What Are the Crunch Issues at the Doha Climate Conference?

The Doha climate conference is expected to put the seal on something long hoped for by many: extending the Kyoto Protocol into a second commitment period. In addition, delegates need to get underway in negotiating a new climate agreement that is to be agreed on until 2015 and be applicable from 2020 and to enhance short-term action for the time up to 2020. The following summarises the background and current status of some of the key issues, but without any claim to being comprehensive.

The Setup of the Negotiations

With the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol set to expire at the end of 2012 (but not the Kyoto Protocol as a whole as stated in 99% of media reports), the future framework of international climate policy had been very much in doubt up to the climate conference in Durban in 2011. According to the Bali roadmap for a future climate agreement that was agreed at the Bali climate conference in 2007, negotiations for a future agreement have proceeded under two tracks. First, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments by Annex I Countries (= industrialised countries) under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP), established at the conference in Montreal in 2005, has been negotiating new targets for a second commitment period post-2012 as well as associated rules for accounting emissions. Second, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA) has also been negotiating commitments for Annex I countries, intending to cover those that have not ratified the Protocol – that is, the USA. In addition, the LCA has negotiated on “Nationally appropriate mitigation actions” of developing countries, which are to be supported by industrialised countries with technology, financing and capacity-building. Both the actions and the support are to be “measurable, reportable and verifiable”. The LCA has also negotiated how such support for developing countries’ mitigation actions may be delivered as well as how developing countries may be supported in adapting to the impacts of climate change.

Both tracks were to culminate in a new agreement at the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009. However, the conference nearly fell apart and only the controversial “Copenhagen Accord” emerged in the end, which was not even agreed to by all countries in the plenary.

“You First” Instead of “Me Too”

This fallout was mainly caused by fundamental differences of opinion on who should contribute how much to the fight against climate change and in particular who should go first. Developing countries point to the historical responsibility of developed countries for creating the climate problem and insist that Annex I countries should therefore take the lead in combating climate change, as they have committed to in Art. 3.1 of the UNFCCC. The G-77 and China have wanted the Kyoto Protocol to continue as a reflection of industrialised countries’ historical responsibility, in parallel to a separate outcome under the LCA. They have held a continuation of the Protocol to be a key prerequisite for maintaining the distinction between industrialised and developing countries. Creating a unified treaty would in their view blur this distinction and create a “slippery slope” where developing countries would soon also be asked to adopt binding emission targets. They have therefore aimed for two separate results from the two AWGs: On the one hand new post-2012 emission targets for Annex I countries under the Kyoto Protocol and on the other hand an agreement under the UNFCCC. The latter would cover commitments by the USA, mitigation actions by non-Annex I countries, adaptation, as well as financial and technological support from Annex I to non-Annex I countries. Developing countries also posited that no agreement would be possible under the AWG-LCA unless there was an agreement on a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol.

Annex I countries for their part have pointed to the rising emissions in the large rapidly industrialising countries of the South and demand that they need to step up their efforts as well. Ideally, they wanted to have the Protocol replaced by a new universal framework that also covers the USA and the rapidly industrialising countries. In particular Canada, Japan and Russia have explicitly stated that they refuse to be bound under a second Kyoto period.

The USA for their part have demand a new structure that should be “very different” from the Kyoto Protocol. According to the USA, the future regime should be based on a “pledge and review” bottom-up approach. In this version, each country would basically determine its own level of ambition and the international system would mainly serve as a notary to collect and regularly review the implementation of these pledges. The USA have also insisted that the degree of bindingness must be the same for all the major emitters – a demand that has been vehemently rejected by developing countries.

From Copenhagen to Durban

After the failure in Copenhagen, the 2010 Cancún conference put the climate negotiations back on track, but with the end of 2012 approaching the question of the form of international climate policy loomed ever larger. Copenhagen and Cancún had only resulted in non-binding emission reduction pledges by countries – the model favoured by the USA. In the absence of further decisions this non-binding framework would by default have become the modus operandi of the climate regime. In addition, the pledges that have so far been made are far from ambitious enough to achieve the target of stabilising global temperature increase below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels, as agreed as objective in Copenhagen. Most related studies agree that annual global emissions should be reduced to at least 44 gigatonnes by 2020 to maintain a good chance of meeting the 2°C target. However, emissions are currently at about 50 Gt, they are projected to rise to about 56 Gt by 2020 in the worst-case scenario and even in the best-case scenario with full implementation of current pledges they would only be brought back to about 50 Gt.

