Syed Mujtaba Hussain

Global climate change regime evolved out of the Earth Summit of 1992, which gave birth to three conventions including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Since then 195 countries have become parties to the Convention including Pakistan that ratified the Convention in 1994. Parties to the Convention have met eighteen times since its creation and the latest round of talks were held in Doha from 26 November till 8 December, 2012. More than fifteen thousand delegates from a diverse background including public, private, non-governmental sectors and academic, research and media organizations attended the eighteenth session of Conference of Parties (COP-18).

The conflict in paradigms between the developed and developing countries was evident throughout the two weeks of Doha climate talks. The longstanding and cardinal principle of the Convention i.e. Common and Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR) was challenged by a few developed countries. The final text that came out lacked mention of this and even reference to Rio+20 that endorsed this principle was removed on the insistence of the USA.

The high point of Doha talks was survival of multilateral climate change regime, although there were such deep differences and distrust among the developed and developing countries. Avoidance of a collapse was a poor measure of success. In terms of progress towards real actions to tackle the climate change crisis, the Doha conference was another lost opportunity and grossly inadequate.

The conference was held at the end of a year of disastrous extreme events caused by super storm Sandy in the USA that led to damages of billions of dollars and typhoon Bopha in Phillipines where the death toll reached 700 and more than 300,000 people were made homeless. All this reminded the conference participants of the stark reality of climate crisis.

The conference was marred by deep feelings of international economic meltdown and commercial interests of countries without focusing on the horrific scenario of 4 to 6 degrees Celsius temperature rise by the close of the century as warned by the latest report commissioned by the World Bank.

The Government of Qatar being the host country mobilized all their efforts in the final hours of the close of conference to arrive at a package deal acceptable to the developed and developing countries of the world. One of the positive developments of the conference was formal adoption of the Second Commitment Period of Kyoto Protocol commencing from the start of 2013 till the end of 2020. However, the elements are weak since the original Kyoto Protocol Parties i.e. Russia, Japan and New Zealand have decided not to join the Second Commitment period and Canada has left the Protocol altogether. This means that only Europe, Norway, Switzerland, Australia and a few others that totals 35 developed countries and countries with economies in transition have agreed to legally binding commitments in the Second Commitment Period. 

In terms of ambition, the figures are far from satisfactory. The aggregate emission reductions that have been agreed are only 18% below the 1990 level, compared to 25-40 % reduction in emissions required to restrict global temperature rise to 2 degree Celsius. However, one caveat put forward by developing countries is the “ambition mechanism” through which the countries will revisit their original targets and increase their commitments by 2014, in line with the aggregate goal of 25-40 % reduction.

Moreover, the decision is also impacting countries that have managed to reduce their emissions more than their targets. These countries will not be allowed to use their surplus Assigned Amount Units (AAUs) or carbon credits accumulated in the First Commitment Period to be used or traded in the Second Commitment Period as a means to avoid current emission cuts.

Another criticism of Doha is lack of means for implementation i.e. financing as per commitment of the developed countries to be provided to the developing countries for taking meaningful actions towards mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer and capacity building. Decisions adopted at Cancun in 2010 and Durban in 2011 emphasized on part of the developed countries to mobilize new and additional, adequate, predictable and sustainable sources of funds amounting to USD 100 billion per year by 2020.

The efforts put forward by developing countries during the two weeks of Doha talks for bridging the financing gap by putting concrete numbers of climate finance on the table for the period 2013 till 2020 by the developed countries achieved partial success. The agreement on this encourages developed countries to increase efforts to provide finance between 2013-2015 to the average annual level with which they provided funds during the Fast Start Period target of USD 30 billion from 2010-2012. This is to ensure that there is no gap in continued financial support. Governments have agreed to continue a work program on Long Term Finance in 2013 to contribute to the ongoing efforts to scale up mobilization of climate finance. Germany, UK. France, Denmark, Sweden and the EU Commission announced financial pledges for the period up to 2015, totaling approximately USD 6 billions.

From Pakistan’s perspective, five positive developments from Doha conference are: (i) formal adoption of the Second Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol and continued access to the market mechanisms i.e. Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) (ii) financing for the particularly vulnerable countries for the formulation and implementation of National Adaptation Plans. Previously this funding was limited to the Small Island Development States (SIDs) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs) (iii) development of an international mechanism to address loss and damage. This mechanism would support countries that are impacted by slow onset events like droughts, glacial melting and sea level rise (iv) a new work program to build capacity through climate change education and training, create public awareness and enable the public to participate in climate change decision making and (v) language in the text regarding technology needs assessment and that no unilateral measures will be taken relating to the development and transfer of technology in the developing countries.

Simply put the Doha Climate Change Conference did not achieve the desired results in terms of limiting global temperature rise below the 2 degrees Celsius target as highlighted in the findings contained in various reports of Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), International Energy Agency, United Nations Environment Program and the latest report by the World Bank. But the conference kept alive efforts to work towards this global goal. Failure or collapse of talks would have stalled such efforts. Reaching a conclusion to effectively meet the challenge of climate change is a compromise of monumental proportions on part of all the countries that are parties to the Convention. Only future would determine the ultimate conclusion of this prolonged dialogue between the developed and developing countries given the global economic crisis but one thing is certain that climate change is not waiting for that moment. Recent incidents in a number of countries where the frequency and intensity of extreme events have increased are a testimony to the fact that climate change is happening and it’s happening now.


The author of this article is a Climate Change Expert and Negotiator