ in the decisions taken in Durban allowed countries to reach agreement then, but differences in interpretation quickly became apparent in the intersessional meetings that have been held since. These differences are not new and cover the three main areas of talks noted above. For example, under the Kyoto negotiations, agreement is yet to be reached on how long the next commitment period is. Is it five years or eight? And in the ‘Long-term cooperative action’ talks there are a variety of opinions of what issues have and have not been adequately addressed.
As agreed in Durban, it is crucial that Doha brings all these outstanding issues to a close so that countries can concentrate on a single negotiating process from 2013. This requires balance across all three areas of talks, since progress in one cannot occur without progress in the other two. Failure here would mean the continuation of an unnecessarily complex, time-intensive and largely ineffective process. Such an outcome is untenable.
This leads to the second reason for why Doha is so important, namely the mounting evidence – from both the research community and the physical environment itself – that the window for taking decisive action to address climate change is closing and closing fast.
In just the last month reports from a range of authoritative, mainstream, and generally conservative organisations have painted an alarming picture of the future we face based on current and projected emission levels. The International Energy Agency (IEA), the World Bank and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) have all released stark reports highlighting that the world is on track to 4 degrees Celsius or more of warming by the end of the century unless governments begin to take decisive action today. The World Bank described such a level of warming as “devastating” for coastal cities, food production, access to water and biodiversity.
The past year has also produced another catalogue of weather extremes to remind us today of what tomorrow will increasingly look like. Hurricane Sandy and the recording breaking drought in the US have helpfully reignited public debate in America on climate change. But the record loss of sea ice over the summer in the Arctic, which should have raised alarm bells across the world, failed to gain sufficient traction in many capitals where immediate economic and financial problems remain the political priority.
This is the difficult and challenging context in which Doha takes place over the coming fortnight. It would be easy for countries to kick the proverbial can down the road and seek comfort in the fact that there’s ‘still another three years’ to negotiate a new global deal. But it is clear that the climate system doesn’t pay attention to negotiating timetables and that concrete decisions are needed today.
So is Doha important? Absolutely.
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