Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A recap of COP18

What was hoped for in Doha?  What was accomplished?

Early on in Qatar, we didn’t yet have a good sense about what would or wouldn’t happen at the high-level negotiations this time around – a full two decades after the development of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.  However, there was growing consensus on a wish list of outcomes being discussed over coffee and in the hallways, showing up in NGO publications being distributed at the convention center, and in various online blog posts.  Since I now have some time between semesters to reflect on the conference and read details of the Doha agreement and several analyses, I will summarize the outcomes for a few of the key issues from that wish list.

Keeping the U.S. engaged in the UNFCCC process:

A little over a week before COP18 commenced, The Guardian reported that the U.S. was considering shifting climate change policy discussions into the Major Economies Forum (MEF).[1]  In reality, that shift had already begun.  Formed in March, 2009, the MEF is comprised of 17 countries and “…is intended to facilitate a candid dialogue among major developed and developing economies, help generate the political leadership necessary to achieve a successful outcome at the annual UN climate negotiations, and advance the exploration of concrete initiatives and joint ventures that increase the supply of clean energy while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.”[2]  I was surprised to learn that dialog amongst the MEF members actually began under the Bush Administration through the Major Economies Meetings on Energy Security and Climate Change.[3]

While many see the MEF as an attempt to undermine or circumvent the UNFCCC process, the countries represented account for about 85% of the global greenhouse gas emissions.  Significantly, the U.S., China, and India – none of which are parties to the Kyoto Protocol – are at the MEF table.  Many countries look to the U.S. for leadership in forging a global long-term agreement aimed at significantly reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, contributing to innovative new technologies, and providing funds for adaptation.  Thus, they also hope that the U.S. will continue to work within the U.N. framework for negotiations instead of initiating a parallel (or rival) track of multilateral discussions with only select countries.  Some of the concerns about the MEF process are discussed in The Guardian article (see reference 1).  Interestingly, the UNFCCC process of operating by consensus has been formally challenged at the last to COP meetings.[4]  The author of article in The Guardian, Arthur Neslen, noted that this alternative forum could “demote the UNFCCC to a forum for discussing the monitoring, reporting and verification of emissions reductions projects.”  But the reliance on consensus of all UNFCCC parties has been a significant hurdle in developing formal agreements that would yield the type of policy changes needed to address global climate instability and its associated problems.

The term “demote” used by Mr. Neslen is a strong word to choose, and his remark focuses only on mitigation.  There were other key issues on the table at COP18 (and previous COP meetings) that are also within the U.N. framework including adaptation, promoting sustainable development with low-carbon/green technologies, and compensation for loss and damage related to climate change.   Not surprisingly, the question of who is liable for past emissions and the concomitant problems these greenhouse gases can cause around the planet is one that is more likely to be a U.N. issue than an MEF one. 

Financing “clean” development and adaptation:

We already have seen that the developed and wealthiest nations have been slow to contribute to the climate finance fund (Fast Track Finance) agreed to at the 2009 climate conference (COP15) in Copenhagen.  By May of 2012, less than 80% of the $30 billion goal had been met, and the U.S. and European Union, both major economies participating in MEF, had committed half or less than half of their fair share.[5]  Only about one-fifth of this amount supports adaptation in developing countries, despite the major emphasis on adaptation-related topics in Doha (a sign of the acceptance of the lack of timely progress in the negotiations process).   And despite the agreements, much of these funds are in the form of loans rather than debt-free grants, and only about one-third of the contributions represented actual new money. 

Despite the underwhelming record on Fast Track Finance, there was hope that COP18 would yield increased financial contributions and commitments for the Green Climate Fund and Technology Mechanism, but again, little progress was made.  This concept was developed at COP16 in Cancun and some details about the funding mechanism clarified in Durban last year.  The goal for this adaptation fund is to have $100 billion contributed per year beginning in 2020.  A bit more than $10 million was committed for operational costs and some logistics of managing the fund were discussed, but questions and inconsistencies related to measuring, tracking, and reporting climate finance remain unresolved.  A major concern is that the Fast Track Finance program expired at the end of 2012, and there is no clear plan for interim funding over the next eight years until the implementation of the Green Climate Fund in 2020.  A few countries did agree to continue to provide some financing for developing nations through 2015. 

