18th UN Climate Conference The “Doha Climate Gateway”

Doha Climate Gateway

The 18th UN Climate Conference, the first to be held in the Arab world, came to an end on 8 December 2012 in Doha after a marathon session.

The chairman pounded through the final text without looking up or allowing himself to be interrupted – 25 resolutions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and 13 resolutions under the Kyoto Protocol. He called the result a success: “Doha has opened up a new gateway to bigger ambition and to greater action – the Doha Climate Gateway”.

Joachim Wille, an editor of the Frankfurter Rundschau, saw it differently: “The rhetoric of self-deception. The house is on fire. But the owners” association is debating how it can best be extinguished, who should start doing so and from which till it should be paid for. That was the climate summit in Doha”. Well then, what was the COP 18 really and what is contained in the adopted packet? It consists of four parts of different weight.

Kyoto Protocol – second commitment period

The Kyoto Protocol was extended for a second commitment period that will last until the end of 2020. No longer party to this will be Japan, New Zealand and Russia; Canada already left the Kyoto Protocol in 2011. Countries that cannot achieve a targeted goal within the commitment period may no longer take part in the Clean Development Mechanism, according to which CO2 reductions achieved in projects in developing countries redounds to the sponsoring country”s own climate protection targets.

The Kyoto architecture for international climate policy will stay in place, but it will now cover only about 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in contrast to the original 55 percent. On the question of global peak emissions (peak year) there were no specifications, nor on the long-term global reduction target. A previously negotiated text on emission reduction in shipping and air traffic was axed. Thus it became apparent that the formerly well-publicised two-degree limit on the increase of global temperature cannot be maintained. The biggest greenhouse gas emitters, the United States, China and Europe, are letting the world drift towards a dangerous climate change. One week before the Doha Conference, the World Bank published a study (“Turn Down the Heat”, based on research conducted by the PIK Institute in Potsdam) on the drastic consequences of a global warming of four degrees.

Press Briefing UN-Generalsekretär Ban-Ki Moon in Doha; Video: Unclimatechange

Climate financing

The phase of fast-start financing for climate protection, that is, the promise of the industrialised countries at Copenhagen to provide 30 billion U.S. dollars between 2010 and 2012 for climate protection activities (mitigation) and for adaptation to climate change (adaptation) in developing countries, came to an end. The agreement was to provide 100 billion dollars annually for the time thereafter. In Doha, however, the industrialised countries made further commitments of only about 8 billion dollars.

On the other hand, they were called upon to present at the next climate summit (COP 19) a plan for how they envisaged the growth of funding by 2020. Doha confirmed the Green Climate Fund, with its headquarters in Songdo, South Korea, but not the resources with which it can operate.

Structural climate damage

In the last night of negotiations the subject of “Loss and Damage” developed an unexpected momentum of its own. This rubric comprises structural climate damage that can no longer be avoided through reducing emissions and adapting to climate change. The small island states, which are threatened by physical destruction by climate change, demanded the establishment of a specific “Loss and Damage Institution”, which will be on the 2013 agenda.

In addition, resolutions were adopted for the support of the least developed countries (LDCs) in working out national adaptation plans. The latest estimates of billion dollar damages because of the drought in the American breadbasket and hurricane “Sandy” became known only after the Doha conference.

New global climate agreement

A roadmap was decided upon for the negotiation of a new global climate agreement. Two of the next three climate conferences will take place in Europe (in Poland and France). At the conference in Paris in 2015, a new agreement is to be adopted that contains differentiated obligations for all states and will enter into effect in 2020. It is envisaged that in 2014 there will be an accepted draft text to serve as the basis for negotiation. The various parts of the 5th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be published between September 2013 and October 2014. From this doubling of events, optimists are hoping for the beginning of a new momentum in climate policy.

Doha Closing Briefing; Video: UNclimatechange

Assessment

How should the results of the Doha conference be evaluated? Theoretically, climate negotiations are exemplary democratic events. Mini-states like Vanuatu have here the same weight as the United States, environmentalists the same access as fossil fuel lobbyists, and journalists and NGOs are permitted to go almost everywhere. Climate conferences can also be a kind of laboratory test for the question whether democracy can solve a pressing human problem. But exemplary events can fail and laboratory tests go wrong.

Doha was, after Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban, another debacle, perhaps a warning, but at any rate not a real success. To begin with, this has to do with the fact that not much new in the way of content or method has been added since the last conference. The timing too was most unfortunate in view of the then upcoming elections in the United States, China, Japan and Korea. But Doha was not a case of the collective failure of the United Nations; it was yet another victory for national economic egotism over global ecological reason. The cause of the failure was not the multi-lateral and transparent political approaches as such, but rather the relapse into mini-lateral strategies and non-transparent, non-consensus oriented tactics. And the majority of states could not convince individual powers to lift their blockades.

To stabilise the global climate system we need a legally binding treaty for an internationally coordinated climate policy. And new international laws can be created only by a UN process. For the peaceful cooperation of states in solving a global problem we need jointly agreed-upon goals, effective instruments and innovative institutional arrangements. Climate is not a private good, of which you can have more or less; it is global and public good. We therefore need an internationalisation of law and policy, because otherwise nothing will change: the pursuit of partial, national economic interests, the chopping up of economic-ecological interdependencies, the reinforcement of the split in the world between rich and poor, the sorting out into winners and losers of climate change.

An effective climate policy therefore requires not only a strong political will; it also needs an alert environmental awareness. The climate problem is per se a long-term, global and highly complex problem. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (and, in its demands, the Kyoto Protocol) are precisely designed with this in mind. Their principles are participation, solidarity and differentiation: the whole world, one world, sits at the table, the decision-making process favours the South (the developing countries), the duties of the North (the industrialised countries) are differentiated – and the future too has been taken into account, initially for only a decade but essentially forever. All this is not nothing. The approach of a multi-lateral ecological policy must therefore be defended instead of advocating an economically-based mini-lateralism of pioneers (“Alliance of the Willing”) and one-to-one relationships (“intelligent alliance strategy”) – or even embarking on a “climate geo-engineering” that would be imposed by a powerful few on the whole world and lead to untold consequences for the planet Earth and its peoples.