Doha climate change talks fail to cut emissions while weakened Kyoto Protocol extended to 2020

Climate Negotiations are over for another year with little progress in Doha by any one's measure as the scientific statements on climate change and the impacts we are already feeling as evidenced in record Arctic melting, and extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy, Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines, and Cyclone Evan in the South Pacific, are growing much stronger.

Photos: Photos by World Resources Institute | Photos by Oxfam | The Verb: Climate March in Doha | The Verb: COP18 Actions
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We are hurtling along, actually accelerating our carbon emissions, heading for a climate cliff towards a chaotic and dangerous future (See Guy McPherson on the end of the world) and negotiators think we can put on the brakes at the last minute. Unfortunately what action the global community takes using an agreement negotiated by 2015 to come into effect by 2020 will be far too little too late. Climate physics will trump all the hot air in climate policy negotiations. Some of the latest research shows:

It is the failure of leadership and ambition of industrialised countries like the United States, Canada and Australia in making the deep cuts to emissions necessary which is hampering and sometimes actively obstructing progress. The Bali roadmap in 2007 adopted the scientific projections of 25 to 40 percent emission cuts by industrialised countries on 1990 levels by 2020 for a 50 percent chance of not exceeding 2 degrees of warming.

"It is vitally important to remember that the dangerous experiment we are performing on the climate system through our emissions of greenhouse gases continues unabated, with global emissions still growing at an alarming pace. The climate system will not wait decades for the governments of the world to inch towards an agreement. This trend needs to be reversed quickly. The outcome of the Doha talks is therefore extremely disappointing, if not unexpected." commented Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College London.

Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, ITUC, said "We leave this conference wondering when ambition will come back to the table. There will be no jobs in a dead planet, nor a Just Transition with this outcome" said Ms Burrow. "The more we wait for having ambitious emission reduction objectives, the more the transition will be unfair. We need time to build a Just Transition, to put in place the social policies to help working people fully participate in a sustainable economy. Delays will make our task difficult, almost impossible. In order to be Just, the transition must start now, " said Ms Burrow.

Civil society NGOs condemn lack of progress at climate talks

Leaders of Civil Society groups gathered just after the conclusion of the final plenary at Doha and made clear that it is still business as usual with little progress in negotiating emission reductions. Although nominally the Kyoto Protocol will continue until 2020, it is a shadow of itself and the first commitment period with Russia, Japan, Canada and New Zealand all withdrawing.

Samantha Smith from the WWF had this to say:

"This is an incredibly weak deal. So in a few minutes Governments are going to come sprinting out of here along with folk from the UN Secretariat and they are going to tell you it was a great victory. They are going to tell you that getting a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol was fantastic. They are going to tell you all the steps big and small, mostly small, that countries took to get here.

But the truth, the truth is that there is nothing in this deal which will substantially reduce emissions, which will keep emissions going up as opposed to down. There is very little about long term finance. A few countries managed to stop that in it's tracks. And there is nothing in this deal which really lays the foundation for what we were promised when we left Durban: which was a fair ambitious and binding global deal in 2015.

So in civil society we are not fooled and we don't want you folks in the media to be fooled and we don't want folks at home to be fooled either.

Watch Samantha Smith from the WWF at the Climate Action Network press conference at the end of COP18 in this youtube video.

Sure enough, a press release from Mark Drefus, the Australian Minister at the climate talks, tried to make capital of Australia joining the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period, announced by Greg Combet on November 9, and that progress at the talks on an agreement by 2015 had been made. "In Doha we have seen further progress on shaping a new global agreement to tackle the challenge of climate change and Australia has played an important part," said Mark Dreyfus who led negotiations on Australia's behalf and chaired the influential Umbrella Group of countries at the Doha conference.

But the Australian commitment - a reduction of 5% in emissions on 2000 levels by 2020 - still lacks in ambition when scientists were saying in 2007 that developed countries like the USA, Europe and Australia needed to cut emissions by 25 to 40 percent on 1990 levels for equity purposes and a 50% chance of meeting the commitment to staying below 2 degrees of warming.

And yet there were winners from the glacial nature of the climate talks. Alden Meyer from the Union of Concerned Scientists at the CAN press conference said

"I think what you saw on display here was there were some winners here. The coal industry won here, the oil industry won here, the fossil fuel industry won here. You saw on display the power of these industries and their short term profit motivation to dominate the governments of the world.

"This wasn't an environmental or science driven discussion, this was a trade fair. This was a 'who is going to share the spoils of the world as we drill in the Arctic and produce tar sands in Canada and mine coal in Indonesia for China.'

"This is not the future we need to leave for our children. We know we need to leave four fifths of the oil, natural gas and coal on the planet where it is, underground. That is the only safe carbon reserve there is. And yet we are scrambling to develop all these new reserves.

Watch Alden Meyer at the Climate Action Network press conference at the end of COP18 in this youtube video.

