Looking back: How was Doha different and what’s next?

The climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar last December produced little progress, but the sobering conclusion of the climate talks gave us some hope to look forward to the next round of talks in Warsaw, Poland by the end of this year.

It  was the first time the Conference of the Parties to the climate change convention was held in the Gulf region. On this historic occasion, the Gulf region had been given an unparalleled world stage to showcase efforts in reducing the Gulf’s food and water vulnerabilities, to put regional energy growth on a more sustainable path, and to build a safer, stronger, and more resilient energy future for all countries.

In addition to being a COP in the Gulf region, the Doha COP was, at the same time, an Asia-Pacific COP. Two previous Asian COPs have inscribed their names forever in climate negotiations history and are namely Kyoto and Bali.This was also the first time in COP history that there were seven negotiating tracks taking place at the same time.

Even Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Christiana Figueres said in her opening speech at the climate talks that the “Doha talks is evidently unique in its geopolitical location.

The “Doha Climate Gateway” – while considered modest – amended the Kyoto Protocol, the only existing and binding agreement under which developed countries commit to cutting greenhouse gases, so that it will legally continue as of 1 January 2013. This is known as the second commitment period (CP2), and its length will span 8 years to allow countries taking on further reduction commitments to review them by 2014 with a view to increase their respective levels of ambition.

Doha also saw progress made on the Durban Platform, where countries need to work speedily toward a universal climate change agreement covering all countries from 2020, to be adopted by 2015. While doing so, countries need to find ways to scale up existing efforts before the 2020 deadline, beyond current pledges to curb emissions so that the world can stay below the agreed maximum 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise.

To this end, elements of a negotiating text are to be available no later than the end of 2014, so that a draft negotiating text is available before May 2015 to be adopted at COP21. In order to do this, negotiators will have to intensify efforts and meet more regularly in 2013 and 2014 to discuss aspects related to the new agreement. These include application of principles of the Convention; mitigation and adaptation benefits; barriers and ways to overcome them, and incentives for actions; finance, technology, and capacity-building to support implementation.

Among the decisions adopted by the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) such as adaptation, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation or REDD+, technology transfer and other methodological issues was that transboundary carbon capture and storage (CCS) would be eligible for consideration under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The CDM allows a country with an emission-reduction or emission-limitation commitment under the Kyoto Protocol (Annex B Party) to implement an emission-reduction project in developing countries. Building on decisions made at COP17 in Durban, CCS projects soon can earn saleable certified emission reduction (CER) credits, each equivalent to one ton of CO2, which can be counted towards meeting Kyoto targets.

CDM is seen by many as a trailblazer and with ability to stimulate sustainable development and emission reductions, andthe inclusion of CCS in geological formations projects involving transport of carbon dioxide between countries or storage in more than one country would certainly be good news for investors, who can now be assured of the establishment of a global reserve of Certified Emission Reduction (CERs) or carbon credits.

While some argue that the “transitional” Doha climate change conference was about moving forward on a trajectory towards adopting a universal climate agreement by 2015 rather than immediately raising ambition, negotiators have made progress since the lackluster results from Copenhagen in 2009. Since Copenhagen, over 85 developing and developed countries have presented emission reduction pledges under the Convention. Though many seem unclear, and contain targets to be achieved on conditionality and wide ranges of possible reductions, this signals real progress and countries are ready to put some numbers on the table for discussion.

All eyes now look ahead to see what a future universal climate change regime can deliver and if this time there will be the vital urgency and political will to prevent runaway climate change.

Melissa Low is an Energy Analyst from the Energy Studies Institute, National University of Singapore

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