by Andrew Light, Rebecca Lefton, Adam James, Gwynne Taraska, and Katie Valentine
After a 48-hour marathon negotiating session, largely held behind closed doors, this year’s UN climate negotiations Qatar ended at approximately 9:45pm Saturday Doha time. Like last year’s Durban climate summit, three distinct negotiating streams produced three overlapping but independent agreements
The Kyoto Protocol was reauthorized for another seven years, albeit with fewer countries signing on, so now covering some 12 or 15 percent of global emissions. The negotiating track created in 2007 on “Long-term Cooperative Action,” that produced the Copenhagen Accords and the Cancun Agreements, which include voluntary commitments covering 80 percent of global emissions, concluded. And the new track on the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action,” designed to conclude a new treaty in 2015 that aims to be applicable to all parties and cover 100 percent of global emissions took its first steps toward its primary mission.
Responses to the meeting’s outcome have been varied, but, as with most of these climate summits it is largely considered far from adequate to address the growing climate crisis. EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard called it a “modest step toward a global climate deal.”
But these criticisms seem overwrought. It’s not that critics of the meeting are wrong to want faster international action on climate change. We all should. It’s just pointless to imagine this body working much faster than it is designed to do. This is especially true now.
As we have been arguing for the past year, the 194 parties to the UN climate convention unanimously decided last year to set themselves on a path which would not produce a major breakthrough in the negotiations for another three years. It should come as no surprise that the outcome of this meeting was relatively modest. We conclude here as we have before: The intrinsic difficulties in the UN climate process demand that we continue to look for other opportunities for faster climate action in the near term while we slowly build up the institutions created in the past four years out of these annual climate meetings.
Kyoto Protocol Enters Stage Two
The Kyoto Protocol, the world’s only legally binding agreement on emissions reductions, was set to expire at the end of December. On Saturday, the protocol was extended. A second commitment period will begin on January 1, 2013 and end December 31, 2020. This period will bridge the gap between the end of the first commitment period and the beginning of the next legally binding climate agreement, to be created in the Durban Platform track, which is set to be finished in 2015 and take effect in 2020.
Unlike the Durban track treaty, which is to be universally binding, the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol establishes obligatory emissions cuts for only the European Union and a handful of industrialized countries, including Australia, Norway, and Switzerland. Japan, Russia, Canada, and New Zealand, which participated in the first period of the protocol, opted out of the second period. The second period does not cover the United States, which signed but did not ratify the original protocol, and it does not bind developing countries, such as China and India. The United States and China are the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters.
The transition to the new commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol was not however without controversy. As these relatively straightforward negotiations were concluding, Oleg Shamanov of the Russian Federation charged that the president of the conference, H.E. Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, Deputy Prime Minister of Qatar, used the “strength of voice and gavel” to smother objections and push through an agreement. Al-Attiyah may become legendary for his thunderous declarations of “I hear no objection! It is decided!” at the end of the meeting in announcing each accepted agreement despite the fact that Shamanov claimed to have been audibly objecting on behalf of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Belarus the whole time.
Shamanov seemed more frustrated about being disregarded than he was about the outcome of the negotiations. The Russian Federation’s area of concern, however, was the carryover of surplus “assigned amount units” (AAUs) from the end of the first period of the protocol to the new second period. These are permits assigned for allowable emissions that were not redeemed during the first period of the protocol and which now can be sold to countries in the second period as a way of offsetting their required emission reductions under the protocol. Surplus AAUs (sometimes called “hot air”) are held predominantly by Russia and other eastern European countries, whose economies collapsed after the fall of Communism resulting in credits for carbon emissions which they never produced, but which would have been allowable for them to produce given an assessment of the size of their economy before the protocol went into effect. Russia insisted that unused permits be transferred to the second period.
The new agreement does in fact allow carryover of hot air (although this was opposed by many, including blocks of countries such as the Least Developed Countries and the Alliance of Small Island States), and both Al-Attiyah and Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, stated in their final press briefing that when the Russian delegation returns home and has a moment to review the final documents, they will realize that the outcome was not at odds with their interests.