Extreme weather events in 2012 in the U.S. alone provide stark reminders that the dollar amounts discussed for adaptation (or used as reasons for not reducing greenhouse gas emissions) pale in comparison to current and future costs of loss and damage resulting from storms, droughts, fires, and other such events.  In late November, New York alerted Washington that it needs over $33 billion for damages and cleanup from Hurricane Sandy and $9 billion for adaptation to protect transportation systems, the power grid, and sewage and water supplies when future storms strike.  New Jersey’s needs are likely to be around $29 billion.[6]   And this price tag of over $70 billion represents only two of the states that were impacted by the historic storm.  As of January 9th (more than 2 months after Hurricane Sandy), only $9.7 billion in aid has been approved by Congress. 

A short news piece from New Year’s Eve indicated that there were 11 weather/climate disasters in 2012 in the U.S.[7]  This number seems low given the recent winter storms that spawned record numbers of December tornadoes in many different southern states, but regardless, disasters in 2012 other than Hurricane Sandy and the extreme drought in the Midwest cost the country more than a billion dollars.  And this doesn’t begin to put a price on suffering and loss of human life.  Predictions are that the costs for disasters will continue to climb as discussed in an earlier post.[8]  The price mechanisms for fossil fuel extraction, processing and use do not take into account the full social and environmental costs of these operations.  The COP18 discussions on loss and damage perhaps represent small steps in putting such externalities on the negotiations table.   Not surprisingly, the U.S. is strongly opposed to compensation for climate change-related loss and damage, and in Doha, reportedly blocked all language that implied compensation or liability.[9]

Keeping the Kyoto Protocol alive:

The Kyoto Protocol is the only existing legally binding international agreement pertaining to climate change policy.  Going into COP18, there was particular concern given to this agreement given that the first commitment period would expire at the end of 2012.  Civil society wanted foremost a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, but also an agreement that included more aggressive GHG emission reduction targets, would remove loopholes, and included all developed countries.

According to UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres:

A key achievement of COP 18 was the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol. This means that the important accounting and environmental rules of the only existing international, legally-binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are preserved. [10]

Indeed, a second commitment period (KP2) was agreed to; however, the key parties that signed on to this only contribute 15% of global emissions.  Canada, Japan, Russia, and New Zealand did not recommit to a second period, and of course, the U.S. was not a signatory of the original KP agreement.  China, India, Russia, and Brazil, were not originally designated Annex I countries, so were exempt from the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets of the original Kyoto Protocol. Given their collective contribution to carbon emissions and their growing population and economies, omission of these countries has been a particular point of contention for the United States.

The non-KP2 parties can participate in Clean Development Mechanisms, but cannot trade “units” or emission allowances within KP programs.  The 2012 agreement features an “ambition trigger, which requests that KP2 Parties revisit and increase their commitments by 2014 (rather than 2015) in line with the 25-40% emissions reductions called for by the IPCC 4th Assessment Report.”[11]  Many feel that the reduction goals should be more aggressive, but were relieved that some form of an international agreement was salvaged in Doha.

Building on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP):

A new negotiated long term agreement that built on the Durban Platform from COP17 was a major goal going into Doha, even though much concern has been expressed that any plan that delays implementation until 2020 is problematic.  A goal of ADP is to limit global temperature increases to less than 2C, but currently models are suggesting that we are tracking toward a 4C increase.  Given the urgency suggested by the latest scientific data, many believe that aggressive mitigation actions are needed now.  In the first post I wrote immediately prior to leaving for Qatar, I mentioned the World Bank report entitled Turn Down the Heat:  Why a 4 Degree Centigrade Warmer World Must be Avoided.[12]  This report, from an unlikely source, was mentioned many times during COP18.

