Doha protests as doubts grow over Qatari leadership at UN climate talks

By Ed King
RTCC in Doha

Concerns over Qatar’s Presidency of the UN climate talks are growing after another frustrating day for negotiators in Doha.

Officially just under a day of the talks remain, and agreements on finance, an extension to the Kyoto Protocol and a roadmap to a 2015 global deal currently appear elusive.

The urgency was underlined earlier today when a coalition of leading NGOs released a statement warning that the talks were “sleepwalking into disaster”, and calling again for more clarity on climate finance.

State delegations also appear increasingly impatient.

“The Qataris have put on a fantastic venue for COP18 and we’re now looking for them to match these facilities with real leadership, and the test will be over the next 48 hours,” UK climate minister Greg Barker said, adding that finance or emission pledges from Arab states could lubricate proceedings.

COP President Al Attiyah urged all parties to come to agreement on outstanding issues by Friday morning

Two Arab youth activists, Raied Ghalabawy from Libya and Mohammed Aneese Amerouche from Algeria, were expelled from the conference today after unfurling a banner beneath Louise Bourgeois’ Maman sculpture in the centre of the conference centre which read: “Qatar: Why host and not lead?”

Police rapidly intervened on the ‘action’ which did not have the blessing of the UN organisers, and escorted the pair downstairs.

Ali Fakhry, spokesman for the Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM), told RTCC that frustration had been building among the group over the lack of climate ambition from Middle East states during the conference.

Despite the wealth generated from oil and gas in the region, its wealthier states seem unwilling to offer financial incentives or emission targets.

Qatar’s major announcement this week was a tie-up with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“It’s a call of action for the Qatari government to take a lead of action and ensure that as hosts the negotiations won’t collapse,” Fakhry told RTCC.

“We have one day of the negotiations and we have seen nothing as an action from the Qatari government, and we are starting to really believe that hosting this COP was greenwash and PR for them.

“Taking this action today was asking – why are you hosting the COP when you cannot lead?”

Time running out

COP President Al Attiyah has maintained a low profile throughout the conference, appearing at official events and chairing plenary sessions where required – but many believe he needs to inject more urgency into proceedings.

One delegate RTCC spoke to on condition of anonymity said that a deal in Doha was on the table, but that countries had lost confidence in the President’s ability to provide leadership. “The question is bringing all the negotiations together in a timely manner before ministers start to leave.”

They say a solution needs to be on the table by Friday evening Washington time, in order to get US Presidential approval. That would mean resolving key issues before 6am Saturday morning in Qatar.

Veteran climate observer Alden Meyer, strategy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists in the USA, said Thursday night could determine whether COP18 will deliver a coherent package.

“The President needs to go farther than he has in assigning teams of ministers to broker the deals tomorrow night, or when we get out of here,” he told RTCC.

“He has done that in some areas – he appointed the Norwegian and Brazil ministers and that has produced results – they are experienced, know the game and know the players

“I believe the same thing is happening on finance with the Swiss and Maldives ministers he appointed. He needs to appoint ministers in the other areas – the LCA track is very confusing, people don’t understand what is going on and how the text is moving.”

A major fear for participants is that these talks could go the same way as the 2001 Doha round of World Trade Organisation negotiations, which have been in stasis for 11 years.

“Does Doha want to be known as a place where ideas come to die?”, asked Josh Wiese, campaign coordinator at NGO tcktcktck. While this is unlikely, it seems ministers will be working throughout the night to broker a compromise agreement.

EU nations believe they have made sufficient pledges to fill their side of the bargain, and many, like Greg Barker, are looking to this heartland of oil and gas to show the watching world it is committed to a low-carbon future.

“Clearly now is the time for the Arab region to step up to the plate and show the leadership that we need to bring this COP to a successful conclusion,” Barker said.

“The clock is ticking, there are concerns particularly amongst the least developed countries, the poorest nations of the world, around finance and around lack of ambition, not just on the part of the most developed countries but on other countries as well.

“We desperately need more countries to step up to the plate with ambitious cuts before 2020 to fill that mitigation gap, and I think there is a huge opportunity for the Arab states to do that.”


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