Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

Negotiating Climate Change in Doha

COP18 opening

© sallie_shatz/Flickr

For nearly 18 years now, governments have been meeting annually to attempt to sort out the pesky little problem of rising temperatures that most scientists believe may eventually destroy civilization. This year, the eighteenth Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) is being held in Qatar — a tiny Middle Eastern country with the largest carbon footprint per capita.

This factoid has already raised a few eyebrows about holding the conference at Doha’s airport-like convention center — though it did not faze Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, the COP’s president and Qatar’s Deputy Prime Minister, when he was confronted with it at a press conference yesterday. “We should not concentrate on the per capita figures,” he concluded.

Christiana Figueres, the UNFCCC’s executive secretary, noted at the same press conference that COP18 is “as important a COP as any before.” Nevertheless there is a strong sense here that this is more so a transitional climate change conference rather than a future policy setting one.

This is most notably due to the fact that the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period expires at the end of this year, making the focus and primary objective of this COP to help establish the transition from a first commitment phase to a second one.

Without doing so, while the Kyoto protocol will legally still be in force, it will be reduced to an empty shell that can do little to curb emissions. For one thing, it was never ratified by the US, contains no obligations for developing and emerging economy countries (hence why it remains popular with China and India), and has generally been abandoned by other governments over the years.

The second objective at this year’s COP is to make headway on reaching what’s termed a universal legal agreement on combating climate change by 2020 — an agreement that should be well worked out and agreed upon by 2015. Just how universal and effective such an agreement can be — not to mention what it would entail precisely — remains to be seen.

Lastly, finding ways to speed up financial and technical support for developing countries will be of central importance. One of the “goals” established at the Copenhagen Accord in 2009 was to raise US$100 billion each year by 2020 to help developing countries cut carbon emissions. Little progress to date has been made towards realising that objective. Translating this goal into an executable, concrete plan, is one of the things COP18 can hope to help achieve.

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