Deadlock In Doha: Is Qatar Going To Be The Place Where International Agreements Go To Die?

by Rebecca Lefton and Andrew Light

This year’s UN climate negotiations have once again deadlocked.  Negotiators and observers in the hall are concerned that this meeting could end with no outcome, much like the long-stalled Doha trade negotiations.  We’re tracking the major sticking points in the three tracks of the meeting and make recommendations on how to move forward.  Those interested can tune in here, and look for which sessions are going on live in plenary room one or two.

Kyoto Protocol

Going into this meeting, it appeared that t the creation of the second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol would be a major area of contention.  But while there are some lingering disagreements on some of the points of controversy that were anticipated before Doha, most of the text agreeing to a second commitment period of the protocol is very close to approval.  As we have argued, the most important part of this agreement will be ensuring that the Clean Development Mechanism continue so it can be used for whatever new agreement is created under the new track of the Durban Platform.  The emissions reductions that will come out of the extension of the protocol will be marginal from a global perspective, because it will remain the case that developing countries that are parties to the agreement will not be bound to reduce their emissions in a second commitment period.  In that respect, some of the lingering questions over whether the protocol will be extended for five or seven years do not matter as much.

One thing to look out for, in case the meeting does end in a deadlock, is whether the president of the meeting (which is, as always, a representative from the host country) decides to try to move it forward without the other two tracks.  At this point the decision has been made to move all three tracks forward in one combined package.  If that happens though, then even if the Kyoto track is ready to go, it could get sidelined by disagreement over one of the other tracks.  This would delay implementation of a second period of the protocol and create a gap between the end of the first commitment period (which expires at the end of this month) and the beginning of the second period.  In this eventuality we would recommend splitting up the tracks, if that is at all possible.

Long-Term Cooperative Action

The track on “Long Term Cooperative Action” (or “LCA”) was created in 2007 in Bali and became the vehicle that created the 2009 Copenhagen Accord and the 2010 Cancun Agreements.  We have long supported this development as the best outcome that could have come out of the Copenhagen meeting, where most of the major emitters were not yet prepared to negotiate, sign, or ratify a new top-down, legally binding agreement like the Kyoto Protocol that most had hoped would emerge.  The result has been an agreement that captures over 80 percent of global emissions, rather than the 15 percent captured by the remaining parties in the Kyoto Protocol who are legally bound to reduce their emissions, as a series of unilateral voluntary commitments for mitigation to 2020.  Given that this track was slated for ending this year, we’ve been working on a column for the main CAP website to go up next week outlining the successes of this track.

Unfortunately though, the LCA track is the sticking point in Doha.  As we had anticipated, there was a risk that parties would try to pack more into it at the very end, and that’s apparently what has happened.

The major sticking point is a proposed provision in section five to enhance action on finance for mitigation, adaptation, and technology cooperation.  The best indication of this problem can be found by consulting the current text for this section: there is none.  The finance text is still heavily bracketed signaling serious disagreement.  There are ongoing consultations to remedy the differences among parties around the draft text before forwarding it along with the LCA text.

The problem here is something that CAP anticipated and has been writing on since 2010:  the gap between the end of the $30 billion fast start finance period from 2009 to 2012, and 2020 when the commitment to provide approximately $100 billion for global mitigation and adaptation efforts annually will kick in.

Our 2010 report with the Alliance for Climate Protection and Climate Advisers made the compelling case that 1) it would be nearly impossible to jump from the fast start period to the 2020 period without a ramp-up of funding through the rest of this decade, 2) the amount needed for the ramp-up period was fairly modest, in the range of $60 billion from all developed countries by 2015 for a start, and 3) this amount would be sufficient to close the ambition gap between what parties pledged to do under the LCA track and the emission reductions needed by 2020 to keep the door open to eventually stabilizing temperatures at 2 degrees Celsius later on.

It is no doubt very difficult to draft acceptable language on increasing ambition on finance right now, especially in the current economic climate.  But given that the US has already indicated that it will attempt to maintain its current levels of climate finance ($7.5 billion in the fast start period), and given that several other parties with less cumbersome processes for setting budgets for such efforts have already announced an increase in their funding over the next few years, then the parties should at least be able to come up with some kind of aspirational language for a ramp-up period.  If however this issue cannot be resolved, then we would urge the parties to move on without it and, as has been suggested by others, set an independent meeting on enhancing finance later in 2013.

There are a number of other issues that are also sticking points in the LCA track.  Most have to do with the provisions for measuring, reporting, and verifying the greenhouse gas reductions that parties have committed to under this track, especially the expectation that developing countries accept some level of outside scrutiny for fulfilling their pledges.

While these might be resolvable with the right compromise language though (or decided at a later date, which looks likely at this point), there will be some questions that some parties will have to bend on or the meeting will stall out.  Chief among these is the insertion of new references throughout the text on the idea of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR), which is unfortunately used to indicate that only developed countries will have the responsibility for reducing emissions moving forward.  The US has already signaled in several places in the LCA text where they object to this language, including the opening paragraphs, which also state that efforts of the parties should be undertaken to “take into account the imperatives of equitable access to sustainable development . . . and protecting the integrity of Mother Earth.”  That last bit of language is something Bolivia has continually tried to include in the text, which, for some reason, they imagine they can deliver again this year.

Durban Platform

The final track is the track on the Durban Platform for enhanced action, which is the new track which is set to create a new treaty “applicable to all” (signaling a difference between the new treaty and the Kyoto Protocol) and which will address the current mitigation ambition gap between now and 2020.

As we anticipated, because the negotiators have given themselves until 2015 to finish this new treaty, the proposed text here is fairly rudimentary.  And, the struggled discussions around the LCA and simultaneous tracks have directed capacity and attention away from the ADP. The first work-stream on the new treaty will determine focused questions to present to a series of roundtables and workshops in 2013 on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, capacity-building, and transparency of action and support.  The second work-stream on enhancing mitigation asks that parties present initiatives, proposals, and actions for implementation regarding reduction of greenhouse gases.  Finally, there is a request for a technical paper on the mitigation benefits of different approaches for closing the ambition gap.

As we finished this column, the parties were wrapping up their discussion on the Durban Platform text.  While there is still some fine-tuning to do, it looks like most parties agree to it, and it will go forward to the full body for approval.  While it would be much better to see recommendation of more concrete steps moving forward, especially under the second work-stream, the current outcome is predictable given the very limited discussion of measures to increase ambition that were made in this body since Durban.

When to Watch

At this point, predictions are that the endgame in Doha will likely go well into tomorrow afternoon local time.  We will have a wrap-up of the outcome up on Monday.

Rebecca Lefton is a Policy Analyst and Andrew Light is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress working on international climate policy. Lefton is on the ground at the Doha meeting.


2 Responses to Deadlock In Doha: Is Qatar Going To Be The Place Where International Agreements Go To Die?

  1. John McCormick says:

    Rebecca, thanks for the details. It must be a labor of love to sit there and take note of the hot air.

  2. Bertrand de Frondeville says:

    Rebecca, Andrew, thank you. Has the “footprint” concept (CO2/GDP, GHG/GDP, CH4/GDP et al.) tabled by China at G20 in Spet 2009 and used by China, India and Malaysia in their COP16 pledge, caught “fire” at last? To which email(s) may I send you a study that shows achievable and fair common objectives for GHG/GDP and CO2 (from Fuel)/GDP in 2020, reset every decade, can be the base for a working post-Kyoto agreement (before 2015-20!!!) which will reduce emissions to 30% BELOW the 450ppm/+2C scenario.
    Bertrand de Frondeville, NY Aca. of Sciences