Doha climate talks meet low expectations

The COP 18 summit didn't intend to address big questions, but resolve technical issues -- it's barely done that

Topics: Doha, United Nations, COP 18, Qatar, Environment, Global Warming, Climate Change, carbon emissions,

The 18th U.N. climate change summit closes Friday after two weeks, having just about lived up to low expectations. Delegates from 194 nations met in Doha to sluggishly hammer out agreements intended to prepare the ground for more serious negotiations next year, when talks will begin on drafting a global agreement, binding developed and developing countries to cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2015.

As such, the COP 18 talks were never intended to achieve new commitments on cutting CO2 emissions, but rather clear up details and disagreements that currently exist between nations over climate issues, in order to clear the way for a 2015 agreement. But as the summit reaches its final day, many of these issues still remain unresolved.

“The Doha talks represent the hinge point between the existing UN system — the 15-year-old Kyoto protocol — and a future system to be settled by 2015,” explained BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin, adding, “The transition has drawn all the world’s nations into a negotiation of swirling diplomatic complexity.”

The issue of Kyoto — once a sticking point in global climate discussions as the U.S. consistently refused to ratify — was handled with relative ease in Doha this year. As the Guardian reported:

The European Union and several other countries have long agreed to a continuation. Developing countries are disappointed that the U.S. has always made it clear it would not join Kyoto, and that several major economies, including Japan and Canada, have abandoned the protocol, despite supporting it strongly in the past. However, most accept that having the EU and its allies signed up is enough to move forward.

More intractable has been the issue of developed countries providing finance to developing countries, to help them cut carbon emissions and cope with the effects of climate change. BBC’s Harrabin described the problem:

Rich nations promised at 2009′s turbulent climate summit in Copenhagen – COP15 – to mobilize a fund of $100bn annually by 2020 to help developing nations cope with climate change. But there’s precious little indication of how, or indeed if, this figure will be met.

Some EU countries have offered interim funding but the U.S. has been unwilling to commit. U.S. campaigners here have said they are ashamed of their leaders, especially after President Obama appeared to re-kindle his enthusiasm for tackling climate change after re-election.



Although European financing offers have eased the issue, the wording of a final text is still under fraught discussion and “could still prove a breaking point” at the summit’s close, according to the Guardian. Meanwhile, Grist’s Philip Bump called the “squabble” over finance “ridiculous” by putting the pledged sums in some context:

The New York City mayor’s office announced that it expected the economic damage from Sandy to total some $19 billion. Independently calculated damage to the city’s transit system, meanwhile, nears $5 billion. The cost to the state on the whole could top $42 billion. That’s $12 billion more than the entire amount of money being grudgingly supplied (maybe) to countries that will be disproportionately affected by climate change, just to clean up a climate-change-worsened mess in one state.

Similar financial obligations are part of the reason that developed countries (a term one should use with all due sense of irony) are reluctant to participate in the U.N. gathering. As difficult as it is to get those countries (primarily the United States) to deal with their own pollution, it’s that much harder to get them to contribute to less-wealthy countries — despite the obvious correlation between the growth of wealth and decades of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Doha talks have come down to the wire, with texts unfinished as of Friday and negotiators still mired in disagreement — and this  summit was only dedicated to resolving technical issues, not even starting on big questions.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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