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The politics of Doha's climate talks

Krishneil Narayan
Saturday, December 15, 2012

The annual United Nations climate change negotiations, ironically held this year in the dusty, oil rich city of Doha in Qatar between 26th November to 8th December, concluded last week with the all-night negotiating session and accusations over who must bear the costs and burdens of a warming planet.

The climate talks, commonly referred to as COP18, marked the first time that the UN climate change negotiations took place in the Middle East drawing approximately 9000 participants.

Project Survival Pacific supported its member Ms Devika Raj to attend this meeting as Fiji's Youth Climate Change Ambassador through our Train-A-Climate Ambassador Program. We were part of a larger international youth climate movement who came from various countries to contribute towards the global climate change decision making process.

While many developing countries and observers express disappointment with the lack of ambition in outcomes related to developed countries' mitigation and finance, the stark reality is that Doha was not meant to yield the concomitant sense of urgency from the very onset.

Even Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of UN's Climate Change body - UNFCCC, said at the beginning of the conference that "success at current low-ambition talks among 194 nations in Doha would delight no one."

Doha was about moving forward on a trajectory towards adopting a universal climate agreement by 2015 rather than immediately raising ambition as insisted by many youths and the civil society.

The conference agreement, dubbed the "Doha Climate Gateway", extended for another eight years the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that limits the greenhouse gas output of some rich countries, but will only cover about 15 percent of global emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol was due to expire this year, so failing to agree on an extension would have been a major setback for the talks. Despite objections from Russia, which opposed rules limiting its use of carbon credits, the accord was extended through 2020 to fill the gap until a wider global treaty is expected to take effect.

The decisions in Doha mean that in future UN climate meetings, the talks can focus on the new treaty, which is supposed to apply to both rich and poor countries. It is expected to be adopted in 2015 and take effect five years later, but the details haven't been worked out yet.

Now they have a 2015 deadline to get a new global, binding deal in place, to enter into force after the extension of Kyoto expires in 2020. For the first time, it would apply to rich and poor countries alike.

However, having followed these UN negotiations for the last few years knowing very well the slow pace of progress they make and with the world's nations divided over who must pay the cost, it is uncertain that a new binding deal could be reached by 2015. It will most likely to go beyond this timeframe.

Finance available for mitigation and adaptation efforts in the developing countries was a very contentious subject between wealthier developed nations and developing countries throwing punches at each other.

Poor countries came into the talks in Doha seeking a timetable on how rich countries would scale up climate change aid for them to $100 billion annually by 2020 — a general pledge that was made three years ago at the COP15 Copenhagen climate talks.

But rich nations, including the United States, members of the European Union and Japan are still grappling with the effects of a financial crisis and were not interested in detailed talks on aid in Doha.

The agreement on financing made no reference to any mid-term financing targets, just a general pledge to "identify pathways for mobilizing the scaling up of climate finance."

Although the Green Climate Fund has been established, without a concrete signal on its replenishment, many see it as just another "empty shell".

Kieren Keke, the Foreign Minister of Nauru and chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States, called the package "deeply deficient."

"This is not where we wanted to be at the end of the meeting, I assure you," he told the delegates.

"It certainly isn't where we need to be in order to prevent islands from going under and other unimaginable impacts. It has become abundantly clear that unless the work is supported by world leaders, particularly those representing the countries most responsible for the crisis, we will continue to fall short year after year."

"Much much more is needed if we are to save this process from being simply a process for the sake of process, a process that simply provides for talk and no action, a process that locks in the death of our nations, our people, and our children," Mr. Keke told the government ministers at COP18.

On the bright side, small island nations scored a victory by getting the conference to adopt a text on "loss and damage", a relatively new concept which relates to damages from climate-related disasters.

Island nations under threat from rising sea levels have been pushing for some mechanism to help them cope with such natural catastrophes, but the United States has pushed back over concerns it might be held liable for the clean-up bill since it is the world's second-biggest emitter behind China.

It is a breakthrough. The term Loss and Damage is in the text, this is a huge step in principle. Next comes the clash for cash.

United States, Russia, Canada, Poland, New Zealand and Japan could be considered the "villains" of COP18 for blocking many of the actions that could have brought about real progress in global efforts to tackle climate change.

Climate Change diplomacy has three faces to it: the good, the bad and the ugly. Even with the best of intentions, the diplomats are unlikely to deliver change at the pace scientists seek.

Project Survival Pacific will still support Pacific youth engagement at these global climate change decision making processes through our Climate Ambassador programs with the hope that one day our youth will become better diplomats who will steer our world towards a more sustainable pathway.

nKrishneil Narayan is the Director of Project Survival Pacific — Fiji's Youth Climate Change Movement. He was Fiji's Youth Climate Change Ambassador to the United Nations from 2009 - 2012. For further information e-mail

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