Kumi Naidoo from Greenpeace International talked about the need to put more energy into building a robust broad-based movement. "The biggest message we have to take is we will have to intensify our resistance." he said.

In particular, he appealed for young people to step up to leadership. "Don't bank on this bunch of adult leaders, who are the biggest losers you are going to find anywhere on the planet, and get your act together, get organised, and take leadership, because while we are talking about ending fossil fuels, young people must realise there are a whole lot of fossils sitting in the negotiations." he said.

Naidoo also exhorted religous leaders to "step forward and provide a stronger voice to urge action because bankruptness of leadership from this negotiation and from the most powerful national capitals, is not there and we have to recognise that this fight is bigger than all the fights of injustice combined."

He told the press conference:

We came to Doha with low expectations but those low expectations got even lower.
Any government walking out of these negotiations saying that this was a success is suffering from a terrible case of cognitive dissonance., when the reality is telling us we are running out of time, the science is telling us we need much greater ambition and we have to call this a substantial failure. All we are seeing is baby steps in a positive direction. Our governments have to now recognise that the science is non-negotiable. We cannot change the science, and they have to align the political reality of these conversations with what the science actually says.

Firstly, on finance, we have to look at the question of political will here. It is interesting that yesterday in the United States it was reported that the cost of reconstruction in New Jersey alone is $60 billion plus. It is ironic that it is the same amount of money we are trying to garner for the entire developing world to help them to actually cope with the crisis. You also will remember at this point The United States spends more on the military marching band as part of their expenditure than $60 billion a year.

Where is the priority, when in fact even the CIA and the Pentagon has been telling that the biggest threat to peace and security is not going to come from conventional threats and terrorism but is going to come from the impacts of climate change that we are seeing in my continent, Africa, already. So on Kyoto, yes, we managed to defend a second commitment period, but it is so weakened it does not give us any joy that we can get the changes that we need now.

Watch Kumi Naidoo from Greenpeace International at the CAN press conference on youtube.

You can also watch further statements from the CAN press conference:

  • Tim Gore, OXFAM GB, at the CAN press conference at the end of COP18 about climate finance
  • Harjeet SIngh - ActionAid International at the CAN press conference at the end of COP18
  • Mohamed Adow, Christian Aid, at the CAN press conference at the end of COP18
  • Wael Hmaidan, Director of CAN International at the CAN press conference at the end of COP18

Scientists wonder when science will count in negotiations

"We're now seeing the window of opportunity to avoid dangerous climate change pass us by. Emissions have rebounded to a new high following the global recession, while developed nations find themselves unable or unwilling to finance the adaptation now required in the rest of the world." said Dr David Reay, Senior Lecturer in Carbon Management at the University of Edinburgh.

"The warmer we get, the worse the impacts of climate change will be. For example, in a plus 4 degree world the impacts on crop productivity and river flooding could be more than twice or even three times as bad as a +2 degree world. That means that we need to place more emphasis than ever on making sure our infrastructure and agriculture can cope with what the climate might throw at them - now and in the future." said Prof Nigel Arnell, Director of the Walker Institute at the University of Reading to the UK science media centre.

Dr Chuks Okereke, School of Human and Environmental Sciences at the University of Reading summed up the basic tensions between developing and developed countries:

"The biggest stumbling block at the UN climate negotiations is the tension between developing and developed countries. From the developing world perspective the developed countries have failed in their commitments on three counts: domestic emission reductions; technology transfer; and, most crucially, finance. Climate change is ultimately a question of justice and those who have contributed the most should assume responsibility in solving the problem.

"All the climate-related policies in the US, which is currently the largest per capita contributor to global carbon emissions in Kyoto Annex 1 countries, will yield a meagre 3% reduction below 1990 level by 2020. Although much more proactive than the US, current pledges to reduce emissions from the EU, Japan, Australia and others are viewed as grossly inadequate to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.

Okereke highlighted the disparity between action in the developing world and the developed countries like Australia:

"Despite the lack of progress from the developed world, many developing countries have been taking on bold and ambitious emission reduction targets and climate policies. Mexico has the ambition to cut emissions to 30% below BAU in 2020.

Indonesia and South Africa have pledged reductions that are close to 35% below BAU in 2020 and a few developing countries such as Costa Rica and the Maldives have announced goals to become carbon neutral within the next decade. Brazil has made a huge contribution to emission reductions through its aggressive efforts to reduce deforestation in the Amazon. And China has a commitment to achieve a reduction of 4.5 GtCO2 in 2020.

"Of course, it's hard to compare these commitments directly with those of the developed countries because they represent reductions relative to a business as usual scenario rather than being relative to 1990. Nevertheless, they demonstrate a level of commitment to tackle climate change that is currently lacking in some developed countries."

But there was some good news, I suppose. Lord Monckton,, that whacky English climate denier, made a speech as a representative of Myanmar and was subsequently thrown out and had his UN credentials withdrawn. (Watch the youtube video)

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