Click here to read SACE’s blog on the 2011 UNFCCC Conference in Durban, South Africa.
It’s been 20 years since the United Nations member nations promised to create an international regime aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating the negative effects of a changing climate – and the UN is still mired in negotiations. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty came out of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Also known as the Earth Summit, the Rio conference established the UNFCCC treaty to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”
Since then, many have been disappointed that the UN climate negotiations have failed to create binding emission reductions from all member nations. Although the UN’s 1997 Kyoto Protocol established legally binding reduction obligations for developed countries’ greenhouse gas emissions, it failed to include participation from key nations, including the United States, who never ratified the protocol, and Canada, who withdrew in 2011. With the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period drawing to a close at the end of 2012, it was imperative that new binding emissions limits were agreed upon in Doha, Qatar, where the UNFCC conference took place over the last few weeks of November.
The Doha conference, also known as COP 18, or the 18th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC, opened on November 26 and lasted until December 8. The conference picked up from the leaving off point of the UNFCCC meeting last year in Durban, South Africa, which resulted in a compromise in which countries agreed to a road map that would commit countries to negotiating a new treaty by 2015 that would come into effect in 2020. Each UNFCCC meeting between Durban and the meeting in 2015 is to follow this roadmap, with small negotiation milestones achieved each year. This year, Doha became the first venue in which UN member countries could test out this new roadmap negotiation procedure.
Before Doha, the EU presented a checklist of steps that would need to be taken to secure progress to a new climate deal. The EU’s checklist helped guide the Doha negotiations and, surprisingly, the agreements that came out of the Doha conference addressed many of the EU’s steps. The EU has been one of the global leaders in taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by implementing its own national emission reduction goals regardless of global agreements. Current EU legislation requires a 20% reduction in emissions by 2020. The EU has offered to raise that percentage to 30% if other major economies also agree to significant emission reductions. The EU hopes to serve as a model for how other developed countries can cut emissions, create a carbon market and still keep its economy intact. With this national progressive emission reduction framework, the EU delegates were sure to be one of the driving forces at the Doha conference.
At the end of the Doha conference, and after a 48 hour negotiation session (such lengthy negotiation sessions have become commonplace over the last few conferences), UN members successfully agreed to an eight-year extension for Kyoto protocol emission limits, ensuring continuity until a new global climate deal is reached in 2020. Unfortunately, some signatories of the Kyoto protocol (Japan, Russia, Canada and New Zealand) have opted out of the extended protocol for various reasons and since the United States has never been a party to the protocol, the newly extended Kyoto emission limits only cover about 12 percent of global emissions.
One of the more important, and possibly unexpected, outcomes of Durban last year was the fact that, for the first time, Members agreed to consider the principle of “loss and damage.” The principle of loss and damage calls for developing nations to be compensated for associated loss and damage from climate change (e.g. sea level rise and extreme weather) caused by wealthy, developed nations’ emissions. While the talks at Doha did not work out how this type of fund will be managed and spent and whether or not this money will intertwine with other, general international humanitarian aid and disaster relief funds, they did set the topic as a prominent action item for COP 19 next year and the preceding months.
Depending on who you ask, or what news source you read, the Doha climate talks were a failure and a success. Failures include the failure of important member countries to enter into the second phase of the Kyoto protocol as well as the failure to increase the terribly underfunded global climate fund. In terms of successes, some countries came forward with ambitious new emission reductions, such as Lebanon and the Dominican Republic. In order to spur more ambitious emission reductions from other member countries, the UN Secretary General will host a heads of state summit in 2014 in hopes of speeding up the historically slow moving climate negotiations.
One outcome that most can agree was positive was Qatar’s first ever environmental protest march. The climate march was attended by almost 800 people, including about 100 young activists from the Arab youth climate movement who called for Arab leaders to take the lead in the climate talks. The protest highlights an important aspect of these climate negotiations – it focuses the world on the realities of climate change and the danger of inaction while providing an opportunity for diverse voices to join in the conversation.