The Doha Climate Gateway: A Review

The UN climate talks in Doha concluded on Saturday, December 8, with a bang. Or multiple bangs, should I say,

Russia’s negotiator, Oleg Shamanov, tries to get the conference President’s attention as he gavels through the decisions to change the Kyoto Protocol (source: Responding to Climate Change)

as the Qatari chair of the conference gaveled through the decisions of the talks in his own strident, flamboyant way, in spite of the furious objections of the Russian negotiator, who was loudly smashing his nameplate onto his desk.

This will surely bear implications for climate negotiations in a while to come, but it is not the first time something like this has happened (in fact, it’s the third year in a row the negotiations have ended in controversy).

After two weeks of seemingly slow negotiations – which were criticised for a severe lack of urgency in the face of the huge immediate threat posed by climate change – the dramatic finale heralded the delivery of the “Doha Climate Gateway”, an agreement which extends the Kyoto Protocol (KP) to 2020 with a second commitment period and wraps up the LCA negotiating track that has dominated talks over the last 4 years.

In doing this, it also officially opens up the future of the climate regime to a fresh new start under the Durban Platform, the agreement settled at last year’s conference.

But overall, the progress made at Doha was limited, as not much moved forward from a business as usual pathway.

Below I provide my analysis of the conference, outlining the context to the conference, its outcomes and what it means for the future of climate negotiations.

The context of the Doha Climate Gateway

After last year’s conference at Durban, Pablo Solon, the chief negotiator of Bolivia, described it as being the “Great Escape III” in his blog, decrying the trend of developing countries being bullied into signing agreements which were unfair for them and unfair and illegal voting processes being used.

“After 9 days of negotiations there is no doubt that we saw this movie before. It is the third remake of Copenhagen and Cancun,” Mr Solon said.

“Same actors. Same script.”

““The Great Escape III” is the name of this movie, and it tells the story of how the governments of rich countries along with transnational corporations are looking to escape their responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The reason he said this was that at Durban, like at Copenhagen and Cancun before it, developed countries tried to change the direction the UN Climate Framework was taking in order to shirk the responsibilities they were prescribed at the 2007 conference in Bali. The text that resulted from that conference, the “Bali Roadmap“, constructed a “firewall” differentiating between the responsibilities of developed and developing countries at Bali, with higher commitments demanded of the former and lower ones expected of the latter (reflecting the fact that industrialised countries’ were historically responsible for causing climate change). It also called for a new agreement to be formed at the 2009 conference at Copenhagen, with higher ambitious mitigation commitments (especially for nations not Party to the KP), more focus on funding and promoting adaptation, as well as providing financial and technological assistance to help developing countries achieve sustainable development without needing to rely on fossil fuels.

Over the next few years, developed countries proceeded to try to break down this agreement, in particular the firewall distinguishing their commitments from those of developing nations. In Durban, developed nations achieved their goal; the Bali decision to have an agreement settled by 2009 was superseded by a new decision under the “Durban Platform” to have an agreement by as late as 2015, which would be applicable to all countries, developed or developing.

Furthermore, these industrialised countries refused to raise their levels of ambition with their mitigation commitments in the short term (promising to do so later down the track) and watered down the global goal of capping the average temperature rise from 1.5 degrees Celsius to 2 degrees Celsius.

It was for these reason that Solon tried to block the agreements in Cancun and Durban, but both times he was denied an opportunity to do so as the chairs moved through all the decisions without providing any time for countries to voice their disapproval.


Filipino Chief Negotiator, Yeb Sano, and Chinese second head negotiator, Su Wei, urging developing countries to “stand strong” together

In this light, Doha was “The Great Escape IV”. Again, developed countries failed to live up to their responsibilities, with many not signing on to the second commitment period (although this was already known going into the conference) and for the most part choosing not to make pledges to finance the mitigation efforts and adaptation needs of developing countries, nor compensate them for their losses and damages.

Moreover, developed countries did not deliver real cuts on emissions and continued to demand more action from developing countries, who are not responsible for causing global warming, even stipulating their own ambition was conditional on whether developing countries raise ambition too.

The precedent of denying countries the right to block was also set at these previous conferences, and would set the scene for Doha’s last day, when Russia was denied an opportunity to veto the conference’s decisions. What this means for consensus voting in the UN Climate Framework – and in multilaterism in general – is becoming increasingly more unclear.

The outcomes of the Doha decision

Kyoto Protocol:

  • An eight year second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol was secured
  • As part of this agreement, a call was made – though it was not an official mechanism, so that may pose a problem – for KP countries to review their emissions reduction targets, to move them in line with the 25 to 40 per cent range needed, by 2014 at the latest.This will correspond with the release of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which will likely highlight the increasingly dire situation caused by global warming and the need to raise ambition and increase emissions targets to combat it. The rationale behind looking at increasing ambition in two years and not now is so that many countries can avoid the politically insensitive time of telling their voters they will be raising restrictions on carbon emissions while elections are happening. While a realistic, reasonable excuse, it shows the lack of political will and imagination of governments across the globe when it comes to climate change mitigation. Although the decision could have been stronger, for example an actual mechanism could have forced nations to increase reductions, it does reinforce the obvious responsibility governments have to ratchet up ambition prior to 2020, when the new agreement requiring even more ambition will be signed.
  • Business as usual will continue for Kyoto’s market mechanisms, such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Joint Implementation (JI) and International Emissions Trading (IET) as of 2013. Nonetheless, access to these mechanisms will be limited to developed countries which have accepted the second commitment period, meaning those who haven’t committed cannot enjoy the same benefits (even though they tried to obtain them). At least this shows a desire to incentivise climate action, and not reward those who don’t want to contribute.
  • However, loopholes were also added, permitting the trading of “hot air” (the number of AAUs which countries did not use to meet their emissions reductions targets in the first commitment period and which can be traded in carbon markets or used in the next commitment period to help meet their targets) and weakening carbon market mechanisms under the KP. Despite this, a number of countries party to the KP signaled they will not be carrying over their left-over carbon credits into the next commitment period.

