The 18th annual Conference of the Parties (COP 18) took place in Doha, Qatar between 26 November and 8 December. Like last year’s conference in Durban, the stakes were high, with the world coming ever closer to the point of no return on climate change and the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s only legally binding emissions reductions treaty, due to expire at the end of 2012.
In the event, despite an agreement to approve new extremely unambitious targets for a second commitment period for Kyoto running to 2020, the conference was characterised by inaction on emissions cuts on the part of the rich developed countries and increasing despair amongst poor countries.
For a start, big emitters Russia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand joined the USA in refusing to join the second commitment period for Kyoto at all, meaning that legally binding emissions targets will apply to the EU, Norway, Switzerland and Australia alone. But the target agreed (just a 20 per cent drop on 1990 levels) is nowhere near the 40-50 per cent cuts that developing countries were calling for and, once carbon offsets are factored in, translates to only a minimal reduction on current emissions.
And while limits were placed on the carrying over of excess ‘hot air’ carbon permits from the first Kyoto period, these have not been cancelled completely, possibly further negating the already derisory 20 per cent target.
The biggest achievement of the conference was the supposed recognition by rich countries that they must pay money to poor countries for loss and damage’ caused by climate change. But this doesn’t go far enough. The US delegation was careful to ensure that rich countries will avoid any legal obligations, and that the money will be classified as aid not compensation. It is also looking like no additional money will be spent, as these funds are to come out of the existing target of mobilising $100 billion a year.
It says it all that even this small step forward was only achieved after some developing countries threatened to stage a walkout.
So, despite the media celebrating the fact that a ‘deal’ was struck in Doha, the reality of the situation is grim. The much vaunted new global deal on climate change first discussed at Durban last year won’t be implemented until 2020, by which time it will be too late to limit warming to 2C. And rich countries continue to pledge tiny emissions cuts and consistently fail to put their money where their mouths are on climate finance to poor countries.
Next year, the circus will move on to Warsaw in Poland, where negotiations will begin on the new post-2020 deal. But that conference will have to be truly groundbreaking to alter a pattern of failure at the UN climate talks.