Dec 7, 2012

Last chance: UN climate summit poised to entrench delay

Problems at the UN's climate talks have widened as the talks enter their final day. The end result may be that a new deal to reduce emissions will take longer than expected, reports Renew Economy's Giles Parkinson.

Over the past two weeks, several hundred events have been held across the Qatari capital of Doha highlighting the science of climate change, its impacts and some of the intriguing means being devised to address it. But as the UN climate change talks -- the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP) -- draws to a close today, the missing ingredients are neither the science nor effort, but what it has always been: the political will to match the two. Ministers and negotiators from more than 190 countries talks face two key difficulties in the frantic final 24 hours of the summit: how to forge agreement on two crunch issues in a relatively unambitious agenda, and then how to spin the credibility of the UN process to an increasingly sceptical public. As negotiations crawled into the night on Thursday the situation was typically fraught. The fault lines that were exposed at the start  -- mostly over the question of finance and the extension of the Kyoto Protocol -- have not been resolved. Indeed, they have probably been widened by the flood of reports highlighting the gap between action and need, which has steeled the resolve of vulnerable states, in particular, to force at least something more from richer nations. The specific goal of Doha has been to bring closure to the two strands of negotiations that were enshrined in the UN's Bali roadmap in 2007, and ultimately fell short of political agreement in the mess of the Copenhagen summit, and to clear the path for a new treaty that everyone has agreed should be struck by 2015 and implemented by 2020. "A three-headed circus", as one veteran observer described it. The Durban platform, as the new path is known, is not posing too many problems at this stage because it is yet to even taken shape. But resolving the two Bali strands is proving difficult. One strand is stuck over how much finance developed nations should provide to developing countries to help them with abatement. The developing countries want trajectories to reach the agreed level of $100 billion a year by 2020. Deficit-ridden Western governments, hobbled by domestic considerations, are ducking for cover. "There are some economic difficulties for some countries. But this is only temporary," said China, ironically a huge creditor nation to the very same countries. Added Brazil, another strongly emerging economy keen to exploit the frustration of the most vulnerable states: "If developed countries have difficulty to find resources, how much more difficult it is for developing countries?" The US, the world's biggest economy, has found itself once again in the firing line. Australia, which has been quiet on the financing front, is also being urged to up its commitment. As for the Kyoto Protocol, the two issues remain how many surplus credits will be allowed into the second period (the KP expires on December 31), and by extension the new treaty. Poland, the noted recalcitrant, is being leaned on to compromise, with some even suggesting its role of hosting the talks next year may be withdrawn if it doesn't. There is also the question of whether countries that have dropped out of Kyoto -- such as New Zealand and Japan -- should be allowed into the international carbon market, known as the Clean Development Mechanism. There is mischief-making on all sides.
"The more that the UN talks fall short of expectations, the more that domestic politics plays into the hands of vested interests."
Some sort of agreement will be achieved -- it always is. Climate change negotiations will not be buried in Doha, as WTO negotiations were more than a decade ago. But the outcome will strongly influence the speed at which the new track of negotiations will take place. And time is of the essence. That's where the messaging comes in, particularly for domestic audiences. The more that the UN talks fall short of expectations, the more that domestic politics plays into the hands of vested interests. The irony is that it is these vested interests and domestic political considerations that are shackling the ability of Western countries to take the initiative and call the bluff of the Chinese. This is true of the US, of Europe, and of Australia. Frustration at these negotiations disguises the fact that much is being done across many nations. Countries stand ready to increase their ambition, as long as someone else goes first. At these talks, despite the fine rhetoric, only Monaco and the Dominican Republic have come to the party. Hardly enough to generate perpetual motion. Whatever one thinks about the UN process, it's hard to imagine it would be any different without it. As the Bali roadmap had its denouement in Copenhagen, the Durban Action Plan will quite possibly do the same in Paris. France today formally put its hand up to host the 2015 COP21; the deadline for lining up a new treaty. "We think we are the only candidate, so that should help the choice," foreign minister Laurent Fabius told journalists here. "It is the world's major diplomatic challenge." Meanwhile, the fun continued in the hallways. Environmental and youth groups continued to call for more decisive action. The US and Japan got "fossil of the day" awards for refusing finance commitments and threatening to downgrade their targets respectively, and Christopher Monckton finally got himself noticed by dressing up as "Monckton of Arabia", sitting on a camel, and holding a press conference in which he rushed through 25 slides in four minutes and gave the Australian carbon scheme a right pasting. He even snuck uninvited into a meeting hosted by Australia's ministerial representative Mark Dreyfus on the subject of verification. Apparently he sat in the chair normally occupied by Burma, fiddled with a few buttons and then wandered off.