Although the outcome document does allow transfer of surplus AAUs to the second commitment period, it tries to limit their environmental damage by imposing that countries “may acquire units from other Parties’ previous period surplus reserve accounts into its previous period surplus reserve account up to two per cent of its assigned amount for the first commitment period” (paragraph 26, outcome document).
Moreover, in a heartening display, parties including Australia, the EU, Japan, Lichtenstein, Monaco, Norway, and Switzerland pledged during the final negotiations not to purchase them. Their statements are included in Annex II of the outcome document. Here is Mark Dreyfus of the Australian delegation:
“While it is important that countries receive recognition for overachieving on their targets, the volume of surplus AAUs carried over to the second commitment period could be as high as seven billion tons. The unrestricted use of these surplus first commitment period AAUs risks meaningful climate change efforts to 2020. We will help ensure the environmental integrity of the Kyoto Protocol and countries’ emission reduction objectives by restricting demand for first commitment period AAUs through nationally appropriate arrangements. Australia will not purchase AAUs carried over from the first commitment period.”
The second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol will have a negligible effect on global emissions, as the countries that are now bound by it account for less than 15 percent of global emissions. But it is not useless. As we have argued previously, the new period will not merely fill the gap until the beginning of the 2020 agreement. By keeping market-based mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) intact, it also will serve as a basis for a globally binding treaty and a working carbon market in 2020. Figueres, in the final UNFCCC press conference on Saturday, said while the second period of the protocol will likely not cover 10–12 percent of emissions, it is the lead-up to a treaty that will cover all global greenhouse gas emissions. She said:
“There is an ever-increasing gap between the action of countries and what the science tells us. That is why it was so important for the Kyoto Protocol to go into its second commitment period because what it has done is ensured that there is going to be environmental integrity and very robust accounting systems that will be able to be used by all countries in the new agreement.”
Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action Closes
The closing of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) was a critical lynchpin underpinning a successful outcome in Doha. The LCA, a subsidiary body of the convention, was the principle outcome of the 2007 Bali Action Plan. In last year’s negotiations in Durban parties agreed to close the LCA in 2012, yet talks in Doha were strained as negotiators struggled to agree on the terms for closing the track and whether and to what extent to include in it new provisions to compensate developing countries for “loss and damage” from climate related events, and whether to stipulate new targets for providing financial assistance for mitigation and adaptation to climate change on the road to the agreed upon goal of mobilizing $100 billion annually for these purposes.
The LCA track did however advance key work plans to achieve the goal of the convention to limit greenhouse gases, including mitigation, adaptation, the development of approaches and policies for Deforestation and Degradation plus pro-forest activities (REDD+), promotion of technology development and transfer, and the elevation of financing of adaptation and mitigation. A main task of the negotiators was to transfer work streams under the LCA into other bodies of the convention ( such as the Durban Platform) and to put the final touches on the new institutions created over the past four years in the LCA like the Green Climate Fund and the Clean Technology Center and Network. Failure to do so would risk losing entire work streams and compromise faith in the international negotiations process.
Concluding the LCA, however, was ridden with contention over who should bear responsibility for action on climate change and the degree to which actions should be taken. Throughout the week inability for negotiators to come to agreement on the LCA derailed progress in the other tracks. Last Tuesday talks in the Durban Platform track were suspended as negotiators struggled to keep pace with controversies that had erupted in the LCA.
On Friday morning of the final week there was still a glaring blank page in the draft LCA text in the section on enhancing action on climate finance beyond the 2009–2012 “fast start period,” when developed countries delivered $30 billion to developing countries for adaptation and mitigation. (The successful delivery of this support was acknowledged in the final LCA text.) Australian and Nigerian negotiators leading a finance contact group began working in earnest around 10:00 am that morning on a new text but found it rife with brackets, indicating disagreement among the parties on almost every sentence. But at this point the president was not allowing any more text with brackets — it was take it or leave it.
There were three major components of the finance text that remained fundamentally unsettled: a work program on long-term finance, the whether to stipulate a target for a second period of fast start finance to 2015, ideally larger than the first period, and a report on the Green Climate Fund and initial guidance.
Time running out, the LCA Chair from Saudi Arabia held one-on-one bilateral meetings with ministers to resolve their issues, as diplomats from Switzerland and the Maldives assisted in consultations on finance to remove the brackets to get a final text.
