AS the violent typhoon Bopha ravished the poor southern Philippines in the last fortnight killing hundreds -- a sure manifestation of climate change -- more than 9 000 overfed delegates were
meeting in exotic Doha, struggling to convince one another on a suitable deal that effectively addresses the dangerous problem of climate change.
Following two weeks of negotiations under the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change, parties eventually adopted a package of deals called the Doha Climate Gateway, after a day's overtime.
This package characteristically failed to please all, especially developing nations, which suffer the impacts of climate change the most, even when they are least responsible for causing it.
The bitter disappointment may best be captured in the words of the Philippines' lead negotiator, Naderev Sano, who delivered a hearty plea for the world to act fast and reach an equitable deal that stops climate change from destroying lives and livelihoods.
". . . If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?" Sano lamented after seeing Bopha kill 900 people and left five million more hungry and homeless in his home country.
Calling for action, he stated: "Even as we vacillate and procrastinate here (Doha) the death toll is rising."
This is the tragedy that developing nations, particularly Africa face today -- the failure by these multilateral climate talks to adequately respond to urgent situations. Doha was no different.
The Conference of the Parties' 18th meeting or COP18 held between November 26 and December 8 in the Qatari capital delivered a key pre-conference expectation for Africa: The extension of the Kyoto Protocol for a second eight-year commitment period starting next month.
However, the extension was not exactly a game-changer except for the unsatisfying fact that it keeps the process of negotiation open.
Ambitions remained weak and major carbon emitters -- the USA and China -- kept away from the Protocol, as they have done with the previous commitment period.
Japan, Russia, New Zealand and Canada -- all emitters of note -- jumped ship, abandoned the Protocol and refused to enter the second commitment period.
The European Union agreed to the second KP period but said emission cuts will not be anything beyond what they were offering during the first commitment period (2007-2012).
Only Monaco raised ambitions saying it would reduce carbon emissions by up to 30 percent by 2020.
Developed countries that ratified the KP and took on commitments in the first period were expected to reduce emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels.
This was far from adequate, but developing nations bent their demands and agreed in the spirit of continuity, and hoping also deeper cuts could be achieved in the future.
However, that has not been achieved, as Africa's expectations of 40 percent emission cuts by 2017 and 95 percent by 2050, both below 1990 levels, were floored.
The continent's aspirations may never be met, at least not until 2020, unless something very dramatic and special happened.
Yet, a new World Bank report forecast an unsustainable warming of 4 degrees Celsius or worse by the end of the century if nations failed to take concrete actions now to curb emissions and control climate change.
Should the earth warm at those levels, millions of people in Africa will suffer from the potentially catastrophic effects of land loss, food and water scarcity.
Some countries south of the Sahara are already under severe stress from extreme and frequent droughts and floods. As we speak, nearly 20 people died after floods pounded parts of South Africa last week and swept away roads, homes and other key infrastructure.
The Kyoto Protocol --ratified in 1997 -- is the only instrument capable of delivering verifiable and effective emission reduction goals for a desperate world but needs to be strengthened further. This year carbon emissions are expected to rise 2,6 percent having already escalated 49 percent since 1990.
Time for new course of action
Perhaps it's time Africa and the rest of the developing world swallowed the bitter pill, softened their stance and tagged along with the concept of common but differentiated responsibilities. Clearly, any new universal climate deal to be reached, as envisaged by 2015, to replace Kyoto in 2020 will no doubt require developing nations to be part of the emissions reduction process. That does not mean developed countries would negate their historical responsibilities for causing climate change. Far from it.
Annex 1 countries (developed nations) will still be expected, and possibly compelled to take the lead in curbing global emissions through a legal agreement, in addition to those actions being carried out under the National Mitigatory Actions platform.
This may be the only way to secure legal commitments from giant emitters like the USA and China that have refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in the absence of commitments by emerging big emitting economies like India and Brazil. The US and China are critical for any action that seeks to limit carbon emissions and keep world temperatures from tipping the 2-degree limit.
The two countries produce nearly 50 percent of all world greenhouse gases, according to the International Energy Agency. Between 1850 and 2011, the US alone has emitted 339 000 megatonnes of carbon or 28 percent of all world emissions.
Doha managed to forge the path for a new global climate deal in two years time. But while the developed countries are pushing for an inclusive agreement that includes developing countries, only one that safeguards the lives of poor African people and one that undertakes to deeply cut emissions by those most responsible for causing climate change will be acceptable to Africa.
Zero, zero progress on finance
On finance and technology transfer, Doha essentially remained vague, perhaps non-committal.
Although South Korea was chosen to host the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the provision and availability of long-term finance to help mitigation and adaptation in developing countries for the next eight years was never addressed. The talks failed to clarify how the GCF will be capitalised in times of economic recession, which strangles hopes of raising the promised US$100 billion per year by 2020.
Developed countries were implored to raise efforts to provide finance between 2013 and 2015 at the same levels as provided during the fast-start period (2010-2012).
What this text essentially advocates is the continued provision of inadequate climate financing because the fast-start US$30 billion promise was never met nor did nations show serious commitment for fulfilling their own pledges. This failure to reach a predictable, functional agreement on finance at Doha is a big disappointment for Africa. The continent has been angling to secure funding from the historical perpetrators of climate change to help finance mitigation and adaptation efforts at home, hard hit by climate change.
Speaking for the African Group, Swaziland said that the Doha decisions were in the right direction despite concerns on finance for implementing the Convention between now and 2020. The group is a coalition of 54 African countries representing the continent's common interests at COP meetings. The Gambia, for the Least Developed Countries, said that they came to Doha for a balanced package and lamented that a number of elements have not been addressed.
Gambia said commitments on mitigation were insufficient for closing the ambition gap and expressed disappointment with the lack of detail on 2013-2020 finance, as reported by the Earth Negotiations Bulletin.
"All eyes now look ahead to see what a future universal climate change regime can deliver and whether this time around there will be the requisite urgency and political will to ensure that dangerous climate change is avoided.
Only history will judge "whether we have opened our eyes to the stark realities that we face", the Bulletin concluded.
God is faithful.