The Lowdown on COP 18 in Doha

The 18th edition of the UN climate summit is rolling along. This meeting, more I suspect that any of the last 17, is being greeted in North America with a cynical or indifferent shrug. For most of the public, there’s aGroundhog Day vibe to these meetings. As Jo-Ann Roberts, host of CBC-Radio’s All Points West said during our interview earlier this week, it seems like each year we have a meeting, we disagree about the same things, and lament afterwards that more was not accomplished.

With that in mind, I thought it is worth reviewing just what is up for debate in Doha. The summit, as I see it, is being dominated by three key issues:

1. Renewing the Kyoto Protocol

That’s right, Kyoto is still around. Those involved – the European countries, New Zealand, etc. – are trying to reach an agreement on a “second commitment period” which would set further greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions targets up until 2020. The membership has dwindled; Canada, which withdrew from Kyoto entirely just before the deadline for doing, Japan and Russia, have refused to participate in the second commitment period. Between the countries dropping out, and the rise of other large emitters, the “new” Kyoto will cover countries representing a small fraction (~15%) rather than the majority (~2/3rds) of the world’s emissions.

The big stumbling block is accounting for the “hot air” permits. A number of eastern European countries in which greenhouse gas emissions dropped precipitously after the breakup of the Soviet Union, have been able to sell emission credits to countries who have not met their Kyoto targets. It looks as though several countries will have extra emissions credits once the first commitment period comes to an official end this year. Naturally, they’d like to carry the credits over to the second commitment period. Doing so, however, would compromise the new targets being discussed; with few big emitters participating in round two, the remaining non-eastern European countries would be able to meet the otherwise ambitious reduction targets with small actual changes in emissions.

2. Slow march to a universal emissions agreement

In Cancun and Durban, the world very loosely agreed to work on a long-term emissions reduction agreement, that would involve all major emitters. The plan is supposed to be in place by 2015, and go into effect in 2020, when the smaller budget sequel to Kyoto wraps up. No specific progress on that agreement is expected in Doha, though the meeting could conceivable create some momentum. This aspect of the Doha meeting will mostly likely inspire chatter about climate negotiators waking up to I’ve got you babe at 6am, again and again, every day

3. Financial and technical assistance to the developing world

Over the last three summits, the developed countries agreed to mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 to help the developing world address climate change, a subject I’ve discussed at length here and in other forums. One conduit for the money is the new “Green Climate Fund” (GCF), being managed by the World Bank, which is just setting up offices in Korea.

In Doha, all the country representatives will consider the report of the initial GCF board and decide on the relationship between the COP process and the GCF. It’s the ugly machinery of policy. It’s not glamourous, but it is important. The project documents talk about developing a “Results Management Framework”. Before rolling your eyes, give this some thought. The framework will include how to do monitoring and evaluation, allocating funds based on results and developing performance measures. This stuff matters. For example, the verdict is still out on the plan to raise “fast-track financing” of $30 billion over the 2010-2 period; most major developed nations provided funds, but depending on what you count as “new” and “additional” funding, it does not add up to $30 billion, and in many cases, the money was only provided as a loan. That experience shows just how important ironing out the logistics of these programs matter: it might not garner headlines, but the grunt work on rules and regulations is critical to making sure funds are provided and used effectively.

In the end, is it all about the money?

All the management frameworks in the world won’t help if the developed world does not “mobilize” – aid, matching grants, private investments, etc. – the money. The currently empty GCF is just part of the package. Though is only supposed to be one conduit of the $100 billion per year by 2020, the it is increasingly assumed to be the most important one (at least symbolically, as it is all we hear about). Yet the developed countries seriously disagree on how, when, and how much, to capitalize the GCF.

Right now, the documented recommendations for raising new funds (outside of private investments) include carbon pricing, taxing financial transactions, redirecting fossil fuel subsidies and emissions trading regimes for shipping and aviation. It is hard to see the world coming to an agreement on any of these, at least in the near term; you could argue that we’re more likely to agree on an emissions reduction plan, which would have no mechanism for those reductions, that a global transaction fee going to address climate change.

Canada, which gets tarred in the media for lack of action on emissions policy, could actually end up as the inspiration leader to opponents of climate financing. After the last UN summit in Durban, Canadian Environment Minister Kent said the government would refuse to supply any money to the Green Climate Fund until all major emitters accept legally binding reduction targets. There is, as of yet, no evidence the stance has changed.

In other words, Canada is more or less arguing to hold adaptation hostage because we can’t agree on mitigation. That’s why experts are not joking when they say that the world might be better off if the Canadian government did not send any representatives to Doha.

Comments:

  1. Michael,
    Actually New Zealand's enlightened government declined to sign up to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol
    (http://beehive.govt.nz/release/new-zealand-commits-un-framework-convention)

    A noted NZ cartoonist depicted our Minister Against Climate Mitigation thusly
    http://static.stuff.co.nz/1355401117/535/8078535_600x400.jpg

    • That's correct; New Zealand was a part of Kyoto, but declined to participate in the renewal negotiations. Thanks for the reminder.


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