In Durban, the EU therefore offered that it would be willing to be bound under a second Kyoto period if in return there was agreement on a new mandate to negotiate a new comprehensive and legally binding agreement that would include adequate contributions from all major emitters. This proposal was strongly resisted in particular by the USA, China and India, but the EU was able to form a coalition with the countries that are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and the Least Developed Countries (LDC), as well as several progressive Latin American countries. After much drama in the plenary and setting a new record for overtime, Parties finally agreed to establish a new “Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action” (ADP). It was supposed to start work in 2012 and finish as early as possible but not later than 2015. However, the new agreement is supposed to come into effect and be implemented only from 2020. The decision therefore also stipulated that the ADP is also to discuss raising the level of ambition in the period up to 2020.

In return, the EU agreed to continue the Kyoto Protocol, which many had already written off, in a second commitment period, but the technical details are still to be agreed at this year’s conference in Doha. The Durban conference also decided to terminate the AWG-LCA at the Doha conference. However, many issues under the LCA have not yet been resolved to the satisfaction of developing countries, in particular on finance and technology. The decisions on these issues have in recent years followed a set course: while decisions on new institutions such as the Green Climate Fund have continued to be ever more well-defined, there has been a lack of clarity on how to fill these new institutions with reliable funding. In particular, in Copenhagen and Cancún developed countries had committed to scaling up climate finance to USD 100 billion annually by 2020, starting with USD 30 billion over a “fast-start period” from 2010-2012. As the end of this period is approaching, there is not yet a clear way forward for the time after 2012.

Todos for Doha

The crunch issues in Doha are therefore the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period, post-2012 climate finance, the work programme for negotiating a new agreement until 2015 and ways to increase mitigation ambition in the period up to 2020.

Regarding the Kyoto Protocol, the emission reduction pledges that countries have made for 2020 need to be translated into quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives (QUELROs) for the entire commitment period. In practice, this means that Parties need to decide how many emission certificates, the so-called assigned amount units (AAUs), will be issued to each industrialised country party that agrees to participate in the second commitment period.

Furthermore, Parties need to decide how long the second commitment is going to be. The EU is in favour of having it run till 2020 in order to have it dovetail with its domestic legislation. By contrast, developing countries complain that the targets that industrialised countries are going to commit to are inadequate for reaching the 2°C target and that this level of ambition should therefore not be locked in for too long. To address these concerns the EU has proposed making upgrading of the targets easier than is the case with the current rules, which require adoption by a ¾ majority of all Parties.

A further thorny issue is the carry-over of the surplus AAUs from the first to the second commitment period. Due to the economic restructuring in the former Eastern block countries in the 1990s, emissions in many of these countries are well below their targets. For example, Russia has the target to stabilise emissions at 1990 levels but current emissions are 30% lower. The total surplus is likely to amount to about 13 gigatonnes and therefore has the potential to substantially weaken the level of ambition of the second commitment period if carried forward. The G-77 and China have proposed to sharply limit the carry-over and use of surplus AAUs while Russia and other transition economies insist on full carry-over in line with current rules. The EU has so far been paralysed on this issue since many old member states are in favour of limiting the carry-over while some of the new member states insist on full carry-over.

Finally, to enter into force these decisions will need to be ratified by countries, which even in a best-case scenario can be expected to take at least two years. The question therefore is whether some form of provisional application of the new rules can be agreed on to prevent a gap after the end of the first commitment period.

On finance, developing countries want reassurance that funding will continue to flow and be scaled up after the end of the fast-start period. So far, industrialised countries have not put new pledges on the table. Another question is the measuring, reporting and verification of climate finance, which has so far sorely lacked common standards. A further issue is were finance will in the future be discussed after the closure of the AWG-LCA. Industrialised countries want to relegate further discussions to the UNFCCC’s technical bodies whereas developing countries want to continue discussing finance in a high-level platform.

On negotiating a new agreement until 2015, the overarching controversy continues to be whether the clear separation between developed and developing countries should be maintained or modified. This issue will manifest itself in questions such as whether one or two negotiating sub-groups should be established for the further negotiations up to 2015.

On short-term ambition, the EU and others have suggested to launch initiatives that are complementary to the current national pledges, such as regulating emissions from international aviation and shipping that have so far not been regulated internationally, phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, and cooperative actions on deforestation, renewable energy, energy efficiency or short-lived climate forcers such as soot. However, for most of these initiatives the question is how to ensure that the emissions reductions are actually additional to the existing national pledges rather than just contributing to meeting them without having any additional effect.

In addition, there is a whole plethora of other issues but these are the ones that will make or break this conference.

Related Posts

On the Road Again – Wuppertal Institute Assessment of the Durban Conference

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