Saturday, December 08, 2012

Doha: Climate negotiators fail to meet the scientific challenge

Young UNICEF UK campaigners asking Ed Davey to speak up for children before he left for the UN climate change talks in Doha. Photo credit Rosie Reed Gold/UNICEF.
Young UNICEF UK campaigners asking Ed Davey to speak up for children before he left for the UN climate change talks in Doha. Photo: Rosie Reed Gold/UNICEF.

On the last day, talks at Doha aimed at securing a global agreement to tackle climate change are providing scant hope, although individual announcements from nations on the sidelines provide some progress.

The central issue, as always, is fairness over who pays.

US lead negotiator, Todd Stern, told the plenary assembly that he wanted to see “the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities" provide the basis of agreement, but that "unless we can find common ground on that principle and the way in which it should apply in the world of the 2020s, we won’t succeed in producing a new Durban Platform agreement”.

The U.S. has a target of reducing emissions by 17% by 2020 compared to 2005 emissions (equal to just 4% below 1990 levels). Its negotiators said that this is unlikely to change. They say they cannot see a way of getting a global agreement for seven years; until 2020.

Like 85% of nations, the U.S. has spurned extending the Kyoto Protocol, leaving a group led by the European Union and Australia to take this forward. They believe Kyoto is no longer relevant because emerging nations led by China and India will have no targets to curb their soaring emissions from 2013.

Delegates have been repeatedly told how dire prospects are. "If anything, the science is telling us it's now getting warmer quicker than we had previously expected," said UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey, who is in Doha. "Our actions as a world are going slower than we had previously hoped."

"The question of climate management is extremely serious," Laurent Fabius, France's foreign minister, agreed. "It appears we have already exceeded the 2-degree limit. If that is the case, there are absolutely catastrophic consequences. We must react." Tackling climate change is "the new challenge in world diplomacy".

But so far, too few countries are making the kind of commitments to cut emissions that scientists agree would keep global warming below the 2 degrees Celsius limit that is estimated to prevent the most devastating effects of climate change.

Many attending the Doha talks are saying that 4 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2100 looks almost inevitable.

Meanwhile, countries debate who will pay to save the planet.

Qatar has offered no money. National pledges by Germany, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and the EU Commission in Doha total over 6.85 billion euros for the next two years, more than in 2011-12.

The UK will be allocating around £1.8 billion aid money to climate finance up to 2015. Ed Davey, speaking at Doha, reiterated the UK’s support for contributing to the $100 billion a year by 2020 commitment of new and additional funds.

Germany and Britain this week launched the NAMA (Nationally Appropriate Mitigating Actions) Facility, to support countries to implement action against climate change. Ed Davey, pledging £25 million from the International Climate Fund (ICF), said it will “help support those developing countries that are taking ambitious action to close the gap to 2°C". Countries will compete for the funding to support their own projects. One in Mexico will go towards sustainable new housing by establishing the necessary framework conditions.

Hosts Qatar did say they will develop a 1,800 megawatt (MW) solar energy plant in 2014 costing up to $20 billion, mainly to power its desalination plants. The country has no naturally-occurring pure water. It will increase the proportion of its renewable electricity generation to 16% from zero. "We need to diversify our energy mix," said Fahad Bin Mohammed al-Attiya, chairman of the Qatari organizers of climate talks in Doha. Qatar supplies Britain with much of its liquefied natural gas (LNG) and is the world's top exporter. But it has not set any targets for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

A senior Saudi Arabia official said his country was taking the climate change issue "seriously. It is implementing carbon capture storage in the world's biggest oilfield, Ghawar, where injecting carbon dioxide back into the field helps to raise pressure and increase oil output, as well as trapping planet-warming gas".

Indonesia announced it has approved a U.N.-led rainforest conservation scheme under Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), that sets aside nearly 80,000 hectares (200,000 acres), much of it carbon-rich peat swamp forest at risk of being felled for palm oil plantations, and rewards its investors, Russian energy giant Gazprom and German insurance firm Allianz, with 104 million tradable carbon offset credits. Each credit represents a metric ton of carbon, worth almost 500 million euros based on current market rates. It is the first scheme of its kind to win formal backing in the country, and the world's first on protecting 'deep peat'.

Back in the U.S., the Obama administration said it is to invest $120 million in developing cheaper batteries for electric vehicles and grid storage. The five year project will establish a research hub with Dow Chemical Co, Applied Materials Inc, Johnson Controls Inc and the Clean Energy Trust.

Still in the U.S., the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission reported that from January to October, 46.2% of new electricity-generating capacity installed was renewable. Wind accounted for 77% of this.

But the reality is that all of these announcements are nothing like what is required; they are like using a bucket to bale out the rising oceans.

"Some sort of agreement will be achieved – it always is," writes observer Giles Parkinson. However, he concludes, "the more that the UN talks fall short of expectations, the more that domestic politics plays into the hands of vested interests".

Next year, coal-dependent Poland will host the talks. Environmentalists expect little progress there either. They are now looking to Paris, which will host the 2015 talks, for realistic progress.

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