Climate of inaction prior to Doha environment talks

Mon, Nov 26, 2012, 00:00

ANALYSIS:After the world witnessed another year of extreme weather events - none more dramatic than "Superstorm Sandy" hitting New York City - one might expect that this would have focused the minds of climate change negotiators as they headed for the latest talks in Doha, starting today.

Not a bit of it. All the indications are that the 18th UN climate conference, hosted by Qatar, will lead to nothing more concrete on the international agenda than the "Doha Round" of trade talks, which was launched there in 2001 and are still continuing 11 years later.

Despite a string of recent reports showing we are not on track to fulfil world leaders' stated goal of seeking to limit the rise in global temperatures to two degrees, there is an absence of real urgency in addressing the issue.

Alden Meyer, director of strategy at the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), warned: "Without much more aggressive action, we will lose the fight to avert the worst consequences of climate change."

A World Bank climate report has warned that, without further action, the world is likely to warm by more than three degrees by 2100. And if current commitments to cut emissions are not fully implemented, it could be as high as four degrees.

The World Bank report highlighted the severe consequences for developing countries, including damage to coastal cities, water shortages and crop failure. Such dangers were evident in disastrous flooding in the Philippines and spreading drought in the US this year.

There is deep disappointment that President Barack Obama has not given global warming a high priority. Indeed, the US negotiators - headed by Obama's climate envoy Todd Stern - stand accused by environmentalists of leading "an unholy alliance of the richest and biggest polluting countries" in calling for the UN to "be silent" on key issues on which agreement can't be reached.

Following the unexpected success of last year's climate conference in Durban, South Africa, developing countries and environmentalists will be looking for concrete progress on advancing what's known as the "Durban Platform" - that is, the post-2020 international climate regime.

But there is real concern that, while this regime is being negotiated between now and 2015, emissions will continue on their upward trajectory, after the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change - the only legally enforceable instrument - expires at the end of this year.

"There is widespread concern that the emission targets for developed countries will in fact represent no new action, that climate finance goals will not be set and that rules governing accounting of emissions will be weakened," said Meena Raman, of the Third World Network.

At the most recent round of negotiations in Bangkok last September, developed countries led by the US and Australia tried to block discussion of these outstanding issues and it is expected they will continue to try to exclude them from the agenda in Doha.

Under pressure from the US, the European Commission has decided to defer for a year the inclusion of external flights using EU airports in the European Emissions Trading Scheme. This is seen as a concession to airlines from outside the EU that strongly opposed the measure. The Commission has also been criticised by environmentalists for not taking a tougher line in phasing out the use of biofuels derived from food crops and for failing to include targets for cutting emissions from lorries in its action plan.

In other words, Europe is not coming to Doha with clean hands.

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