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16 thoughts on “Last chance: UN climate summit poised to entrench delay

  1. Scott

    Without the top 5 emmitters being involved (China, the US, India, Russia and Japan…covering 57% of all emissions), the new Kyoto protocal is a damp squib anyway.

    The world has moved on from the heady days of 2007 and 2009 when everyone believed that the world was cooking. Now it’s just scientists big noting themselves, developed nations placating the left, rent seeking from the developing nations trying to make a buck, while the NGO’s enjoy the perks of travelling to exotic destinations to “lobby”, all on the charity dollar.

    It’s just theatre at the moment.

  2. Rais

    “…new deal to reduce emissions will take longer than expected…” — I don’t expect them ever to reach an agreement. How can it take longer than that?

  3. Ian

    So Scott is it a good think that meaningful agreements on climate change have gone out the window? If so for who?

  4. Ian

    Sorry good thing not think.

  5. Liamj

    It is obviously not a good thing Ian, but it is a ‘good think’ if one is planning on continuing to live in the style to which we have become accustomed. Producing these rationalisions for extreme selfishness is the last growth industry.

  6. Person Ordinary

    It takes a special kind of idiot to wear climate change denial as if it were a badge of honour.

    Unfortunately, there are so many of these special idiots that the negotiators at Doha are not armed with informed political will. It really is just theatre, with most of the audience falling asleep, not realising that with just one spark the whole place will burn.

    For those who are awake and attentive, it really is a horror show …

  7. Person Ordinary

    A couple of years ago, after a long spell of extreme heat, and with a forecast the next day of 45 degrees and 90kmh winds, I pleaded with an otherwise intelligent and responsible person to take my loved ones away from a pretty Victorian country town because of the risk of bushfire. I got laughter and complacent assurance that the town in question “would not burn.”

    24 hours later, many very similar towns burned down and almost 200 people were killed, in the Black Saturday bushfires.

    We are now in a similar position on a global scale. And still many people drift along, their heads all muddled with distraction, denial and deluded self interest. And tomorrow, they will be too busy to peek through the curtains from their air conditioned comfort to see that the world is ablaze and there is nowhere to run …

    This time, though, we are all in it together. Those who are aware can not simply make plans for themselves, and be forced to watch, with horror, the suffering of those left behind. This time, if we can’t wake enough of these plodders up, we all suffer the same fate.

    … and when the tragedy starts to unfold, where is the mob going to direct its rage? At those who tried to raise the alarm, or those who assured them everything was going to be ok, and science was just one big conspiracy? If you are going to peddle ignorance, you may just want to cover your tracks …

  8. Hamis Hill

    With the world’s economic machinery running on the pursuit of the highest returns for capital through interest on loans and this only available with unsustainable and aritificial growth, this present sysytem will not prevail against the problems of climate change.
    And, with the Abrahamic religions abandoning the Mosaic injunction against usury, in favour of worshipping Mammon and slaughtering each other, no answers there.
    Small communities of committed individuals, however, may be able to band together to protect themslves against the collapse of immoral religion and the imminent bankruptcy of the corrupted, fixed and freedom hating market.
    Time for all those survivalists to start dusting off those old instruments.
    It is called the precautionary principle.
    “They”, the cause of all these difficulties, are never going to solve anything. “We” will.
    To believe otherwise is a form of idolatry.
    “They” do not exist, stop supplicating “Them”, stop sacrificing your children to “Them”.
    “We’re the Department of Youth! We’ve got the power”.
    Alice Cooper may have been right, and all the has beens wrong.

  9. Richard Schmidt

    Perhaps, in a similar vein, John F Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you” quote is also applicable – if you leave it up to “Government” to solve all of life’s problems, you’ll be waiting forever!

  10. ماكين

    good luck with that! they all want perpetual growth without sustainable structure to support it.

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