Tension mounts as UN climate talks enter final day in Doha

By John Parnell
RTCC in Doha

The UN talks in Doha are set for a tense final day as 195 nations work on plans to increase short and long term climate ambition.

Scientists believe global emissions need to peak by 2015 and then decline if the world is to avoid the worst effects of climate change, but it is unclear how this summit will help achieve this goal.

Some negotiators are already claiming that week one of the summit achieved little, leaving politicians, who arrived in week two, to pick up the pieces.

Conference President Al Attiyah has called on delegates to resolve their differences by 6pm on Friday. In private many negotiators have expressed their unhappiness with Qatar’s ‘hands off’ approach to these negotiations, blaming the hosts for a lack of progress.

Environmental NGOs warn the process is “sleepwalking into disaster”, although not all participants share that view.

“Today [Thursday] we have had quite a useful day, were entering the end. We have documents presented and ready to be sent to the COP [for assessment by ministers],” said Brazilian Ambassador André Corrêa do Lago.

“As you know the issue of finance has reached a critical point. But there is a clear sensation from developing countries that COP after COP they have been accepting new ideas, new rules, new reporting, lots of things, all with a view to financial resources. But they have not appeared in the proportion that is needed.”

With three major negotiating tracks taking place at the same time COP18 is an incredibly complex beast to condense into 800 words, but it is the Kyoto Protocol and finance that have emerged as the key issues that will deliver progress in Doha.

For in-depth analysis check our COP18 twitter list, where you will find sector specialists tweeting live updates on an hourly basis.

Firm pledges

Talks over extending the Kyoto Protocol have been coloured by the ‘hot air’ dispute, the length of the second commitment period and it ambition.

The EU was locked in talks with Poland last night, a member state that has been especially vocal on its right to retain its surplus emission credits from the first period. RTCC understands the EU has now come to an agreement and that the surplus credits will not be cancelled.

The issue of a five or eight year commitment period could be side-stepped by inserting a review process part way through an eight year period but remains in brackets. Some want the review to be more of a trigger, whereby an increased level of ambition would kick in automatically.

The urgency represented in the current skeleton of Kyoto’s new round of cuts remains a contentious.

The EU, which represents the bulk of countries taking part in the next round, has a target of 20% on the table for 2020 compared to 1990 levels. However, various estimates of its current progress range from 18-27%.

The bloc is reluctant to go further by itself, and wants to see more emission reduction pledges from other nations like China.

“We need a second commitment period (CP2) of Kyoto Protocol. That is the consensus that has already been reached. So far, I do not see any country on the floor saying that we do not need CP2,”said China’s minister responsible for climate change Xie Zhenhua.

“So the question is the ambition of emission reductions. It is insufficient compared to what the science says is required to keep the temperature rise to below 2°C.”

NGOs say low targets and the presence of the surplus credits from round one will severely impair the “environmental integrity” of the deal.

Finance

The EU is at pains to point out the financial commitments of its member states, totalling around $8bn so far but likely to climb. This is post Fast Start Finance (FSF), the current framework for climate cash, which concludes at the end of this year.

The next major finance milestone beyond that is the goal of “mobilizing” $100bn a year by 2020 through the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The GCF is not scheduled to start putting money into projects until at least 2014.

It is the intervening years that are the cause for concern in Doha.

China has requested a roadmap to show how this $100bn target will be reached. The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) want a $60bn on the table in Doha as a starting point to toward the final goal. This is unlikely and indeed there were signs early today that Ministers from donor countries have stressed that a specific target in the meantime is simply not going to happen.

“There has been some progress and at least six countries have made commitments in the mid-term and the volume will be no less than FSF, we hope others can join in too. We fully understand the difficulty of making long term financial commitments but we do hope to see real action on mid-term,” said Xie on Thursday.

South Africa’s ambassador at large for climate change, Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko was not as forgiving of the current economic crises in the West.

“Remember that South Africa, is a developing country. We are in a perpetual state of economic distress and we never said we’d set our obligations aside,” she said.

“Financial distress is not new to Africa yet we’re doing more. That is why we won’t leave Doha with onerous [mitigation] demands on developing nations without financial, technical and logistical support.”

But just as with emission reductions promises in Kyoto, any old pledge is not necessarily good enough. Negotiators have said again and again this week that with finance, “the devil’s in the details”.

“Looking backwards there are lessons learned from the FSF,” said Steve Herz, a climate fiance expert with the US environmental NGO the Sierra Club. “There was a lot of recycling of pledges, and relabeling aid projects that were going to happen anyway. In terms of assessing who stepped up the most it’s hard to say. You can’t go by absolute numbers because the economy sizes are so different.”

Herz did reserve some special praise for the UK, not for the size of its $2.8bn pledge, but because it opened proceedings at the talks’ second “high level” segment by showing its hand on climate finance, rather than using it as a bargaining chip.

As we enter the final stage of the talks however, the bargaining appears to be very much built around finance.

LCA waiting for cash

Finance might well be the only way to clear obstacles in the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) track of talks, but the LCA highlights the importance of the finance deal, beyond the results it will yield on the ground.

China’s Xie says exploring the LCA’s work on developing flows of technology, providing logistical support and so on, is “a nonsense” until decisions on the money to pay for all this are taken.

Concluding both the LCA and the Kyoto Protocol, both of which now hinge on finance, are key conditions on the continuation of the Durban Platform, the universal global deal to cut emissions from 2015.

Both China and the US have described this emissions reduction platform applicable to every country, rich and poor. This means a legal treaty covering all of the world’s emissions rather than the 15% covered by the Kyoto’s scattered participants.

LCA chair Ayser Tayeb has just said that the final draft text has a “placeholder” for finance, which some might interpret as a gaping hole.

Follow the latest as Friday unfolds on the RTCC live blog.

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