The 2012 version of the UN global climate change meetings concluded late last week in Doha, Qatar with little to show for the effort amid what is clearly a downward spiral of media and political interest.
The main if disappointing news to environmentalists was that just 37 of the 195 participating countries agreed to extend the expiring Kyoto treaty to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
The Reuters news agency reported that "many of those most concerned about climate change are close to despair" coming out of the conference.
The 2009 UN meeting in Copenhagen represents the zenith of these annual conclaves, and featured huge media coverage for more than two weeks. US President Barack Obama and then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao were among the more than 15,000 attendees.
Not much was really accomplished there, but some 138 nations either signed or said they intended to sign the Copenhagen Accord, which recognized that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of the present day and that actions should be taken to keep any temperature increases to below 2 degrees C.
Though that accord did not have any real teeth, it was seen by many as an important next step towards a global plan to reduce carbon emissions, and many believed the 2010 meeting in Cancun, Mexico would deliver real commitment to action.
The Cancun conference was also highly covered and well attended, but the hoped for agreements were not achieved.
"The official communiqué from the Cancun climate change conference cannot disguise the fact that there will be no successor to the Kyoto Protocol at the end of 2012. Japan, among others, has withdrawn its support for extending the treaty," well-known investor George Soros wrote at the time.
The lack of success in Cancun combined with financial troubles over the debt crisis in Europe, a global economy that never really reached full recovery, and no real plan for how to reduce carbon emissions from fast growing emerging markets combined to take expectations for the 2011 conference in Durban, South Africa well down. And, as it turned out, rightly so.
The Durban meeting started off badly, amid relatively light media coverage versus the previous two years. Canada, Russia, and Japan all said early in the schedule that they were not going to make further Kyoto-like emissions reduction commitments for a second five year period. One of Canada's delegates to Durban called Kyoto a "thing of the past," and China only offered support for a vague commitment that wouldn't start until 2020.
At the last minute, The Durban Platform for Enhanced Action was approved, which for the first time committed all countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve this they agreed to negotiate “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” by 2015 – whatever that means. Whatever deal is reached then will have five years to be ratified and come into force in those nations by 2020.
In other words, an agreement to later reach an agreement, followed by each nation having the accord approved locally.
In Doha, a handful of other countries joined the European Union nations in agreeing to a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol. Those countries, which together account for about 15% of global carbon emissions, set an overall target of reducing carbon emissions by 18% from 1990 levels by 2020. However, that seems like a very long stretch, as the agreement to date has been noticeably ineffective in slowing the growth in CO2.
Developed countries like Russia, Japan, Canada and New Zealand have opted out of a Kyoto extension in large part because so called developing nations are not part of the agreement, including now large economies like China and India. The greatest growth in CO2 emissions is naturally coming from China.
To some, the news that the Kyoto framework would at least still be continued in most of Europe was good news, as it means the infrastructure for carbon trading and market-based mechanisms will remain in place.
Is It About CO2 Reduction – Or the Money?
Also complicating things in Doha are increased demands from many these developing nations for money from the developed ones for supposed damage their nations and economies will incur from global warming, or the costs they will incur to bypass fossil fuels and use more environmentally friendly energy sources to support economic growth.
Developed economies have now contributed more than $30 billion for such transfers over the past few years, under a program called “fast start.”
There have also been commitments for another $100 billion – a huge sum – to be transferred after 2020. However, that money has yet to be collected, and is sure to cause some political backlash in different countries as such funding is considered.
But at Doha, developing economies were pushing for yet another “mid-term” fund to cover the years 2013-2020. Many also said that some developed countries were simply taking general foreign aid that would have been given to specific nations anyways and rebranding it as climate money, so that no real change in transfers is occurring.
A group of these developing nations asked the richer countries for pledge of $60 billion for this mid-term period to be raised by 2015. However, no such plan was developed, and the issue basically tabled until the 2013 meeting in a yet to be determined Eastern European country.
However, UN head Ban Ki-moon said in Doha that “Developed countries must give their clear indications that scaled-up climate financing will flow after 2012, and that it will be commensurate to the goal of mobilizing $100 billion dollars a year by 2020 from public and private funding.”
All this, of course, making some wonder how much of this is really about carbon emissions and how much is really about the money.
Meanwhile, with there being to date clearly little progress on global CO2 reduction (see Amid Doha Gloom, News that CO2 Levels Keep Rising), many are saying the UN will soon abandon its existing goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures by just 2 degrees C and increasing it to 4 degrees.
Relative to that, the UN-established climate science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is due to publish its next reports in 2013 and 2014, and most expect them to be dire.
“My conversations with scientists working on that report make me think it will make frightening reading,” said Yvo de Boer, a special global adviser at KPMG Climate Change and Sustainability in the UK.
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