Notes from Doha: The Way Forward

The recent climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar remained deadlocked, ending with incremental progress on key issues including the commitment by most of the 200 nations to a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol, on transparency, adaptation, technology, forests and finance.

Slowly but surely, the so-called “Doha Climate Gateway”, says the President of the meeting Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, “has opened up a new gateway to bigger ambition and to greater action” that will make countries to push forward solutions to climate change.

While Doha was not the success that many had hoped for, progress has been made since the high-profile talks in Copenhagen in 2009 and in the subsequent talks in Mexico in 2010, and South Africa in 2011.

Doha achieved its two main goals of keeping the 1997 Kyoto Protocol operational as a transitionary measure and laid the path for a more comprehensive international agreement for the post-2020 period to be agreed by 2015.

The second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol were agreed upon by 37 countries including all European countries, Australia, Belarus, Croatia, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Norway, Switzerland and Ukraine, who agreed to adopt legally binding emission reduction targets over the next eight years or from the 2013 to 2020 period.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol is the only legally, binding agreement for countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It was never ratified by the US and countries such as Canada, Japan, Russia and New Zealand indicated their intention not to join the second commitment period.

The Doha talks were plagued by a lack of political will. Startling reports that global greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than ever, and even the recent extreme weather events such as super typhoon Sandy that affected the eastern United States, as well as typhoon Bopha in the Philippines which was described as “twice as deadly as Sandy”, did little to increase the urgency of the talks.

Not even the hearty plea of Philippines’ lead negotiator, Naderev Sano - who broke down in tears when he spoke of how super typhoons were killing thousands in his country - moved the countries.

Bickering between rich and poor countries continued, not only on the extent of how much developed countries must commit in emissions reductions, but on a financial promise of US$100 billion by 2020 under the Green Climate Fund to help poor countries adapt to the effects of climate change.

While there was no agreement on the mechanism on scaling up funding, some European countries such as Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom have pledged more funding annually starting in 2013, making new pledges up to more than US$10 billion.

Business sector leads the way

Looking behind the scenes, however, there was some positive action emerging from the private sector.

Some of the world’s biggest businesses are not only engaging in the climate talks, but are increasingly leading the way in implementing low-carbon solutions despite the lack of a clear price signal from the absence of an international agreement.

In the last three years, we have seen the rise of business summits on climate change—firstly in Mexico in 2010, then in South Africa and the latest in Qatar. Such meetings bring powerful business leaders and government officials together to find solutions for climate change.

At the World Climate Summit, held on the sidelines of the Doha climate talks, the private and public sector discussed and tackled wide-ranging issues pertaining to the financing of the Green Climate Fund, public-private partnerships, technology transfer and solutions including the global energy mix, resource efficiency, smart infrastructure for cities and regions as well as how to help governments in climate change legislations.

Companies such as Philips, Siemens, BMW and organizations such as World Energy Council, World Bank, International Finance Corporation, International Chamber of Commerce among others, are adding their voices to a growing chorus calling for political leadership and policy reform.

The Climate Group, a non-profit group made up of governments, business leaders and corporations, has called for a swift, massive scale-up of clean energy and infrastructure, and of climate-smart technologies and design through its “Clean Revolution” campaign.

It has teamed up with the UNFCCC’s “Momentum for Change” initiative to translate goodwill into action by securing actual commitment for transformative low-carbon action from corporate and government leaders.

Looking forward, the stage has now been set for a more ambitious, comprehensive international and equitable agreement in 2015.

The higher incidence of extreme weather events across the world, as well as overwhelming scientific evidence of climate change impacts, is a firm reminder of why world leaders must take urgent action and build support to avoid devastating climate impacts.

The climate talks next year must not be part two of Doha, where little progress has been attained. Rather, it must be a meeting of world leaders with clearer commitments and determination to swiftly address climate change nationally and internationally.

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