EXPECTATIONS WERE low at Doha. But the 18th conference of parties (Cop 18) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change surprised even the cynics by legitimising a couldn’t-care-less doctrine. The bright side, if any, is that the masks have finally come off and much of the developed world stands exposed.
If a confirmation of the long-standing commitment of the rich countries to contribute $100 billion annually by 2020 to help the poorer nations cut emissions was overdue, Doha put it on hold for another year. It also slashed by half the promised $60 billion of fast-start finance for three years from 2013 to ’15. It is another matter that the developed nations have not made even the annual contribution of $10 billion assured since 2010.
America’s continued refusal to own up responsibility or open its purse is perhaps justified after Barack Obama gained rich electoral dividend from hurricane Sandy, which many experts believe was a manifestation of rogue climate. But only if we ignore the fact that the storm cost the US economy $50-60 billion and that such natural disasters will get more frequent.
The busiest participants at the Doha summit were the ones with market solutions to climate change. Many observers attributed the extension of the Kyoto pact (more on that later) largely to the lobbying by the multi-billion dollar carbon trading industry, which depends on this protocol as its legal backbone. While the price of one unit of Certified Emission Reduction (CER), equivalent to a tonne of carbon dioxide, fell from $10 to $3 this year, big corporations have a lot at stake in the revival of the industry.
But the carbon trade has remained mired in controversies over frauds, false claims and rights violations. It reaps huge profits for companies, legitimises burning of more fossil fuel and damages the economic system and environment of the developing world. Initiatives such as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) can be equally damaging if ownership of land by local communities is not secured.
Meanwhile, the Kyoto protocol has been extended till 2020. But, with Japan, Russia and Canada withdrawing, the current signatories account for just 15 percent of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Cop has set 2015 as the deadline for thrashing out a new agreement that will make countries such as the US, China and India meet binding emission reduction targets for the first time. This treaty, if successful, will replace the now-defunct Kyoto pact in 2020.
Given the progress of climate talks where heads of states have stopped participating since the 2009 Copenhagen summit, these deadlines sound rather facetious. Kyoto itself took more than three years of parleys in the 1990s and waited for seven years after its adoption to come into force in 2005. Negotiations have only become inflexible since.
The bright side is that the masks have finally come off and the First World stands exposed
As per the IPCC projections, the global emission levels must peak by 2020 and slide thereafter to 50 percent of the 1990 level by 2050 if we are to contain the temperature rise within 20 Celsius. It requires immediate international efforts to cut down on the volume of incremental emission annually if we are to actually reduce gross emission after eight years.
As things stand after Doha, 85 percent of the GHG emitters will now have no commitment to cut volumes and even the rest — parties to the extended-Kyoto — will be free to set their own targets. By 2020, new pact or not, the climate battle may as good as be over.
The signs of this fait accompli are evident as the focus of the climate negotiations itself is shifting. Particularly since Copenhagen, poor and vulnerable countries are looking for doles to survive the effects of climate change rather than forcing a global consensus to reduce emission. Doha, of course, promised a generous Loss and Damage fund. But if we miss our outside chance of prevention today, money will be no cure for global devastation of an unnatural scale.
Jay Mazoomdaar is an independent journalist.