The Doha Climate Summit - Governments back-peddle on climate change


Crowds gathered outside the conference centre in Doha, Qatar, where government delegations discussed action to prevent climate catastrophe.  People used red circles to seal their lips, protesting the exclusion of NGOs from the Conference Centre site, but the voice of campaigners was obvious to the world’s media.  

So what of the outcome?  Firstly, the more positive headlines: -

  • The Kyoto Protocol has been extended for a further 8 years to 2020 (but Canada, Russia, Japan and New Zealand have dropped out leaving only the EU, Norway, Switzerland and some former soviet states committed to binding targets).

  • The Green Climate Fund has been set up to support developing countries with climate finance and will have an office in South Korea.

  • The previous commitment of $100 billion per year for climate finance was reaffirmed but only $6 Billion could be found for the period 2013 to 2015.

  • A post-2020 action will be agreed by 2015.  This will include some form of binding commitments from developed and developing countries alike. 

But the Doha Climate Conference has to go down as a major disappointment.  The World Bank has recently reported that we are most likely heading for a warming of 3.5 degrees and the time available to respond is short.  Yet the Doha conference was woefully short on new initiatives. The inability of Governments even to follow through on previous pledges is deeply disappointing and the timescale set for agreement on further action is lacking in urgency. 

The world’s two largest emitters the US and China represent to some extent the interests of developed nations on the one hand and the larger newly industrialised states on the other.  The challenge remains to determine how to apportion responsibility for global action between those nations who historically have contributed most to the problem of climate change and those rapidly growing economies that cannot possibly follow a path of highly fossil fuel dependency that we have trodden in the past.

In this respect there are two important principles that were agreed at Doha of which we should take note.  Firstly delegations from developing nations believe that they achieved for the first time universal agreement that those who are responsible for climate change through historic emissions should compensate those impacted.  These delegations argue that this justifies financial compensation over and above the $100 billion per year of climate finance already pledged. 

Secondly China and other developing nations have been persuaded to agree in principle to binding emissions  after 2020.  At the moment China’s pledge of a 45% reduction in carbon intensity (i.e. greenhouse gas emitted per unit of economic activity) could allow growth in emissions such that China’s per capita emissions are greater than that of the UK by 2020.  The time is fast approaching where major economies can no longer use the need for rapid and unsustainable economic growth to justify increases in absolute levels of carbon emissions.

Working out how to convert these principles into action is clearly the major challenge for the agreement of a post-2020 framework.  Given the poor starting point evident at Doha, the voice of concerned individuals from around the globe will need have to be heard loud and clear to move us forward.