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OPINION: Doha talks highlight loss and damage – and leave much work ahead


Sam Bickersteth, Mairi Dupar and Dan Hamza-Goodacre of CDKN provide an overview of UN climate talks in Doha, Qatar, and the work remaining to be done to achieve ambitious, global action on climate change.

The 18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC CoP18) closed late on Saturday night in Doha, leaving much work ahead for negotiators in 2013-14. In a final press conference, following 48 nonstop hours of negotiation, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres made it clear that countries have not taken sufficient action to curb dangerous climate change.

Ms Figueres said: “it is important to stress that the current pledges, be they under the Kyoto Protocol or under the Convention in a voluntary capacity, are not enough to guarantee that the [average global] temperature will stay under 2 degrees. There is an ever increasing gap between the action of countries and what the science tells us”.

Scientists have long held, and Parties to the UNFCCC have acknowledged – that beyond a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Centigrade, the impacts of climate change on Earth’s natural systems and the socio-economic systems they support become potentially devastating, and cause impacts far beyond humankind’s ability to cope. In the run-up to CoP18, the World Bank warned that a global average temperature rise of up to 4 degrees Centigrade would reverse decades of development progress, in its hard-hitting report Turning Down the Heat: Why a 4C World Must Be Avoided.

Incidentally, most small island states and Least Developed Countries don’t even think that a global temperature rise of 2 degrees is ‘safe’, given the climate-related damages they’re already suffering (more on this, below). In Doha, an official scientific review was launched to establish whether a 1.5 degree temperature rise could be set as a global limit; the review will conclude in 2015.

Climate-related loss and damage: the big story

One of the Doha conference’s main achievements was recognition of climate-related ‘loss and damage’ in the final text. ‘Loss and damage’ refers to the harm caused by climate impacts when mitigation and adaptation efforts have failed. To put this in human perspective: CDKN-supported research in Bangladesh shows how farmers switched to salt-tolerant rice varieties in the face of rising sea levels. For a while, this adaptation measure was successful. Then, a ferocious storm swamped their fields with salt water so badly that for three years, they have been unable to grow even the salt-tolerant rice. They are now suffering the ‘loss and damage’ of crop failures and malnutrition.

For the first time, the Conference of Parties recognised that climate-related ‘loss and damage’ is already happening and affected countries should be paid rehabilitation funds when they suffer such unavoidable harm. The Doha declaration left many issues still to be resolved on where the money should come from – for example, whether it should come from existing humanitarian aid budgets or whether it would be additional. These details are to be worked out in the coming year.

Of most significance to Least Developed and climate-vulnerable countries, the UNFCCC has at last agreed to the creation of an official work programme on ‘loss and damage’ that will “establish…institutional arrangements, such as an international mechanism…to address loss and damage “. The Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) had a special stake in this outcome as its member states are jeopardised by sea level rise; AOSIS efforts on ‘loss and damage’ at CoP18 were important to this outcome. Meanwhile, CDKN has been active in supporting the Government of Bangladesh and other Least Developed Countries, via the Loss and Damage in Vulnerable Countries Initiative, to press for such a programme. We will continue to support the voices of climate-vulnerable countries on this issue.

CDKN has warned that the new international focus on loss and damage must not distract from the vital effort needed worldwide to cut emissions and particularly by the large emitting countries. As Sam Bickersteth argued in an opinion column on IPS News, loss and damage must not simply become the ‘new normal’.

A victory for women’s representation in the talks

CoP18 saw another pleasing development – the adoption of a decision to work toward enhanced women’s participation in the UNFCCC process. The UN text recognises “the importance of a balanced representation of women from developing and developed country Parties in the UNFCCC process so that gender responsive climate policy responds to the differing needs of men and women in national and local contexts”.

Not only does the decision call for additional efforts need to be made by all Parties to improve the participation of women in bodies established by the Convention and Kyoto Protocol, but it proposes to adopt “a goal of gender balance” in these bodies, and invites national delegations to strive for gender parity.  As described by Mairi Dupar in her CDKN blog and by colleagues at the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, this shining achievement marked a high point in a CoP that celebrated its first Gender Day and enjoyed the high profile presence of women leaders such as Christiana Figueres, Mary Robinson and Hon. Albreu, Minister of Environment, Mozambique speaking out on gender and climate change.

UN process continues – but too few countries pledge emissions reductions

CoP18 marked a victory for the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, which expires on 31 December 2012 and is now extended to a second commitment period through 2020. At present, it is the only global, legally binding treaty on climate change.

