Sands Are Running Out for Climate Protection – Wuppertal Assessment of the Doha Climate Conference

As usual, the Wuppertal Institute has produced a comprehensive report on the Doha climate conference, below is the introduction.

Once again the UN climate process was saved at the eighteenth Conference of the Parties (COP 18) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the ninth Conference of Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 8). In an unprecedented manoeuvre on Saturday evening, with the conference already a full day in overtime, COP President Al-Attiyah rush-gavelled through the key decisions in 2 minutes and overruled Russia’s procedural objection. In the last days of the conference, many had already seen the talks close to collapse and were wondering whether a COP 18bis would need to be reconvened in 2013, as had been the case after the collapse of COP 6 in The Hague in 2000.

The last-minute drama was hardly corresponding to the agenda of the conference, which was little visionary. It included finalisation of the rules for the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period, finishing the negotiation track on enhanced action that was started in Bali in 2007, and agreeing a work programme for the new negotiation track that is to deliver a new comprehensive agreement by 2015. Doha was therefore from the beginning dubbed a “transitional” conference.

However, climate change is apparently not waiting for the slow timetables of diplomats. The Doha meeting took place at the end of a year of increasingly stark warnings both on paper and delivered by mother nature herself. The US has suffered and is still suffering from a record drought, foreshadowing the permanent dust bowl the US Midwest is probably going to be turned into by climate change. Hurricane Sandy submerged vast swaths of the US East Coast including New York, prompting “Businessweek” to run its frontpage under the headline, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid”. In September, Arctic sea ice reached a new record low, 50% below the long-term average. The World Bank in a report published shortly before the conference warned of “cataclysmic consequences” if climate change was not reined in. And while the conference was ongoing, the Philippines were battered by “Bopha”, a typhoon of near-unprecedented strength that caused hundreds of deaths.

“Bopha” prompted Naderev Saño, the lead negotiator of the Philippines, to make an passionate appeal to action to his fellow delegates, noting, “even as we vacillate and procrastinate here the death toll is rising. …If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”

However, overall the UN climate process continued plodding along its beaten path with hardly any sense of urgency on the side of the large emitters, reducing the countries that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change to fight for bread crumbs. While some have tried to label the agreement of a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol as “historic”, the commitments of most countries are hardly better than business as usual. It speaks volumes that a provision to prevent countries from adopting emission targets that are higher than their current emissions was one of the issues that brought the conference to the brink of collapse. Industrialised countries also provided no clarity on the continuation of climate finance for developing countries, and the work programme for the negotiation of a new comprehensive climate agreement by 2015 and for revisiting the level of ambition for the period pre-2020 ended up being much less specific than many had hoped.

The report lays out the main developments in Durban and assesses the main outcomes. The first chapter outlines the overall state of play coming into Doha. The subsequent chapters covers the negotiations on the future of the Kyoto Protocol, and the discussions under the Durban Platform on developing a new comprehensive climate agreement by 2015 and increasing short-term ambition, and further near-term action under the UNFCCC.

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Next Time You Come to a Climate Conference, Do Your Homework Beforehand

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