The final outcome document does not include a specific number for a second round of fast start financing, but urges additional developed countries than already have to announce climate finance pledges when “financial circumstances permit” and to at minimum provide resources equal to the “average annual level of the fast-start finance period.” The work program on long-term finance was extended for another year, “with the aim of informing developed country Parties in their efforts to identify pathways for mobilizing the scaling up of climate finance.” Countries are to submit plans for scaling-up climate finance from public, private, bilateral and multilateral sources to reach the goal of $100 billion annually by 2020. A new Standing Committee will create a climate finance forum for exchanging ideas about scaling up climate finance, assess and summarize climate finance flows. Lastly, parties agreed to a high-level ministerial dialogue to consider a report by the long-term finance work program and discussion on efforts to scale up climate finance by developed countries during the next climate summit in 2013 in Warsaw.
CAP has been on record since 2010 in support of a “ramp up” period from the fast start finance to 2020. 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 was 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 have been able to come up with some kind of aspirational language for a ramp-up period. We have likely not seen the last of this issue and will address US capacity to move forward on climate finance at the end.
Loss and Damage
In 2007, the Bali Action Plan mandated parties to explore “means to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change” — effects which included extreme weather events and slow onset events such as ocean acidification and sea level rise. Three years later, at the Cancun Climate Change Conference in 2010, Parties established a loss and damage work program as part of the Cancun Adaptation Framework, and requested that the Subsidiary Body on Implementation of the convention to make recommendations on loss and damage to the full body for its consideration at this year’s Doha meeting. Whether and to what extend the parties could agree to act on these recommendations also came close to crashing this track of the negotiations.
The work program of the Subsidiary Body on Implementation explored the effects of loss and damage in three areas: 1) it assessed the risk of loss and damage associated with climate change, 2) it developed a range of approaches to address loss and damage, and 3) it worked with the convention to enhance implementation of the approaches, taking submissions from Parties and civil society.
In Doha this momentum turned into a call for more concrete steps forward. Someisland countries sought loss and damage funds through an insurance mechanism for the effects of climate change. The positions that emerged over such proposals were very far apart. One negotiator — Malia Talakai of Nauru — said such a loss and damage fund would need to be “much more” than the $100 billion in climate aid promised by developed countries. U.S. negotiator Jonathan Pershing said that the U.S. doesn’t approve of any “liability-based structure.” The U.S. has also said there are already initiatives, including the UN adaptation committee, that deal with loss and damage issues.
At the end of the conference, Parties agreed to discuss the establishment of an international mechanism to address loss and damage to be taken up at the next climate summit in Warsaw. The run up to this discussion will include an expert meeting to consider possible approaches to address slow onset events of climate change, preparation of a technical paper on non-economic losses to climate change, and preparation of a technical paper on gaps in institutional arrangements to address loss and damage, both within and outside the UN process. Just as importantly, the parties agreed to the “promotion of livelihood and economic diversification to build resilience” in planning, priority setting and implementation of adaptation actions. Given how difficult it would be to every build something akin to a global FEMA fund to address damages to climate change, the best use of limited resources may be on resilience rather than response.
Securing accomplishments of the LCA
Still, the successful closing the LCA ensures that the accomplishments of the LCA will live on and continue as a basis for international collaboration on climate change.
For instance, the LCA advanced a work stream to develop methodology practices for avoiding emissions from deforestation that will be built upon in a new work program. This program will be coordinated with and supported by the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation. A body of work to enhance transparency, accountability, and credibility for quantifying and verifying emissions reductions will be taken up.
But most importantly, the LCA gave birth to the 2009 Copenhagen Accord and the 2010 Cancun Agreements, which marshaled the largest collection of voluntary mitigation commitments the world has yet seen. The mobilization of these commitments is a groundbreaking achievement of the LCA track. Whereas the Kyoto Protocol mandates binding emissions reductions from developed countries only, representing an every shrinking percentage of global emissions, under the LCA governments from developed and developing countries representing over 80 percent of global emissions announced measures for reductions up to 2020. The successful creation of a system for measuring, reporting, and verifying those commitments will be absolutely essential to finishing this decade where we need to be on global mitigation efforts.
