WHEB Commentary

Doha 2012: Agreement to find an agreement in 2015


The annual ‘Conference of the Parties’ has yet to regain the momentum and profile that it achieved in 2009 when negotiations took place in Copenhagen. Back then the negotiations concluded in dramatic style with President Obama, the newly–minted Nobel Peace laureate (in part given for efforts to prevent climate change), gate crashing talks with the Chinese to hammer out a deal. In fact, most headlines covering talks since 2009 have focused on the waning of political enthusiasm for action on climate change altogether. An attitude seemingly reflected in the prostrate and exhausted negotiators, comatose on conference centre floors as the talks grind on into the earlier hours.

Nevertheless, underneath the seemingly interminable talks, there is still progress. In Durban last year, countries agreed that a new approach was going to be needed; one that required all countries to commit to tackling climate change. This was a breakthrough given the acrimony at previous negotiations that centred on whether emerging economies such as India and China should be required to make cuts in emissions. Doha has helped to underline this direction and cement a commitment to negotiating a new treaty by 2015 that would enter into force in 2020.

The talks also secured a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol which will enable the remaining participants – now representing just 15% of global emissions – to see through their legal obligations until 2020. Another significant development has been agreement that developing countries should be entitled to compensation for “loss and damage from climate change”. The amount that is payable is capped at US$100bn and will be classed as aid – ensuring that developed countries are not made legally liable for damages.

Environmentalists attending the conference were critical of the slow pace of progress, citing recent extreme weather as evidence of the scale and of the impacts that the world can expect. There were also very few new commitments to cut emissions (the Dominican Republic and Monaco being about the only exceptions). Even the successes, such as the agreement to pay for loss and damage, underline how little has been achieved in recent years: in 2009 the focus was squarely on how to limit carbon emissions to a safe level and adapt to what was then inevitable. In Doha, one of the central achievements was how to pay for loss and damage.

A more optimistic note, however, was struck by Professor Stavins a Harvard University climate change expert. He was quoted in the Financial Times arguing that we should have a much longer perspective and see the Doha negotiations as ‘transitional’. He compared the climate talks to the Bretton Woods negotiations. “It took 40 years to set up the World Trade Organisation”, he said. “And the problem of climate change is probably more challenging.”So should we be reassured? The science would say otherwise. What matters are cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and emissions are still rising. Indeed, 2011 saw a record increase, with emissions rising 3.2% to 35 billion tons. Rates of emission reductions will have to more than double and even then the world can be expected to warm far more than the 2°C that most scientists consider safe. Agreement to find an agreement by 2015 is clearly nowhere enough.

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