In this latest editorial for Climate Policy (vol.13, no.3), Editor-in-Chief Michael Grubb puts forward his perspective on the Doha Climate Conference and what it means for the wider negotiation process. Access the article for free, then come back here to comment!
By Michael Grubb
One thought on “Dawn at Doha?”
Some sceptical thoughts on the Doha conference and role of UNFCCC:
Amid the dust of numerous construction sites and heavy car traffic in Doha, Qatar, it felt intensely surreal to take a bus to a conference centre hosting a UN negotiation session on climate change. The shiny conference centre reflecting the wealth of a young fossil fuel economy was about the most gigantic I had ever seen. I could not help feeling deeply sceptical of the sincerity of the nation with the highest per capita carbon dioxide emissions in the world (1) in positioning itself as an active player in combating climate change. Was there really anything behind the Qatari offer to host a UN meeting on climate change other than a mere PR effort to improve the image of the country? Was it just window dressing like the meaningless option at local ATMs in Doha “to save the environment” by not printing a receipt?
The UNFCCC process only helped my overall scepticism grow. The negotiations resemble an ideologically charged political power play, and positions of developed and developing countries are still polarised with little willingness to compromise and find a common solution. This bipolar antagonism, as Michael Grubb notes in his editorial, often poisons the process. There is some organisational progress though. The establishment and continuing operationalisation of thematic bodies like the Standing Committee on Finance, the Adaptation Committee and Technology Executive Committee are indeed welcome developments not least because they unload the COP agenda, bringing work to a more technical level. Another important organisational development is the formal closure of two Working Groups in Doha – on Kyoto-2 and on Long-term Cooperative Action – allowing parties to fully focus on negotiating a new agreement. Yet, despite these organisational improvements, so far the process is more about making a promise than delivering results. The same goes for the Green Climate Fund which remains an empty shell, a fund without funds, and it is difficult to stay positive about its sourcing in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.
The style of decision-making at COPs is also becoming disturbing. It has now turned into a custom for the annual COPs to extend well beyond planned completion and end in a dramatic, almost theatrical show. It was also not the first time when a final outcome was adopted despite objections. Some say that consensus does not mean one country can hold everyone back but then it also means that those Parties whose objections are ignored, especially in such a discourteous manner, would not consider the outcome legitimate and would be less cooperative in the future. After all, this is one of the strengths of the UN that everyone’s voice is heard and taken into account. Was there a better, more diplomatic way to reconcile the differences than completely disregarding objections of Russia, an important player both in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and political power, backed by three other counties in the final plenary meeting? The attitude of Russia’s political elite towards climate change in general and the UN negotiations in particular was already sceptical before Doha. The adoption of the amendment to Kyoto Protocol without consensus will certainly not help engage Russia and other economies in transition especially Belarus and Kazakhstan in the negotiations on the future climate change regime. Then, there are also implications for the process as these countries will raise the issue of rule violation at future meetings taking up a valuable negotiating time in 2013.
The UNFCCC is now set on its second attempt, after the failure of the Copenhagen meeting, to negotiate a future agreement by 2015. While we do not know exactly what countries will agree on in the next two years, it is almost certain that “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties” will contain no binding targets. Most likely, the agreement will be based on voluntary mitigation targets submitted by countries to undergo some type of a discussion subsequently at the UN level. This is at least something and, importantly, applicable to all countries including major emitters like the US, China, India and others. But when you start matching this type of architecture with what is required by the science of climate change, one loses faith in the ability of multilateral regimes to deal with a global problem. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will issue its Fifth assessment report in 2013-2014 and I am afraid its usually conservative conclusions will be depressing for many who care about climate change.
But then perhaps we are putting all eggs into one basket. The UNFCCC has played a massive role in elevating climate change to the top of the world’s policy agenda. Other multilateral regimes now address climate change sectorally, and there has been a plethora of climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives at international, regional, national and sub-national levels. At the Private Sector Forum organised by Climate Investment Funds last November, I learnt that global clean energy investments in 2004-2011 constituted 280 billion US dollars and the sector is actually striving to receive trillions of dollars in future investment (2). I also learnt that costs of clean energy technologies have been continuously falling with the costs of photovoltaic modules, for instance, having dropped by 75% since 2008. According to a recent analysis by Climate Policy Initiative, annual global climate finance flows reached USD 364 billion on average in 2010/2011, while dedicated climate funds contributed about USD 1.5 billion with very little of this amount flowing through the Convention’s channels (3). Even with caveats that there is no agreed definition on what counts as climate finance, the statistics indicates just how much investment in climate change related projects is taking place outside of the UNFCCC.
This rather sceptical commentary on the Doha meeting on climate change leads me to the question: what should the role of the UNFCCC be in global climate change policy and do we assess this role realistically? There was certainly too much hope and pressure on the UN to deliver before the Copenhagen conference in 2009. Do we still perhaps keep our expectations too high? And, with so many outside activities, what is the place of the UN climate change regime – a leader setting the standard and originator of novel ideas for climate policies or a bureaucratic body monitoring mitigation and adaptation actions around the world?
(1) World Bank’s data for 2008-2012. Available at http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.CO2E.PC?order=wbapi_data_value_2009+wbapi_data_value+wbapi_data_value-last&sort=desc
(2) See Mead L., D. Paul and Y. Yamineva. Climate Investment Funds’ Private Sector Forum. Report by International Institute for Sustainable Development – Reporting Services, 5 November 2012. Available at http://www.iisd.ca/climate/cif/pf2012/html/crsvol172num10e.html
(3) Buchner B., A. Falconer, M. Herve-Mignucci, and C. Trabachi. The Landscape of Climate Finance 2012. A report by Climate Policy Initiative, December 2012. Available at http://climatepolicyinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/The-Landscape-of-Climate-Finance-2012.pdf