The new track on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) focused on both the timing and substance of the new negotiation track. The notable conclusion with regard to the timing is simply that the parties agreed to “immediately proceed with substantive discussions.” This means that the Durban Platform will be, as it should be, at the heart of the climate negotiations next year in Poland.
The final text reflects the need to “raise the level of ambition” based on the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report. There is no doubt this new treaty, which will be “applicable to all” (signaling a difference between the new treaty and the Kyoto Protocol), must address the current mitigation ambition gap between now and 2020. The difference between what countries have offered up in terms of voluntary reductions through the LCA agreements, and the emissions reductions needed to stabilize the climate below 2 degrees Celsius, are significant. At this point one we are facing an ambition gap, missing one half to one third of the reductions needed by 2020 to keep the door open to eventually stabilizing at global temperature increase at 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. And the world has already warmed approximately 1 degree Celsius from human activity, resulting in already perceptible climate related impacts.
The final text of the ADP discussion was divided into two work-streams, one to create the new treaty, and the second to address this widening gap. The first work-stream will accomplish a few things:
- Determine focused questions to present to the 2013 roundtables and workshops on the new treaty;
- Acquire submissions from all parties with information, views, and proposals on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology development and transfer, and capacity-building;
- Gather submissions that will form the nuts-and-bolts of the treaty, such as the applicable principles of the Convention, the best practices and lessons learned from other agreements, and the scope, structure, and design of the agreement.
The second work-stream was devoted to developing a work plan on enhancing mitigation ambition, with a particular focus on the rest of this decade. The ADP encouraged parties to present initiatives, proposals, and actions for implementation around reduction of greenhouse gases by the 2013 meeting. These submissions will be geared towards assessing mitigation and adaptation, benefits to action, barriers to implementation — and perhaps most importantly — finance and technology. Finally, the ADP requested a technical paper from the secretariat on the mitigation benefits of the different proposals from the parties mentioned above.
One aspect of the Durban Platform to watch will be 13c, or the provision around the “scope, structure, and design of the 2015 agreement.” As several negotiators noted in the ADP talks so far, parties are in some cases “pre-negotiating” their positions by trying to influence the framing of the agreement in these early procedural stages. The shape the Durban Platform will take, and ultimately its successful adoption, will hinge on the structure of the agreement coming out of this procedural negotiation. The U.S. position, as advocated by Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, has been to consider a flexible agreement that draws on the Australian “schedule approach,” which would more resemble the structure of the Cancun Agreements in allowing countries to first articulate what they are willing to do by some future date and then finding ways to increase their collective ambition. Others, including the EU, are pushing for language about binding “commitments” even in these early stages.
Closing the Ambition Gap
Even with the success of the LCA text in drawing out all of the major carbon emitters to articulate what they are willing to do in the near term, global pledges to reduce emissions are still inadequate. In his opening press conference in Doha two weeks ago, US Deputy Climate Envoy Jonathan Pershing, quoting President Obama, did not deny this but stated flatly, “We haven’t done as much as we need to do.”
Unfortunately though, no parties have stepped up to the plate and offered to increase their ambition this decade. Rather, some of them seem willing only to demand that other parties increase their emission reductions. A submission to the Doha summit during the first week of the meeting by Bolivia, China, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and a handful of other countries called for developed parties to “reduce their aggregate emissions by 40 to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.” This would be twice the highest commitment of any party to these talks to date.
But not responding to such requests in the affirmative does not indicate a weakness of will. Such calls for action are not laudatory, they are not heroic, and they are not necessarily productive. It’s easy to address the current ambition gap toward achieving any hope of climate safety by simply stipulating that other parties take it on entirely. What is harder is to find a cooperative solution that is actually achievable and appropriately divides burdens among the world’s largest carbon polluters.
The final paragraph of the Durban Platform asked parties to submit proposals last February for increasing the level of ambition this decade, to create a work plan for overcoming the ambition gap. While some parties also used the opportunity to insist that global emissions should be stabilized by a handful of countries, others, such as the U.S., generated productive ideas, such as ramping up mitigation on short-lived climate pollutants like HFCs, methane, and black carbon, and fulfilling existing commitments in the G20 to remove subsidies for fossil fuels.