Climate Finance:

  • Climate finance was the biggest victim at Doha, as it received an extraordinarily weak outcome. Countries largely failed to put any money on the table or to ensure a pathway to the target of US$ 100 billion by 2020.
  • Governments were asked for submissions on long-term finance pathways and there were calls for public funds for adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change, but no figure was mentioned. Developed countries were encouraged to maintain funding at existing levels (to provide finance in between 2013 to 2015 at the same annual level with which they provided financing during the 2010 to 2012 fast start finance period) to ensure there is no gap in continued finance support.
  • However, there was a slightly positive outcome in relation to providing compensation and adaptation measures to the most vulnerable populations (which now lie in the small island states in the Pacific, who argued hard for this decision) from loss and damage caused by slow onset events such as rising sea levels. A work program on loss and damage will start immediately, while there was a decision to look into establishing an institutional arrangement, such as an international mechanism, at next year’s conference. Although the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) was calling for such a mechanism to be operational as soon as possible, as these countries face the worst affects of climate change now, not in the future, the decision was a step in the right direction, albeit a small one.

Image courtesy of UNFCCC

The future agreement:

  • In 2014, UN General Secretary Ban-ki Moon will convene world leaders to mobilise the political will to help ensure the 2015 deadline for reaching a new agreement is met.
  • There will be “a significant number” of roundtable discusions in 2013 focused on how the principles of the Convention shall apply in the new agreement, as well as the lessons to be learned from other multilateral agreements and what can be taken from them for the future climate agreement, and what the the scope, structure and design of the new agreement should be, especially concerning how to determine what countries’ actions should be. These recommendations and ideas are to be presented to the conference in 2014 so that a draft text for the new agreement can be presented before the 2015 conference. This is a positive outcome, as it presents a work program – albeit a vague one – for the next few years leading up to the formation of the new agreement.
  • Other than that, the negotiators only managed to draft a set of broad conclusions about what the future agreement should look like (including whether the Convention’s principles should be specifically mentioned in the new agreement, how the phrase, “commitments”, should be conceptualised, and whether the agreement should be a “protocol, legal agreement or agreement with legal force), as more attention was devoted to closing the already existing negotiating tracks.


The future of climate negotiations

Image courtesy of Hot Topic 

Small steps were made at Doha moving towards the new, post-2020 climate framework, but they were more focused on raising ambition in the short-term than on what the long-term future agreement should look like.

This was the expected outcome going into the conference, as negotiators talked of Doha being a ‘reflective’ or ‘meditative’ conference with relation to the future agreement.

A second commitment period for the KP was set, albeit with limited ambition and with certain loopholes still intact. It is to last for eight years instead of five, so it will spread out all the way until the new agreement; hopefully this allows for a smooth transition between the KP and the future agreement.

And a review year was set for 2014, in which Ban-ki Moon will convene a meeting of the world leaders to coincide with the release of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, to hopefully encourage countries to ratchet up ambition within the KP, whilst also setting the agenda of the issues to be covered in the the future agreement.

This agenda will hopefully be incorporated into a draft text for the post-2020 agreement, which will be presented and put up for adoption at the conference in 2015 (which is likely to be held in Paris).

This is a sign negotiators have learnt from their mistakes. World leaders convened to sign a new agreement at the Copenhagen conference in 2009, but due to a lack of understanding of the multilateral process in the climate regime, along with poor management from the Dutch presidency which saw an exclusive group of heads of states negotiate an agreement behind closed doors, the “Copenhagen Accord” was merely noted by  negotiators and not adopted.

Having the world’s leaders meet a year before the new agreement is to be settled will be beneficial for the process to receive their input and give it a more official sense of urgency. Negotiators can then finalise and consolidate the nuts and bolts of the agreement the following year.

But the main talking point was the controversy which surrounded the way summit President Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah gaveled through the decisions to amend the KP despite Russia’s vehement objections.

Russia, along with former Soviet Union member states, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, were dissatisfied with Amendment G of Article 1 of the Kyoto Protocol, which disallows countries to go above their average emissions levels from 2008 to 2010 throughout the second commitment period. This will, according to these countries whose economies are in transition, hinder their ability to continue economic growth and raise the standard of living for their populations.

Right or wrong, the choice to reject Russia’s vetoing, following on from the precedent set in Cancun, is hugely controversial.

Now countries will – or at least should – be asking why have consensus voting at all in the UN climate regime if the President of the annual conference can just reject countries’ objections? In fact, the whole regime was founded after the chair of the 1992 talks ignored the Saudis and gaveled through the decisions amounting to the Treaty of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Under the Convention’s rules (Article 7(3)), it was supposed to adopt its rules of procedure at the first annual conference – which it didn’t clearly enough.

This is an extremely interesting juncture, as it comes as both Mexico and Papua New Guinea are proposing to change the election procedure to majority voting. Watch that space.

Overall, the talks made little progress towards the 2015 agreement in terms of substance. So it remains to be seen what exactly the future of the UN climate negotiations will look like.

For more information on the future agreement, check out my article for On Line Opinion...

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