COP 18 wrap-up: weak Doha outcome underlines importance of clean revolution leadership

10 December 2012

As part of our involvement in COP18 in Doha, Qatar, Damian Ryan our Senior Policy Manager, is providing news and analysis, as well as live tweeting from Doha. Today Damian analyzes outcomes from the negotiations.

The weak outcome that emerged on Saturday, December 8, from the UN climate conference in Doha, Qatar, has underlined the critical role that progressive business and sub-national government leaders will need to play if global efforts to address climate change are to be raised over the coming three to five years.

Although procedurally successfully, the collective outcome from the talks, christened the ‘Doha Climate Gateway’, falls far short of the action that the climate science evidence says is needed.

A streamlined process

On the positive side, countries did manage to conclude negotiations on a new commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, as well as wrap up parallel talks on how to enhance collective climate action by all countries.

This has left countries with a much streamlined, single track negotiation process from next year, focused on the Durban Platform process, which is meant to agree a new global climate treaty by 2015.

Countries, however, failed to move beyond the emission reduction pledges that have been on the table since the Copenhagen conference in 2009.

With the US adamant that its 17% target for 2020 was not open for negotiation, and the EU unable to form a consensus on greater action due to opposition from Poland, there was little, if any, incentive for other major emitters to move.

But little impact

The success in agreeing a second Kyoto commitment period, although important politically, is also something of a Pyrrhic victory for its supporters.

Covering just 15% of global emissions and with provisions to allow carry-over of significant amounts of unused carbon credits, the new commitment period will have little impact on the growth of global emissions.

The net result is that Doha leaves the world firmly on track to 4 degrees or more of warming by 2100.

The lack of specificity and substance in other areas also points to difficult political negotiations ahead. This is particularly true of climate finance where developed countries were not prepared to commit to firm funding figures for the 2013-20 period, given tough economic situations at home.

This has upset many developing countries, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, which worry that richer countries are seeking to backtrack on their promise to mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020.

For their part, developed countries have said that climate aid will continue, with some individual governments making explicit commitments.

Weak decisions

Decisions relating to carbon accounting were also weak. There is, for example, no means of adequately ensuring comparability of effort between those developed countries taking action under the Kyoto Protocol (i.e. the EU, Australia, Norway and several others) and those taking mitigation pledges under the Convention (i.e. the US, Japan, Canada, Russia and New Zealand).

While some developing countries pushed hard on this, others did not to avoid similarly difficult questions being asked of developing country monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) requirements.

Some tough issues were simply ignored in the end. Emissions from international aviation and maritime transport were a case in point. Although included in earlier draft decisions, in the end countries could not reach agreement on how to deal with these sectors.

Potentially, this could well be for the best, since by default efforts to deal with these important sources of emissions (~5% of total global emissions), may now fall exclusively to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

The glass-half-full scenario is that if these bodies can pursue their work independent of the divisions within the UNFCCC process, progress may finally be made in these sectors.

Difficult discussions

Even in areas where important progress was made, key divisions remain to be bridged. Agreement to establish institutional arrangements for some kind of ‘Loss and Damage Mechanism’ at next year’s conference, was a major achievement on adaptation for developing countries.

However, developed countries, notably the US, remain extremely wary of such a mechanism, with many hinting that it may imply historic liability for future climate impacts. Expect difficult and divisive discussions on this subject over the coming year or two.

Despite all these problems, it would be wrong to paint an irredeemable picture of the UNFCCC process post-Doha.

Hope remains

The achievement in reducing the overall negotiations down to a single track from next year, for example, should not be underestimated. With luck this will bring focus to discussions and just as importantly free up both time and resources for countries and the UNFCCC secretariat.

From a climate action point of view there also remains hope for raising collective ambition. The workstream on raising pre-2020 ambition under the Durban Platform and the scientific review under the Convention between 2013 and 2015, provide the means for jump-starting meaningful mitigation efforts.

As always, however, this international process remains hostage to domestic politics and the ambition of national governments at home. This is why progressive businesses and sub-national governments are becoming more important than ever to securing an effective new global treaty in 2015.

By demonstrating that low carbon investment and policies are good for the bottom line and local communities, corporate, state and regional leaders can create the domestic support for ambitious climate action that national governments need to take internationally.

With just three years to peak global emissions and seal a new climate deal, there is no time lose.


Damian Ryan is writing news and analysis and live-tweeting throughout COP18, and providing a more in-depth post-COP Briefing after the events. Keep up to date on our website and by following him on Twitter during COP18. 

You can also read a series of articles featuring analysis from our teams in the USEurope, India and Australia on their nations' COP negotiating positions.

Read Damian's pre-COP18 briefing paper and his post-COP Briefing now.

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