October 18, 2012
With some European countries pledging money and all countries agreeing to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, chances of a deal brightened on the penultimate evening of the UN climate summit in Doha.
The deal, however, will be too weak to have any discernible impact on global warming. The World Meteorological Organization has just warned that concentration of carbon dioxide – the main greenhouse gas (GHG) that is warming the earth – is at a never-before level. The United Nations Environment Programme has warned that current commitments to arrest GHG emissions fall around 40% short of what is needed to keep temperature rise within two degrees Celsius. A recent World Bank study paints a frightful picture of a world that may be four degrees warmer than pre-industrial levels.
But representatives of 194 governments gathered in Doha for the annual summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) continued their game of doing as little as possible to combat climate change. “We can only do what is politically acceptable back home,” said a member of the US delegation. Xie Zhenhua, Vice Chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, was confident that there would be “an outcome that may not be to the liking of all, but can be accepted by all” governments.
That “balanced outcome”, as Xie put it, came after Britain, Germany, France, Sweden and Denmark announced that they would be paying poor nations to help combat climate change and move to a greener development path. Negotiators from developing countries were still struggling to put these pledges into the final agreement text. With the US, Canada, Japan, Russia and New Zealand firmly opposed to any such move, the outcome was uncertain.
But with a large part of negotiations completed for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol – though crucial issues remained outstanding – Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, was confident that negotiations would not collapse, and the world could move towards an agreement under which all countries would make stronger commitments to fight climate change after 2020.
The current commitments under the protocol are very weak indeed, and many developed countries have not even made any pledge about the extent to which they will reduce their GHG emissions. Xie pointed out that the “question is ambition of emission reduction – it is now insufficient to keep warming under two degrees, as science says we need.” But BASIC countries – Brazil, South Africa, India and China – indicated that they were willing to move forward rather than derail negotiations.
In a post-2020 regime where all countries may have obligations to arrest GHG emissions, the question of equity will be paramount, said Mira Mehrishi, head of the Indian delegation. The US delegation has a very different notion of equity than that of developing countries – mainly India – and this is a likely sticking point in future negotiations.