Last month, 10,000 weary diplomats, activists, journalists, and government-type hangers-on must have been relieved to catch their flights back home from the Qatari capital of Doha. Reaction to the UN climate conference outcome, the Doha Climate Gateway, is mixed.
For the ministers from nearly 200 countries who sweltered in the heat of the negotiations, the outcome was broadly satisfactory. However, the minsters were careful to admit that no major agreements were reached and significant problems remain unsolved.
According to Connie Hedegaard, public intellectual and European Commissioner for Climate Action, at Doha represents the bridge from an old climate regime to a new system, on our way to the 2015 global climate treaty. Ms. Hedegaard urged more ambition and speed. President Obama's special climate envoy Todd Stern was more guarded and argued that Doha was must be seen as a transitional conference. He was optimistic that progress toward a global treaty was feasible, albeit slow and painful.
As expected the motely crew of tree hugging dirt kissers and anti-poverty zealots slammed the Doha conference as disastrously weak, dangerously timid and innocuous. According to Africa's own, Kumi Naidoo, anyone who thinks Doha was a success is "suffering from a terrible case of cognitive dissonance".
Celine Charveriat, Ofxam International Director of Campaigns and Advocacy, observed that governments have done too little to slow down greenhouse gas emissions. In her view governments are trying to put out the flames of a burning planet with watering cans. According to Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth, the Doha Climate Gateway is nothing but a polluters charter, legitimizing a do nothing approach while creating the impressing that governments were acting in the our interests to save the planet.
So what did really come out Doha?
First, the extension of Kyoto was finally approved. 27 member states of the European Union, Australia, and Switzerland along with 8 other industrialized nations signed up for binding emission cuts by 2020. The US remains outside Kyoto Protocol while Canada and Japan have refused to announce targets for the second commitment period. Moreover, Doha also reorganized the climate treaty negotiations into a single unified set of talks, leading to a global climate treaty that would require both developed and developing countries to cut their emissions. The treaty is supposed to be signed in 2015, at a conference in Paris, and come into effect in 2020.
Second, governments agreed on something called loss and damage. This a kind of compensation to vulnerable communities for the loss and damage caused by climate change. As would be expected this was certain to stir controversy, especially with respect to any form of admission of legal liability on the part of industrialized nations and the need to pay compensation to poor countries. Key implementation questions remain unresolved, including whether funding toward loss and damage will come from existing global pool of resources currently available for humanitarian aid and disaster relief budgets. It will also be hard to untangle damage caused by climate change from those caused by natural disasters.
Third, Doha upheld the undertaking at Copenhagen by industrialized countries to make available up to $100 billion in climate financing, including the identification of options for mobilizing resources and the adequacy, predictability and accessibility of these resources. The Doha Climate Gateway promises that funding for adaptation and mitigation will continue to grow. More importantly, Germany, France, Sweden the UK and the European Commission announced concrete financial commitments to the tune of 6 billion up to 2015.
Fourth, the "technology mechanism" of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has become fully operational, with the United Nations Environment Programme as the leader and host institution of the Climate Technology Centre.
Fifth, Efforts to promote Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) faltered when Brazil objected to calls from international donors such as Norway for an international verification system of emissions reductions for REDD+, leading to the suspension of discussions in Doha. This was a major blow because deforestation generates 15-20% of global emissions, second only to the energy sector.
In my view our governments, through successive UN climate conferences, have failed to come to terms with the fact that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to the global economy, human societies and the planet.
Our governments have failed to recognize that the global nature of the climate challenge demands the widest possible cooperation by all countries, to deliver a robust and appropriate international response to accelerate the reduction of global greenhouse gases.
Dr. Awiti is an Ecosystems Ecologist based at Aga Khan University, Nairobi