At the end of COP18, two negotiations tracks (working groups) – Kyoto Protocol and the Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) – came to an end.  Moving forward, negotiations will now take place within the ADP track.  Later, I note a few perspectives on the overall outcomes of Doha, but for now, I include a comment from the ever-optimistic Christiana Figueres about the progress on the Durban Platform:

Significant groundwork was laid for the universal 2015 agreement that will enter into force in 2020. At the same time, governments agreed to work intensively to find ways to curb emissions before 2020, which is crucial for the world to be able to stay below the agreed maximum 2°C temperature rise. ….Much work remains to be done, but the conference achieved what it set out to do. Now it is a matter of accelerating the pace of climate action on the part of governments and by all of society.[13]

The fate of forests and oceans:

Over the past four years, I have been surprised at the relative lack of consideration of the ecological impact of climate change at COP meetings.  Some ecological issues are raised by civil society in side events and at NGO booths in the exhibition halls.  This year, however, the representation from conservation groups was noticeably reduced.  I realize that there are other forums where the focus is on conservation, biodiversity, and the status of the key ecosystems.  But it seems to me that protecting the planet (and not just people and economies) should also be a major part of the discussions on climate change policy. 

The protection of forests is discussed because of their role in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and because of the carbon sequestration role that they play.  Deforestation is believed to account for somewhere between 15 to 20% of global carbon emissions, thus, the topic of reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) continues to be discussed in negotiations.  But, as with many other topics, the unresolved technical issues and need for clarification of financing programs remain unresolved after Doha.  A major disagreement, that publicly appeared to be between mainly Brazil and Norway, is whether monitoring should be conducted by external groups or by representatives from the country where a forest in a REDD+ program is located.[14]   Interestingly, Norway has spent close to a billion dollars to develop REDD+ as a carbon market mechanism.  As I have written about previously,[15] REDD+ has been controversial, especially for indigenous groups who view carbon markets (i.e. “protection” of their forests as carbon sinks) as a new form of colonialism. 

But as was the case for conservation groups at COP18, there was relatively little representation from the NGOs representing the indigenous voices in Doha.  There was one notable speech on the topic that came from Bolivia’s Minister of Environment and Water, Jose Antonia Zamora Gutierrez:

We denounce to the whole world the pressure from some countries for the approval of new carbon market mechanisms, although these have shown to be ineffective in the fight against climate change, and that only represent business opportunities. This is a climate change conference, not a conference for carbon business. We did not come here to do business with the death of Mother Earth betting on the power of markets as a solution. We are here to protect our Mother Earth, we came here to protect the future of humanity.

Yesterday forests were turned into carbon markets businesses, and the same was done with the land, they tried to oceans and, worse, to agriculture. Agriculture is food security, employment, life, and culture. Agriculture is along with the land, mountains and forests, the house and the food of our indigenous and peasant communities.

We will not allow the replacement of the obligations of developed countries with carbon markets. The planet is not for sale, nor our life.[16]

A slightly more positive post-COP18 spin on the status of REDD+ was written for REDD-Net by Emily Brickell, Senior Research Officer, Forests and Land Use, ODI.[17]

As the Doha negotiations took place, news broke of Norway depositing a further $180 million into Brazil’s Amazon fund in response to a drop in Brazil’s deforestation for the third year running; while the UK, Norway, US, Germany and Australia issued a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to working together to achieve REDD+. 

She goes on to note that

…there has been increasing recognition of the need to focus on the drivers of deforestation to deliver REDD+ and, with that, recognition that this means looking beyond the “forest sector” to consider forests as part of a wider landscape (as can be seen in the shift from CIFOR’s forests day to the future focus on landscapes). And this shift in thinking reflects the paradigm shift needed in countries to deliver REDD+. Rather than a discrete project with clear boundaries, REDD+ requires a change in mindset about the role of forests and wider land use to meet development needs and achieve environmental sustainability [emphasis added].