However, the few developed countries that have signed on – including the European Union and Australia – account for only 10-12% of global emissions, Ms Figueres said. Russia, Japan, Canada and New Zealand are among the ‘Annex I’ or industrialised countries that once belonged to the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol but declined to join a second commitment period; the United States never joined.

China is still classified as a non-Annex I country, which under the Kyoto Protocol framework, is not required to commit to binding emissions reductions, although since the first Protocol was signed, its emissions have ballooned to make it the world’s largest emitter (largely because it is the ‘workshop of the world’ and so many nations have outsourced their manufacturing, and therefore their emissions, to China).

Meanwhile, the Ad Hoc Working Group for Long Term Cooperative Action (known as the ‘AWG-LCA’), a separate negotiations track since CoP15 which had allowed countries to explore issues outside the Kyoto Protocol, was officially wound down in Doha.* Various ‘loose ends’ remained from this stream, but they will now be folded into an integrated negotiations stream working toward the Durban Platform. The Durban Platform is intended to provide a vehicle by which all Parties to the UNFCCC, developing and developed alike, will pledge mitigation action – therefore it should, in theory, cover 100% of global emissions. Parties have agreed to conclude this deal by 2015.

In Doha, Parties agreed that a draft text of the Durban Platform should be presented by mid-2014 to allow sufficient time for negotiation. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has himself pledged to convene global leaders to encourage collective ambition ahead of the deadline.

Although the Durban Platform is to be adopted by Parties in 2015, it is only expected to come into force by 2020. Scientists warn that the world has only two to three years at most to turn around the growth in global greenhouse gas emissions and send emissions into irreversible decline – so action will have to run ahead of political agreement.

Climate finance pledges fall behind

At the end of December, the first three year ‘fast start’ climate finance period will end, a period in which developed countries pledged close to US$30 billion to developing countries for climate mitigation and adaptation efforts, but disbursed far less.  CoP18 was meant to stimulate a new round of rich country pledges.

Least Developed Countries pressed for donor commitments of US$60 billion by 2015, which would have formed a meaningful milestone on the road to 2020, by which time at least US$100 billion/year in climate finance is meant to be flowing (this hails to a commitment made by the Parties in Copenhagen in 2009). On Saturday night, when Ms Figueres announced the ‘scores on the doors’, only US$6 billion had been pledged in Doha, most of which comes from European countries and the European Union. This must be a bitter pill for climate-vulnerable countries to swallow, especially as the compelling evidence of loss and damage mounts. It seems that Parties are adept at signing up to far-off targets, but as deadlines creep nearer, they are increasingly unwilling to commit hard cash.

In a closing statement to the CoP, on behalf of the Least Developed Countries Group of Negotiators, the Group’s Chairman, Pa Ousman Jarju of The Gambia, said: “We are highly disappointed with the lack of details in respect of finance between 2013 to 2020. We urge all developed parties to increase their pledges and show their delivery.”

Meanwhile, in Doha the Parties decided to locate the Green Climate Fund – set up to deliver a significant chunk of the US$100 billion in annual climate finance –in South Korea. CDKN’s Climate Finance Advisory Service was launched at CoP18 to provide developing country negotiators with expert technical advice in the climate finance negotiations and this includes support for developing country Board Members to the Green Climate Fund.

What’s next? A call for vision and energy

CDKN has always emphasised that the global climate negotiations must progress in tandem with ambitious national and local level action on climate change. In theory, the global process should drive up collective ambitions and standards for climate action, as well as provide mechanisms for climate mitigation and adaptation (as the Clean Development Mechanism, the UN-sanctioned market in carbon credits, has done, or the various work programmes to support developing countries in preparing adaptation and mitigation plans). In turn, national and local processes are where policy-makers are directly accountable to their publics, and where laws and regulations are developed to hard-wire climate action into economy and society. The energy and ambition from national processes should be reflected, through delegations, in the global talks.

However, the relatively weak outcome in Doha seems to add up to less than the sum of many, national parts. We look across the countries where CDKN is partnering with national, state and local governments to design and deliver far-sighted policies for climate compatible development –Kenya, Nepal, Colombia, Bangladesh, El Salvador, the Caribbean nations and beyond –and we see a momentum for change that is just not reflected in the timid steps governments have achieved collectively at global level this month. These examples of climate leadership can provide motivation, hope and focus, not for those countries alone but for others that can learn from them. It is the moment for leaders to forge ahead and capture the wins of low carbon, climate resilient growth at home, and pull the difficult international process along with them.

 

*In terms of what the AWG-LCA negotiations track achieved, it is credited with creating the process of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) for non-Annex I (that’s non-industrialised) countries, QELROs – quantified emissions limitation or reduction objectives – for Annex I countries, and setting up the Green Climate Fund.

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