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Doha: A Negotiation Gateway to the Future

At COP-18, held in Doha (Qatar, November-December 2012), the transition from a negotiation path with a central role for the Kyoto Protocol to a new regime based on more voluntary climate actions was formalised. Initially, a future climate policy regime was meant to become an extension of the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP), but, as explained earlier in this chapter, the AWG-LCA track had become more important for negotiations on a future global climate policy. In Doha, AWG-LCA was concluded so that negotiations could enter a final stage under the Durban Platform (AWG-DP).

On the Kyoto Protocol, it was decided that a second commitment period would start on 1 January 2013 (UNFCCC-CMP 2013, p. 3, para 6), while realising that this would be provisional as this amendment to the protocol (Doha Amendment) would need to be ratified by 144 countries (75 % of Kyoto Protocol Parties). The commitment period would last until 2020, so that there would be no gap between this period and the envisaged start of the regime to be decided on by AWG-DP. Nevertheless, the conclusion of seven years of protocol negotiations was disappointing as Japan, Canada, New Zealand and the Russian Federation had decided not to accept new Kyoto Protocol commitments. As a result, the Doha Amendment would cover only 15 % of global greenhouse gas emissions (IISD 2012, p. 26).

The good news was that institutions and market mechanisms developed under the protocol would continue to exist, although they could only be used by countries who would ratify the Doha Amendment. Especially the market mechanisms, such as the CDM, had been popular during the first commitment period 2008-2012 (see Chap. 4), but most discussion at Doha was about countries’ unused emission allowances. Under the Kyoto Protocol, industrialised countries had been assigned with amounts of greenhouse gases that they could emit at maximum per year, so called assigned amount units (AAUs, see Chap. 4). It was also agreed that countries could bank unused AAUs (in case of fewer emissions than assigned amounts) for use in a future commitment period.

This became a hot topic at Doha when the Russian Federation claimed that it had saved large amounts of AAUs during 2008-2012 for future use, including selling these to other countries with commitments. However, as an implication of the Doha Amendment, AAU trade could only take place between countries that would ratify the amendment and have AAUs during the second commitment period. As a consequence of Russia’s intention not to ratify the Doha Amendment, the country’s excess AAUs from the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol would become useless. Russia, supported by Ukraine and Belarus, attempted to block the COP-decision on the Doha Amendment (UNFCCC-CMP 2013) but its intervention was ignored or not noticed by COP President Al-Attiyah. Half a year later, this resulted in a refusal of the Russian delegation to continue negotiations at the Bonn Climate Sessions as it wanted to discuss procedures on voting first.

Effectively, AWG-LCA negotiations had already been concluded a year before in Durban, and in Doha it was time to look at back at what had been achieved. Surely, the LCA track had been important as it brought the USA back in the negotiations and managed to talk about developed and developing countries, instead of the formal Annex I and non-Annex I Parties jargon. AWG-LCA had softened the tone on commitments and opened the door for more voluntary-based actions such as pledges, whether or not these would be subject to external reviews, to be adopted by both developed and developing countries. Here, the LCA track demonstrated that in order to broaden the international coalition of countries with inclusion of developing countries, it was necessary to let go of the concept of legally-binding emission reduction commitments. Most developing countries, and some developed countries, would not accept these. The changing role of developing countries had been reflected by the emergence of two new negotiation groups: the Association of Independent Latin American and Caribbean states (AILAC) which focussed on collaboration between countries to reach the 2 °C goal, and the Like Minded Group of Developing Countries (LMDC) which wanted to keep a strict division between the role of developed and developing countries under the Convention.

The broadening of the ‘coalition’ was illustrated by the fact that by the end of 2012, over 85 developing and developed countries had presented emission reduction pledges under the Convention (IISD 2012, p. 27), which was over twice as many countries as those with commitments during the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Nevertheless, closer examination of these pledges showed that “the aggregated emissions level from all countries’ pledges is still likely to induce warming exceeding 2 °C by a wide margin, unless pledges are improved and more policies implemented on a national level” (Vieweg et al. 2012). This conclusion was a strong contrast with the emotional plea for action during the opening session of COP-18 by delegate Naderev Sano from the Philippines, a country which had shortly before the COP been hit by typhoon Bopha (IISD 2012, p. 26).

With the completion of the negotiation tracks for the Kyoto Protocol and long-term climate actions, including the earlier establishment of the Adaptation Committee, the Standing Committee on Finance, the Green Climate Fund, and the Technology Mechanism (UNFCCC 2013a), the window could be opened to the future. With the AGW-DP as main negotiation track, the next steps were clear: in 2015, a new climate regime would have to be concluded for the period after 2020, based on a broad coalition of developed and developing countries, jointly aiming for a 2 °C target (UNFCCC 2013b). Success was not guaranteed though and the next COPs in Warsaw and Lima had a lot of work to do.

This work seemed to be supported by real life signals of climate change impacts and a new scientific report by the IPCC on the risks of extreme events and disasters due to a changing climate (IPCC 2012). While during the early 1990s progress with climate negotiations had often been limited due to lack of scientific evidence of human-induced climate change, by the time of COP-18 and COP-19 there remained little doubt about the relation between the burning of fossil fuels and temperature increase on earth.

Nevertheless, negotiators did not let themselves be rushed by all these facts and evidence. On the contrary, although time for completing the Durban Platform negotiations by 2015 was very short, negotiators remained patient and cautious. Of course, what was at stake was not easy to decide upon. Next to building up evidence about human impacts on climate systems, science had also indicated how strongly global greenhouse gas emissions would have to be reduced to achieve the 2 °C target (IPCC 2013). Moreover, it had become clear that already pledged emission reductions (since the Copenhagen and Cancfin COPs) would be insufficient for that (UNEP 2013). This situation kept negotiators in a headlock as domestic economic consequences of ambitious climate actions could be strong and negative, especially in the short run, and countries were cautious that the burden would be shared equally. This, of course, required an agreement on what would be equal.

An overview of milestones during the post-Kyoto negotiation process from 2005 (Montreal) through 2012 (Doha) is presented in Fig. 5.2.

Summary of post-Kyoto negotiations up until Doha Climate Conference (author’s own elaboration)

Fig. 5.2 Summary of post-Kyoto negotiations up until Doha Climate Conference (author’s own elaboration)

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