Monday December 10, 2012
‘Low ambition’ outcome at climate talks
By MARTIN KHOR
The annual UN climate conference has concluded with ‘low ambition’ both in terms of emissions cut by developed countries and funding for developing countries.
THE UN Climate Conference in Doha ended last Saturday with the adoption of many decisions, including those on the Kyoto Protocol’s second period in which developed countries committed to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases.
Many delegates left the conference quite relieved that they had reached an agreement after days of wrangling over many issues.
The relief was that the multi-lateral climate change regime has survived yet again but with deep differences and distrust among developed and developing countries.
The conflict in paradigms between these two groups of countries was very evident throughout the two weeks of the Doha negotiations, and it was only papered over superficially in the final hours to avoid an open failure.
But the differences will resurface when negotiations resume next year.
Avoiding collapse is a poor measure of success. In terms of progress towards real action to tackle the climate change crisis, the Doha conference was grossly inadequate and another lost opportunity.
The conference was held at the end of a year of record extreme events. News of typhoon in the Philippines, which killed 500 and made 300,000 homeless, reminded conference participants of the reality of the climate crisis.
However, the dictates of economic competition and commercial interests, unfortunately, were of higher priority, especially among developed countries, thus their low ambition in emissions reduction. They also broke their promises to provide funds and transfer technology to developing countries.
The most important result in Doha was the formal adoption of the Kyoto Protocol’s second period (2013 to 2020) to follow immediately after the first period expires on Dec 31.
However, the elements are weak. With original members Canada, Russia, Japan and New Zealand having decided to leave the Kyoto Protocol or not join for a second period, only Europe, Australia and a few others (totalling 35 developed and transitioning countries) are left to make legally binding commitments in the second period.
Also, the emissions cuts these countries have agreed to commit to are in aggregate only 18% by 2020, below the 1990 level, as compared to the 25-40% required to restrict global temperature rises to two degrees Celsius.
A saving factor in the Kyoto Protocol decision is the “ambition mechanism” put in by developing countries, that the countries will “revisit” their original target and increase their commitments by 2014, in line with the aggregate 25-40% goal.
Also, the decision severely limited the credits or surplus allowances available for the second period. These had been accumulated in the Kyoto Protocol’s first period by countries that had cut their emissions by more than the targeted level. According to the decision, these countries may not use or trade most of the surplus allowances as a means of avoiding the current emissions cuts.
The most important country affected is Russia, which on Saturday strongly objected to the way conference president Abdullah Hamad al-Attiyah of Qatar bulldozed through the KP decision even though it and two other countries disagreed.
A second major criticism of the Doha decisions is the lack of funds to be provided to developing countries for climate action.
The 2010 conference in Cancun decided that developed countries would mobilise climate finance of US$100bil (RM305bil) a year from 2020, and that US$30bil (RM91.6bil) of fast-track finance would be given in 2010-2012.
But there is a gap between 2013 and 2020.
Despite the demand by developing countries that there be US$60bil (RM183bil) by 2015, Saturday’s decision does not specify any number as a commitment, only “encouraging” countries to provide at least as much as they had in the 2010-2012 period.
The lack of a credible financial commitment curtails the developing countries’ ability to undertake actions to combat climate change, and led to their protest on the plenary floor.
The Doha conference also adopted a set of decisions on long-term action. Developing countries were pleased with paragraphs on equity, unilateral trade measures, technology assessment and a vague reference to the effects of intellectual property.
However, these decisions were very weak. Even so, the United States registered disagreement or reservations on these decisions after adoption of the text, indicating how they may continue to object in future discussions.
A positive decision in Doha was to prepare, by next year’s conference, an “international mechanism” to help developing countries deal with loss and damage from climate change. Activities, meanwhile, will include an experts’ meeting and technical papers on the issue.
Developing countries hope this programme will lead to new funds for countries suffering from disasters such as floods, droughts and sea level rises.
The Doha conference also adopted a work plan on the Durban Platform.
There were major fights in Doha over this, with many developing countries insisting that mention be made of the Durban Platform operating on the basis of equity and common and differentiated responsibilities (CBDR).
The final text did not mention this principle and even the reference to the Rio Plus 20 Summit, which endorsed the equity and CBDR principle, was removed at the insistence of the United States.
What remained in the text was a reference to the Durban Platform’s work being guided by the principles of the Convention. Even then, the United States in the final plenary placed a reservation that it rejected the use of this phrase in the negotiations.
This reveals how much the United States and some other developed countries now lack the spirit of international cooperation.
They are no longer willing to assist developing countries and are incredibly objecting even to applying the principles of the Convention to negotiations for a new agreement under the Convention.
More than anything else, this shows the tragic paradox of the Doha conference. It succeeded in adopting many decisions and kept the multi-lateral regime alive, but the actual substance of actions to save the planet from climate change was absent, as was a genuine commitment to support developing countries.