November 26, 2012

UCS Predicts “Three Ring Circus” At Climate Negotiations in Doha

Contact: Sarah Goldberg, [email protected], 202-331-6943

WASHINGTON (November 26, 2012) – The Union of Concerned Scientists and other outside observers have little hope for significant breakthroughs at the annual U.N. climate treaty talks taking place between November 26 and December 7 in Doha, Qatar.

“I’m expecting the Doha meeting to be a three ring circus,” said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at UCS and a veteran of more than 20 years at the international climate negotiations. “Ministers will need to reach final decisions on the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol, wrap up talks launched at the Bali climate summit in 2007 on ways to step up action by all countries, and lay out next steps for the post-2020 treaty negotiations they agreed to last year in Durban. At best, the main outcome of the Doha meeting will be to ensure that the process remains on track to deliver substantial results at future negotiations. But there is also a risk that an impasse on any of the three rings could bring the whole show to a grinding halt, as the issues under negotiation represent a delicately balanced package.”

Negotiators will have to resolve remaining differences over rules for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, and then formally adopt these changes in an amendment to the Protocol. They will also have to agree on how to address difficult issues around the more comprehensive post-2020 treaty regime, including the overall level of ambition on reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases and how to allocate responsibility for carrying out those reductions.

Additionally, negotiators in Doha will discuss a number of issues aimed at helping developing countries to reduce their emissions – most importantly, how to ramp up financial assistance for developing countries to deploy clean technologies, reduce deforestation, and adapt to the rapidly mounting impacts of climate change. At the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, President Obama and other developed country leaders set an aspirational goal of ramping up climate finance from the current level of $10 billion a year to $100 billion a year by 2020. Developing countries will be looking for more specifics on how this pledge will be met.

“It’s essential that countries agree in Doha on how to extend the Kyoto Protocol” said Meyer. “But the real challenge is that the emissions reductions pledges now on the table – both by countries with commitments under Kyoto and those outside it, including the U.S. and China – are nowhere near what is needed to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. This was just underscored by the United Nations Environment Program report documenting that far from shrinking, the gap between what’s currently pledged between now and 2020 and what’s needed to keep global temperature increases below two degrees Celsius has grown larger over the last year. Ministers should agree in Doha on concrete measures to address this yawning chasm but I’m pretty sure they won’t.”

Expectations for the Obama team

President Obama raised hopes that climate change would be a central focus of his second term agenda when, in his re-election acceptance speech, he said that “We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

“Other countries will be watching the U.S. delegation closely in Doha for signals on how serious the president really is about providing the leadership needed to reduce the threat of climate change to the U.S. and the world,” said Meyer. “In particular, they will look for assurances that the president remains fully committed to keeping the increase in global temperature from pre-industrial levels to under 2 degrees Celsius, that he has a strategy to meet his stated goal of reducing emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and that he will fight for the policies needed to achieve the much deeper reductions in U.S. emissions that are needed by mid-century. They will also look for indications that the president remains committed to meeting the pledge he and other developed country leaders made in Copenhagen to mobilize $100 billion in annual support for developing country climate activities by 2020."

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation

Treaty negotiators will focus in Doha on the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation plus pro-forest activities (REDD+) program that helps developing countries reduce their emissions from tropical deforestation, which are responsible for about 15 percent of global warming pollution.

“Brazil’s version of the REDD+ plan has proven highly successful,” said Doug Boucher, director of UCS’s Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative and director of climate research and analysis. “With financial help from Norway, Brazil is well over three quarters of the way toward meeting its goal to reduce Amazon deforestation by 80 percent by 2020. Deforestation in Brazil could even be reduced to zero, and well before 2020.”

Negotiators will also discuss the deforestation level each country should use to gauge its reductions, as well as various drivers of deforestation. They also will consider ways to ensure indigenous communities and biodiversity are protected under a prospective REDD+ deforestation plan.

“Also on the table is the question of who will provide funding to help developing countries reduce their deforestation rates and where the funding will come from,” said Boucher. “It could come from governments, like Norway’s multibillion-dollar funding that helped Brazil make such a huge dent in its deforestation rate, or from a carbon market, such as the one California is setting up.”

Technology Sharing to Reduce Emissions and Enhance Adaptation

In Cancun, countries agreed to establish a “technology mechanism” to encourage countries to share technology and know-how to reduce emissions and help countries cope with the impacts of climate change.

“The main goal in Doha is to ensure that this technology mechanism is up and running in 2013,” said Rachel Cleetus, a senior climate economist at UCS. “A rapid global transition to clean, renewable energy sources is critical to addressing the challenge of climate change. Communities at risk from the impacts of climate change – communities such as those recently affected by Hurricane Sandy – also need improved access to technologies and know-how to help them increase adaptation measures.”

“The big question is where the funding for the technology mechanism will come from, and we don’t expect a lot of progress on this front in Doha,” she said. “That said, negotiators can make key decisions about the technology mechanism’s governance, structure and work program independent of the funding issue, and they should push for the most ambitious outcome possible.”

Reducing Climate Emissions from Agriculture

Reducing emissions from the agriculture sector is an essential element in the fight against climate change, as agriculture accounts for about 30 percent of all global emissions. Many farmers are affected by global warming as well, and the scientifically-based adaptation approaches to agriculture that will be considered in Doha could help provide global food security in the future. However, many countries are bringing old political fights into this new negotiating session.

“The Durban talks marked the first negotiations on agriculture, and these conversations should continue by focusing on the science of adaptation and mitigation,” said Pipa Elias, UCS’s expert on REDD+ and land use issues. “The negotiations should be a place to share information on sustainable agriculture, especially during a time when expansion of agricultural products, like palm oil and beef, are threatening ecosystems in many developing countries. The U.N. climate talks should help support those who are sustainably producing these goods and ensure climate change does not threaten farmer's livelihoods.”

Doha could lead to fruitful discussions on agricultural adaptation and mitigation, but only if countries put aside differences that leak in from other issues.

“While the climate is most certainly changing, the stance of most negotiators is not. Communities already experiencing the impacts of climate change will not hold out until 2020, which seems to be the earliest that many countries are prepared to discuss increasing their ambition,” said Meyer. “It is imperative that ministers come to Doha with clear plans on how to reduce emissions, increase ambition and ramp up climate finance.”

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.