We conclude by highlighting two top priorities for moving forward: the need to increase climate finance, and increased action on greenhouse gasses other than CO2 in the near term.
While the Doha document does call for increasing discussions of climate finance over the next year, we need more by way of action. We can cut the 2020 ambition gap from one half to one third of what is needed to keep the door open to a 2C pathway by financing the clean energy projects in developing countries that have already been put on the table by these parties as part of their submissions under the Copenhagen Accord. But the process of ramping up climate finance move faster the sooner the world realizes that the best way to move forward is by increasing the amounts committed to mobilizing private finance. A push in this direction is in the interests of the United States and within our reach given current levels of investment we make to energy projects abroad already.
There are several clear benefits that commitments to climate finance provide for the United States. For starters, investments in climate aid are cost effective. By investing in mitigation, the United States hedges against the future costs associated with climate change, with a return of about $7 to every $1 invested. If structured appropriately, these investments can also leverage private financing and bring more capital into projects.
Climate change also presents severe destabilization threats to insecure regions through resource constraints and migration challenges. Investments in developing countries can reduce their dependence on unstable foreign oil and increase U.S. influence overseas. Finally, climate finance also creates economic growth and jobs here at home by tapping into the $2.2 trillion yearly clean energy market. With the entire international affairs expenditures at less than 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget, climate finance provides an excellent return on investment in tough economic times.
It’s also useful here to put America’s portion of this commitment to a ramp-up period in context. Mobilizing $60 billion in climate finance over the next three years is just $20 billion each year. Assuming even a very high target by the United States to provide one-third of that amount, it’s still only under $7 billion per year we would need to mobilize. This is well within reach. Last year, the United States financed just under $9 billion in energy projects through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Export-Import Bank. Most of this money went to fossil fuel sectors, which has been the traditional focus for energy investing for OPIC and Ex-Im. Simply prioritizing clean energy could meet ambitious climate finance commitments with zero new budget authority.
Short-lived Climate Pollutants
As we have been arguing for years now, given the difficulties of forging a new climate agreement that is both applicable to all and sufficiently ambitious to reach acceptable levels of mitigation, we should turn now to reductions in other climate pollutants which are shorter lived and which are more powerful than CO2, such as methane, HFCs and black carbon. They also have the benefit of not driving the entire global economy and so should be easier to phase down and eventually out.
The U.S. has submitted a proposal every year since 2009 with Canada and Mexico to phase out HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. This action is the single biggest achievable measure the world can undertake to close the current ambition gap. Their levels are projected to double by 2020, in large part because they are being used as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances that are being phased-out under the Montreal Protocol. At the last meeting of the Montreal Protocol in Switzerland, the parties agreed to set up a discussion group on this proposal and asked the scientific advisory board to prepare a report on technical options for phasing out HFCs. But India, China, and Brazil still continue to block this measure and so if the US is going to make this happen they must elevate it to the highest levels of diplomacy with these countries in the next administration.
In addition, last February, the U.S. and five other countries created the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to focus on the reduction of a range of short-lived climate pollutants that collectively could reduce warming by half a degree Celsius and maintain those savings if followed by aggressive carbon reduction measures; 26 countries joined by partners in the private sector and NGO community are now part of this coalition of nearly 50 members. We estimate that together, such measures could cut the current ambition gap in half on the high end of the Copenhagen Pledges.
While one of these measures is more “top-down,” determining a global target and implementing it, and the other is more “bottom-up,” collecting a group of countries willing to take up this problem together and creating opportunities to assist each other in raising their collective ambition, the most important feature of them to us is that they can all be pursued outside of the UN climate negotiations. Without taking opportunities like this, the long, slow process of forming a new UN climate treaty may ultimately result in a wasted effort.
Andrew Light is a Senior Fellow, Rebecca Lefton is a Policy Analyst, Adam James is a Special Assistant, Gwynne Taraska is a Visiting Research Associate, and Katie Valentine is an intern at the Center for American Progress working on international climate policy. We are grateful to Richard Caperton for his assistance with this column.