The current climate negotiations in Doha, while lacking the sense of urgency that surrounded Copenhagen, will determine whether or not we stay on track to achieve a legally binding treaty that will cover all major emitters by 2015.
In light of the World’s Bank recent report "Turn Down the Heat" the importance of maintaining momentum and building trust cannot be underestimated.
UN climate conferences have been taking place for 17 years. The first was the UN Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in the summer of 1992. We’ve come a long way since then. As Christiana Figueres said in her address to the Conference of the Youth in Doha this weekend, "it’s definitely moving in the right direction; just not at the right speed or on the right scale". Doha gives us the opportunity to strengthen the rules and regulations that will determine whether or not real progress takes place in 2015.
There are three major issues which need to be resolved in Doha to give us a fighting chance of avoiding the "cataclysmic" future depicted in the World Bank’s report.
The Second Commitment period for the Kyoto Agreement
Recently, the Australian press has been all over Kyoto, which had a near death experience in Cancun after Japan announced unequivocally that it would not sign on to a second commitment period. This November, controversy broke out when the Australian Government finally, after much speculation, announced its conditional support for a second commitment period. The New Zealand Government announced its decision to the contrary.
The Kyoto Protocol is the only legally binding treaty to reduce carbon emissions. It captures the emissions of some of the most culpable carbon emitters. In Durban last year, the "Durban Platform for Enhanced Performance" was agreed upon, essentially an agreement to agree on a legally binding treaty in 2015 that would include the major carbon emitters not covered by the Kyoto Protocol (Japan, USA, China, the EU, Brazil and most recently New Zealand).
The significance of the Kyoto Protocol is multifaceted. While the Kyoto Protocol alone "barely scratches the surface" when it comes to reducing carbon emissions and avoiding dangerous climate change, it has bought us time and has avoided "soaring increases [in emissions]that could have been expected if there’d been no deal at all". Its continuing significance has much to do with the gradually shifting attitude of "treaty first, action second". Countries rarely act boldly alone. Decisions to reduce emissions or invest in alternative energy infrastructure usually take place in the security of other countries doing the same.
Australia’s conditional signing up to a second commitment period is based on a target of 5 per cent reduction by 2020 on 2000 levels. Despite our culpability in the climate crisis, as the world’s largest coal exporter, Minister for Climate Change Greg Combet announced that Australia increasing its reduction target would be contingent on all other major contributors signing up to a "strong global deal". Maintaining the trust of developing countries and the genuine participation of developed countries will be pivotal to achieving this "strong global deal" at Doha for 2015.
Ideally, developed countries will shift their targets to the higher end of their proposed ranges. From what Combet has said, it seems unlikely that Australia would lead in this regard. The legal form and subsequent transformation of the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period into binding reduction commitments will also need to be determined.
The 2007 Bali Action Plan
The 2007 Bali Action Plan deals with mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology needed to combat climate change and cope with the effects already experienced. The Bali Action Plan differentiates between developed and developing countries in order to create an equitable framework. It acknowledges developing countries face additional challenges (e.g. instability, infrastructure shortages, competing national priorities such as achieving universal education, health care, subsistence etc.) and are subject disproportionately to the negative effects of climate change.
In Doha, governments need to evaluate the work done thus far to implement the Bali Action Plan and what is left to be implemented. The science says that we are on our way to a 3.5 to 6 degree celcius rise in temperature, synonymous with runaway climate change. Doha will see the African Group, small island nation states and the Global South fighting for mandate set in Bali to be fulfilled; including the financial support of developed countries to assist developing countries deal with climate change.
2012 marks the end to the Fast-Start scheme which provided $30 billion to kick start adaptation and mitigation of climate change for developing countries. Durban saw the birth of the Green Climate Fund which committed $100 billion of funding to developing countries to assist them to reduce their emissions as well as adapt to their changing environments.
The rather obvious problem is that the fund is currently empty. Doha is the third climate conference to be entered into with a bank balance of zero; and thus negotiations around finance will be critical to developing and developed coutnries moving forward to a binding deal. Australia has contributed its fair share to the fast start scheme and should be commended on its genuine contribution of "new and additional" money, but what will happen at Doha remains unclear. Either money in the Fund or some sort of commitment to put money in the fund will most likely be necessary to keep the negotiations on track for a binding agreement in 2015.
It is rather fitting that this year COP18 is being held in one of the world"s largest oil and gas centres of the world. Most governments and all major science academies have accepted that climate change is real, it is anthropogenic and it poses a major risk to a safe and secure collective future. However, most governments have their own competing national interests to consider when taking action on climate change that include economic growth, industrial development and improving the living standards of their populations.
The United Nations Climate Conferences are frustrating, because they involve painstakingly trying to balance these competing interests to achieve a common goal. The problem is that in this instance, time is running out even faster than our coal and oil supplies if dangerous climate change is to be avoided. Doha is a pivotal part of the negotiation process which could take us one step further along our very tight timeline towards real action in 2015.
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