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Doha climate talks: Dreadful deal on the table

7 December 2012

There are just a few hours to go until the Doha climate talks (COP18) are scheduled to finish (though they are likely to go into overtime). Drafts of the key decisions have been released, and the outlook is very black indeed.

The most important draft text, agreeing a second period of Kyoto, is still filled with brackets and options to be pared down in last-minute negotiations. This may be because the Alliance of Small Island States rightly challenged its pathetic emissions targets for countries it binds, access to offsets for countries it excludes, carryover of surplus permits, and eight-year length – all of which threaten to lock in meaningless action. The EU reportedly sorted out its internal division in talks with Poland on Thursday night, but with the wrong outcome: an agreement to not cancel surplus permits. Reportedly, the specifics of the deal are the surplus permits will be carried over but only tradable with countries in Kyoto. Regardless of trade restrictions, surplus permits will not only sabotage Kyoto but also dilute any post-2020 regime, allowing business-as-usual to continue indefinitely.

(UPDATE 8 December 2012: A revised Kyoto text has been released with the brackets and options removed. It amends the Kyoto Protocol to create a second period, but merely “recognizes” countries “may” provisionally apply the amendment before it is ratified and legally enters into force. It decides Kyoto 2 will drag on until 2020, and the aggregate target is only 18% below 1990 averaged over 2013-2020, albeit with a ministerial roundtable in 2014 where each party “may” raise its ambition toward at least 25-40% below 1990 by 2020. The US, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Russia are out. The conditions for Australia, Norway, and Switzerland to increase their pledges will not be binding. The “Australia clause”, which allows creative accounting on land use, remains in effect. On the bright side, if I understand correctly access of Kyoto offsets will be restricted to countries with binding targets. I’m still trying to understand what it means for surplus permits, which I consider make-or-break for the integrity of Kyoto 2, but in any case there has been a whole day’s worth of dispute over that issue since this version of the text was made available.)

The draft LCA text fails to specify a timeframe for peaking and declining global emissions; establishes a review which is intended to assess progress toward existing pledges and consider raising ambition but will not be completed until 2015; fails to even mention accounting rules; promotes new market mechanisms; and handballs unresolved issues on assisting poor countries to institutions like the Green Climate Fund. The finance section of the text is currently blank; a separate document on finance subject to further negotiations acknowledges finance pledges put forward by several European countries, but postpones scaling up finance toward the promised $100 billion per year by 2020. Most importantly, no countries have increased the inadequate emissions pledges they made in 2009 (indeed Japan and Russia appear to backing away from theirs). And this is the culmination of five long years of negotiations!

(UPDATE 8 December 2012: The latest version of the LCA text, including finance, is here. There have been few changes, though for some reason a section on sector-specific action has been removed.)

The draft ADP text does no more than plan the work of the two streams of negotiations that were launched in Durban. What a waste of 12 months! Last year’s promise to agree a possibly binding global regime “as early as possible but no later than 2015” is now definitely delayed until COP21 in 2015, and the implementation date remains 2020, too late to wait. The draft text decides to “immediately advance” negotiations, by which it means countries will discuss it at COP19 in 2013 and one or more interim conferences between now and then, and world leaders will attend COP20 in 2014 so a negotiating text can be available by May 2015. On ambition, sector-specific workshops will be held, “with a particular focus on 2013” but no fixed deadline.

(UPDATE 8 December 2012: The latest version of the ADP text, now split into two documents, can be read here and here. At a glance, not much has changed. The dates “2013” and “2014” are now mentioned in regard to “pre-2020” ambition, and again a mention of sector-specific ambition has been removed.)

Why does the process have to go so slowly? It defies common sense. Why didn’t world leaders attend this year’s conference? Why can’t they organize another conference as soon as possible? I realize there are budgetary considerations, but surely they are not insurmountable. In this digital age, is it even strictly necessary to physically congregate in one city in order to negotiate?

All in all, I pretty much agree with the reaction of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) on Friday morning:

We woke up today and found ourselves no closer to addressing climate change, and possibly considerably farther from this imperative than when we started here. The text that has been tabled across the key areas of the negotiations fails to meet the basic requirements of the countries facing an existential threat from the crisis. Unfortunately, what we see would kick ambition down the road, undermine the legally binding and rules-based regime in the KP, and depart substantively from previous political commitments at the highest level, particularly on the Review. The day isn’t over yet and we’ll be engaging proactively to improve the text throughout the day.

AOSIS says it “won’t be rushed into accepting something that is unsatisfactory”.

On Thursday, a Filipino delegate almost broke down while delivering this powerful speech:

As we sit here in these negotiations, even as we vacillate and procrastinate here, the death toll is rising. There is massive and widespread devastation. Hundreds of thousands of people have been rendered without homes. And the ordeal is far from over, as typhoon Bopha has regained some strength as it approaches another populated area in the western part of the Philippines.

Madam chair, we have never had a typhoon like Bopha, which has wreaked havoc in a part of the country that has never seen a storm like this in half a century. And heartbreaking tragedies like this are not unique to the Philippines, because the whole world, especially developing countries struggling to address poverty and achieve social and human development, confront these same realities.

Madam chair, I speak on behalf of 100 million Filipinos, a quarter of a million of whom are eking out a living working here in Qatar. And I am making an urgent appeal, not as a negotiator, not as a leader of my delegation, but as a Filipino. I appeal to the whole world, I appeal to leaders from all over the world, to open our eyes to the stark reality that we face. I appeal to ministers. The outcome of our work is not about what our political masters want. It is about what is demanded of us by 7 billion people.

I appeal to all, please, no more delays, no more excuses. Please, let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around. Please, let 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to find the will to take responsibility for the future we want. I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?

Indeed.

UPDATE 9 December 2012: The conference has now concluded. My analysis of the final outcomes is coming soon.

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