Currently, there isn’t a “carbon market” to help focus conversations on the protection of our oceans.  Despite serious concerns related to ocean acidification and the implications of lower pH and higher temperatures in the ocean on species ranging from corals to fish, I saw only one organization in Doha trying to call attention to these matters – the Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML).  This organization “undertakes leading international research to respond to societal needs and to promote stewardship of the world ocean.”[18]  The absorption of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the impacts of climate change are viewed as significant threats to ocean biogeochemical cycles and species that depend on the oceans, including humans.  A major goal of PML is to make science accessible to a wide audience.  The negotiators within the UNFCCC process should take note of their extensive scientific reports, and more importantly, what those reports are telling us.  (A special shout out and thanks to Dr. Carol Turley of PML for all the great materials she provided for me to bring back to my students and her passion and sincere concern for the fate of the oceans.)

Gender balance and gender-smart policies:

I am not sure that headed to Qatar, anyone predicted that so much attention would be focused on women and gender-issues associated with climate change.  I already wrote about the first COP Gender Day and some of the issues of concern, so won’t repeat myself here.[19] But a quick update on what was dubbed the “Doha Miracle” by Christiana Figueres:  the language to strengthen women’s representation within the COP proceedings was adopted.  A good summary of why this is significant has been written by Mary Robinson, whose foundation helped spearhead this initiative.[20]  Having greater participation of women in the negotiations process is a significant step in developing gender-smart policy decisions that impact the people who aren’t in the air-conditioned convention centers negotiating the climate change issues.

Moving forward?

As always seems to be the case after a COP meeting, there is much discussion amongst analysts and within civil society circles as to the future of the UNFCCC process.  While little coverage of the conference appeared in the U.S. media, commentary appearing in international outlets was rather negative.  One representative comment came from an opinion piece in Outreach Magazine published by the Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future: “The Doha package is not controversial as it is devoid of content.”[21]  A rather realistic assessment of the process did appear in what I refer to as the “alternative press” from this country; in Yes magazine, Jim Schultz noted that

“A truly binding commitment on carbon emissions would require that the major carbon polluting countries in the world—the United States, China, India, and others – effectively surrender some measure of their sovereignty (over energy policy, for example).  To believe that they will ever do so is, unfortunately, a fantasy.”[22]  

However, on a more optimistic note, he also discusses the “importance of moving these fights to the fields of battle where citizen action stands the best chance of winning.”  It is on these local fronts that we must continue to work – be it through education, pressure on politicians, or activism of other forms.  And despite frustration with the lack of progress, I agree with Christiana Figueres when she says that the UNFCCC process, while not perfect, is the best we have.  And so I will continue to be a voice calling for action to address climate change and to support a multilateral negotiations process through the United Nations that addresses mitigation, adaptation, and financial and technical assistance to the poor and still-developing nations.  How else can we begin to consider a sustainable future? 

Oh, and yes, I plan to be at COP19 next fall in Warsaw.

[1] Neslen, A. “US considers shifting climate negotiations away from UN track”, The Guardian, 16 November 2012. <>.
[4] Kemp, L. “Victory Through Voting?  The Possibility of Majority Voting Within the UNFCCC”, Outreach Magazine, available at:
[5] International Institute for Environment and Development Briefing (November 2012) The Eight Unmet Promises of Fast-Start Climate Finance, available at
[6] New York Times editorial, “Hurricane Sandy’s Rising Costs”, 27 November 2012; available at
[7] WFMY News 2 “Hurricane Sandy and Extreme Drought Drives Disaster Cost” 31 December 2012 available at
[9] Leahy, S. “Doha Climate Summit Ends With No New CO2 Cuts or Funding” Interpress Service, republished in Nation of Change on 6 January 2013; available at
[14] Smith, T. “What Next for REDD+ Following Doha Disappointment?” 21 December 2012, RTCC.
[16] You can find the minister’s entire address to the COP18 delegation at
[21] Martín Murillo, L., Doha COP 18: another example of lack of responsibility”, Outreach Magazine, December 2012
[22] Schultz, J. “Why Curbing the Climate Crisis Will Take More Than Summits and Divestment” 15 December 2012 op-ed in Yes Magazine, reprinted in Nation of Change; available at

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