Negotiators Fail to Deliver at Doha Climate Summit

Outcome is Nowhere Near What is Needed to Meet 2°C Target

Published Dec 10, 2012

DOHA, QATAR (December 8, 2011) – Delegates from more than 194 nations at the annual U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties meeting in Doha, Qatar today reached agreement on a package of decisions to extend the Kyoto Protocol, move forward on negotiation of a new post-2020 climate treaty, and further the implementation of existing emissions limitation and financial pledges. But the collective impact of these decisions on reducing actual emissions to the atmosphere is minimal.

“For all of the nations wrestling with the new reality of climate change – which includes the United States – this meeting failed to deliver the goods,” said Alden Meyer, UCS’s director of strategy and policy. “At the end of the day, ministers were left with two unpalatable choices: accept an abysmally weak deal, or see the talks collapse in acrimony and despair -- with no clear path forward.”

The Doha climate summit was preceded by several reports documenting that the world is dangerously close to blowing past the aggregate emissions levels between now and 2020 needed to preserve a likely chance of limiting the increase in global temperature above pre-industrial levels to under 2°C, and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. While the reports noted the availability of the cost-effective technologies needed to avert the worst impacts of climate change, they also underscored the need for immediate action to deploy these technologies at a much more rapid rate all across the world.

Climate impacts were front and center at the Doha conference, from the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Sandy from Haiti to Maine, to the devastation caused by Typhoon Bopha as it barreled through the Philippines and the island nation of Palau. With all signs pointing to the need for momentous action, ministers once again failed to produce results that are commensurate to the problem.

“Instead of moving aggressively to increase the ambition of actions to reduce emissions and ramp up climate finance for developing country actions, all too many countries dithered and delayed in Doha,” said Meyer. “The United States and many other developed countries spent most of their time and energy laying out what they couldn't do, rather than offering constructive solutions on these issues.”

Ministers agreed to establish a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, running through 2020, though several countries dropped out of the regime, and those remaining in Kyoto made pitifully weak emissions reduction commitments. The one bright spot is the requirement that these countries revisit their commitments in 2014, with the expectation that they will make them more stringent.

Throughout the negotiations, the United States maintained its position that it cannot raise the level of ambition of the emissions reductions it has pledged to make by 2020. The U.S. also worked to prevent any explicit commitment by developed countries to ramp up their collective provision of climate finance from current levels of $10 billion a year towards the $100 billion a year by 2020 that was pledged by President Obama and other leaders at the climate summit in Copenhagen three years ago.

“The United States cannot continue to approach climate change negotiations as if they are a giant game of chicken,” said Meyer. “The Obama administration must dramatically increase its leadership and ambition on this issue – both at home and internationally – if we are to have any hope of limiting the impacts of climate change.”

The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation plus pro-forest activities (REDD+) program, generally highlighted as a success, was also caught up in the process changes.

“While many of the other climate treaty issues have been slow to make progress, REDD+ has been the Usain Bolt of the negotiations. In only 8 years, REDD+ has moved from initial brainstorming to implementation,” said Doug Boucher, director of the UCS Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative. “However, the same cannot be said this year. The content questions were left unanswered, and REDD+ is now just trudging along like many other issues in these negotiations.”

REDD+ will continue as a one-year “work program” where negotiators will meet throughout the year to hammer out the text. In terms of the REDD+’s content, minimal progress was made. Issues such as the deforestation reference levels each country uses to gauge its reductions, drivers of deforestation, and protections for indigenous communities and biodiversity that were on the table leading up to the Doha meeting will now be punted to COP 19 in Poland.

Similarly to REDD+, the negotiations around agriculture were also mired in political maneuvering and positioning. Unfortunately, this left little time for ministers to discuss opportunities for agricultural adaptation and mitigation over the next couple of years.

“Without these opportunities, small farmers in developing countries will be threatened by climate change and larger producers won’t have an incentive to implement sustainable agriculture practices, thus further contributing to climate change,” said Pipa Elias, UCS’s expert on REDD+ and land use issues.

“Science tells us that time is running out to address the ever-clearer threat of human-induced climate change,” Meyer concluded. “When they come to the climate negotiating table next year, the United States and other countries must make sure to bring ambition, creativity, and the political courage to stand up to the fossil fuel polluters lobby with them.  Our future is at stake, and we have no more time to lose.”