As we move into the second week of the UN climate talks, the desert sand is swirling around the conference center in Doha, Qatar. Countries spent the first week tying up some loose ends on several issues, but there are still many details to be worked out before the sand settles and the parties head home. It's hard to tell whether this meeting will turn into a full sandstorm or clear up.
This uncertainly here contrasts greatly with the increasingly grim climate picture that we're seeing around the world. Yet another report was just published finding that global carbon emissions are at an all-time high. This comes on the heels of the recent UNEP report showing that the gap in emissions is growing even wider.
And, recent World Bank analysis reinforced the potential catastrophic impacts of moving beyond 2 degrees C of global temperature rise. The warnings are clear, but it's hard to tell if the negotiators are ready to respond with the urgency that's needed.
Indeed, it is fair to say that most of the critical issues on the table are not yet resolved. All the questions around the Kyoto Protocol and a second commitment period are still open. Issues surrounding finance - including medium-term pledge levels, the long-term work plan, and how to track countries' climate finance commitments - have yet to be worked out.
Roundtables on the Durban Platform resulted in a good exchange of views, but it's still unclear whether there will be a firm work plan for 2013 or whether it will remain vague. The most vulnerable countries are understandably asking for more action now - even before a new 2020 agreement kicks in - but most countries haven't put forth specific proposals.
While it's not surprising that so many topics are stuck after the first week, the lack of action puts additional focus on the role of ministers. Many are already in Doha and they have their work cut out for them if they want to make progress in the remaining week of the conference.
7 AREAS WHERE PROGRESS IS NEEDED
While there are solutions available for every critical issue on the table, the complexity and level of detail is huge. As in the past, it's likely that ministers will be called on to lead the negotiations on the key issues.
These issues include:
Transparency: While parties have made some progress on measuring and reporting countries' emissions-reduction commitments and actions, the issue of accounting is still open.
The question at hand is whether a common set of rules for developed countries to measure and disclose their greenhouse gas emissions should be developed. Meanwhile, there's also a question of whether developing countries will move forward on a detailed work plan to increase the level of transparency of their emissions-reduction pledges.
Finance: Developing countries continue to be concerned that developed countries' fast-start finance pledges run out in 2012 and there's still no certainty on what will come next. This issue, combined with questions on how to track current climate finance and how to meet the long-term finance goal of $100 billion per year, make it clear that the ministers who lead on this issue will be very busy.
Pre-2020 ambition: Moving forward, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the EU would like to have specific sectoral initiatives on ambition.
However, other countries are looking for a more general approach where businesses, cities, states, and others can report on their own emissions-reduction progress. There is also still hope that Qatar, the host country - and perhaps others in the region - will put forward pledges to reduce their own emissions, thus helping close the emissions gap and limit average global temperature rise to 2 degrees C.
Equity: There are a number of proposals on the table on how to address the issue of "equity" in the negotiations around the 2015. It is clear that there will be no international agreement if countries do not think it is fair, but they are grappling with how best to integrate equity into the negotiations.
Durban Platform work plan: While the deadline of establishing an international climate agreement by 2015 is set, the roadmap to get there is not. Roundtable discussions will continue on this issue generally, but some countries are pushing for more specific discussions to kick-start negotiating a work plan.
Three years to negotiate a plan may sound like a long time, but the level of complexity - both technically and politically - is immense. It's imperative for negotiators to establish a clear process to chart a firm course of action.
Carbon markets: There are quite a few areas where the future of the global carbon market is being debated. One of these areas includes Kyoto Protocol discussions, where a decision has to be made whether countries that did not put their targets into the second commitment period (e.g. Japan, Russia, Canada, and New Zealand) have access to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). In addition, the shape and function of a "new market mechanism" is under negotiation, as well as how other national market mechanisms might be part of a common framework.
Kyoto Protocol second commitment period rules: Countries still need to agree on a long list of details about the Kyoto Protocol's second commitment period, including: the length of the second commitment period (five vs. eight years); what happens to excess units of emissions (carry-over of "assigned amount units," or AAUs); and how countries will provisionally adopt the amendments while the ratification process is underway. As a legally-binding agreement with strong accounting rules and a carbon market, the Kyoto Protocol is an important instrument for global emissions reductions, even if only a small number of countries participate.
We understand the parties want to take a deliberate approach to design an effective and durable agreement in 2015 that facilitates the cooperation among all countries and sets us up a sustained and ambition agreement after 2020.
However, there can be no compromise on short-term ambition. As the UNEP and World Bank reports show, we cannot afford to be patient on pre-2020 ambition whether on mitigation, adaptation or finance.
While none of these issues is easy, each is solvable provided countries bring the determination and will to find common ground. Indeed, it's critical that these core issues are resolved this week to get the world on track to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Ministers arriving in Doha will need to wipe the sand from their eyes and make their way through the sandstorm.