COP18: Qatar organisers warned of efforts to derail climate talks

By Ed King
RTCC in Doha

The Qatari Presidency of the UN climate talks must prepare to counter cynical efforts to derail negotiations, a leading British climate diplomat has warned.

Speaking on the eve of the Doha COP18 summit, John Ashton told RTCC that Qatar was now sailing into “shark infested waters”, and that organisers needed to be aware that it “sometimes serves people to undermine the authority of the Presidency, by arguing that its proposals are biased”.

As a result the Presidency must ensure it is “completely transparent and even handed” he said. “It cannot afford to give the impression that it is biased – to keep the initiative it needs to be proactive – both in public and private.”

Ashton, who left his government position as the Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative on Climate Change in June, recently spent a week advising the Qatari organisers on negotiations he has been involved with for over a decade.

He cautioned that while Doha would not see a global agreement on climate change, bar an extension to the Kyoto Protocol, a collapse of trust during the talks could derail the negotiations and send them into stasis: “There is no inherent reason why these talks should fail. The issues look soluble, and in that sense this COP is not a cup final. But with bad luck or bad handling it could be a train wreck”, he added.

COP18 is the latest in a series of major conferences the tiny Emirate has hosted over the past decade.

Most recently Syrian groups opposed to current President Bashar Al-Assad arrived in Qatar to debate the future of their country.

Perhaps more pertinently, Qatar holds the unfortunate record of having presided over the initiation of the longest round of continuous global negotiations in recent memory.

The Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organisation talks started eleven years ago and have now entered what some describe as a ‘zombie’ stage.

Local sources RTCC has spoken to say the Emirate is desperate not to add another ‘Doha’ round of stalled talks to the history books, and sped up preparations for COP18 after the Bonn round of UN talks in May.

Ashton’s time with the Qatari COP18 team left him impressed by the “rainbow team” of global experts the hosts have assembled in an advisory capacity.

And he believes COP President Al-Attiyah is determined to stage a successful round of talks, which will bolster Qatar’s standing on the international stage.

But doubts remain over the country’s commitment to a process that will ultimately see if having to change its entire growth model.

Tough choices

Addressing climate change means using fewer fossil fuels and finding alternative sources of energy.

In this sense Qatar is the turkey that has invited the butcher to stay two weeks before Christmas.

Many environmental NGOs have already made their mind up after seeing Al Attiyah at an oil and money conference in London two weeks ago hailing the impact of shale exploration: “Gas will give the world 300 years of security”, he said.

While admitting this was an unusual event for a COP President to attend, Ashton has not written off Qatar’s sincerity as a result.

He believes that these talks should be seen as a chance for a region that has up till now been seen as part of the problem to position itself as a solution to climate change under Qatari leadership.

“That would be an important shift of the balance of forces on climate change. Qatar now has the opportunity to be the catalyst for this shift”.

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