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Dec 4, 2012

Doha(rd) 2012: pettiness, possibilities and protests

What's really behind the struggle to make progress at the UN's climate change summit, underway in Doha? Crikey asks some of the participants for a behind-the-scenes view of the talks that aim to cool the planet.

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It’s crunch time at the UN’s annual climate change summit in Doha, which wraps up on Friday (Qatar time). Ministers and leaders are starting to arrive as negotiators struggle to make progress on their plan to agree to an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, while working up a separate, stronger treaty to take effect from 2020.

The old schism between rich and poor countries is back, bigger than ever — and no one seems to have any bright ideas about how to ramp up key countries’ pledges to restrain greenhouse gas emissions.

Crikey asked some of the Australian participants at the talks what’s going on, and what’s going wrong. Here are some suggestions on how to move on from the rich-poor divide, and what Australia could do differently. And one of our writers tells the story of participating in Qatar’s first public protest …

Don Henry, chief executive officer, Australian Conservation Foundation:

Crikey, Doha is a strange place. Imagine a very wealthy Brisbane in the middle of a desert, or a Perth in the Kimberley — no, don’t go there. Clearly unsustainable! And yet major investment is now pouring into a cutting edge new sustainable quarter in this sun-baked city. The climate negotiations are grappling with the same challenges writ large. A world increasingly addicted to burning polluting fossil fuels needs to rapidly scale up clean economies and cut climate damaging pollution.

Well, the negotiations are dripping with frustration at the moment. But the ministers step into the chairs on Tuesday, Australian time, and will need to build momentum and ambition.

There are three years to negotiate a strong international agreement with all countries on board. Getting a good start out of the blocks here in Doha is important and Australia, with the credibility of a price on pollution and a commitment to agree a second commitment period to Kyoto, can have an impact here. I reckon we also need our PM and Foreign Affairs Minister to be taking it up to the US and China at senior levels and urging their leadership.

Erwin Jackson, Climate Institute deputy CEO:

Narratives are central to politics and it is no different at the Doha climate summit. Many times it is not what you say, but how you say it. Sleep-deprived delegates need simple messages that can bridge the gap that may exist between countries.

Positive narratives can build momentum, break down misunderstandings and move negotiations forward. Some old and tired narratives can also be destructive. The most commonly stated is that these conferences are battles between the developed and the developing world. Increasingly, delegates are voicing frustration with some media, NGOs and governments who perpetrate this outdated myth.

Costa Rica highlighted last week that this process should celebrate developing country leadership, and these countries should not be hiding behind the lack of leadership by some developed nations. Recent analysis concluded that the actions China has taken since 2005 amount to the single largest policy-driven emission reduction in the history of the planet. This process needs to deepen and expand these kinds of commitments, not throw up rhetorical barriers to action.

Gambia is not China and Bangladesh is not Brazil. Since the Copenhagen summit, developing countries have been increasing operating outside the block of G77/China. The European Union’s past collaboration with the Alliance of Small Island States in Durban is but one example.

Mark Dreyfus, federal Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (Dreyfus is leading Australia’s delegation at Doha):

After myriad meetings throughout the year, 197 countries are now in Doha to consolidate the painstaking work of designing a global agreement to slow down and check the effects of carbon pollution in our atmosphere. Governments are now focused on laying the foundations for a legally binding agreement in 2015 to set the ground for all countries.

The work will take four years. We are only at the start. Those looking for the high drama of previous years and speculating about “breakthroughs” or “failure” are misunderstanding a process that is now about meticulously putting together the nuts and bolts.

Australia’s Carbon Farming Initiative is attracting interest from developing countries. Carbon farming rewards landholders for cutting or avoiding carbon pollution on the land, earning them carbon credits that can be sold to companies who need to offset emissions.

Yesterday I joined indigenous leader Peter Yu to present to the world Australia’s pioneering savanna burning CFI methodology which combines traditional practices with satellite mapping to reduce wildfires in our tropical north, cutting carbon pollution. Similarly, the Fish River project south of Darwin is projected to earn 20,000 carbon credits a year.

The burning technique could be used in sub-Saharan Africa and South America. It’s an example of how a project under Australia’s carbon price can make a big difference beyond our own borders.

Will McGoldrick, policy manager, climate change, WWF-Australia: 

I grew up with stories from my parents about their involvement in the history-making anti-Vietnam War rallies held across Australia in the early 1970s. In Doha on Saturday it was my turn to make a little history when I participated in the first ever public demonstration in Qatari history, calling for stronger action on climate change. While the rally was small and heavily supervised, it was nonetheless inspiring to see young Arab men and women on the streets making their voices heard.

A highlight of the rally was former ACTU president Sharan Burrow, who is now General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, based in Brussels. Clearly an old hand at public demos, Burrow managed to get the entire rally to pause right in front of a construction site where migrant workers were busily building yet another skyscraper. Burrow is passionate about climate change, but this was an opportunity not to be missed. The next day I read in the local papers that Burrow secured a pledge from the Qatari government to allow her to set up the country’s first labour union.

Back at the climate summit, history-making had little effect on negotiators who seem impervious to outside pressure and resistant to closing the emission gap needed to keep global warming below 2 degrees. Maybe I should see if Burrow can pop in to see the Russians?

Kelly Dent, Oxfam Australia’s climate change policy advisor:

Every UN climate conference has stories of powerful voices cutting through the noise and reminding delegates of the raw realities of what we are dealing with. Maria Timon is a woman from the Pacific nation of Kiribati. On Friday she spoke at a side event on climate change and human rights:

“The coconut trees are dying and breadfruit trees are dying. Our people are struggling to survive. But they sweat, they try harder, they work harder. They are very resilient and will even try harder to survive and stay in their home land,” Timon said.

“For some developed nations, climate change is about the rising costs of electricity. Climate change for them is putting price on carbon emission, lack of jobs, life will become more expensive and it’s about the economy. For the people of Kiribati, climate change is about human rights, right to our land and losing our land, losing our culture, losing a sense of belonging and losing our identity.”

Cathy Alexander —

Cathy Alexander

Freelance journalist and PhD candidate in politics at the University of Melbourne

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