Doha: Theatre of the absurd

December 3, 2012 • Climate Change & Mitigation, United States, Daily Email Recap

Theatre of the absurd
After three failures, this year’s UN climate summit has only modest aims


NEVER let it be said that climate-change negotiators lack a sense of the absurd. Thousands of politicians, tree-huggers and journalists descended on Doha this week, adding their mite of hot air to the country that already has the world’s highest level of carbon emissions per head. The feeling of unreality is apt. The meeting comes amid gathering gloom about both the speed of climate change and the chances of implementing policies to keep the rise in global temperatures below 2°C.

The jamboree in Doha is the 18th UN climate-change summit, but the third since a landmark one at Copenhagen in 2009. That year, instead of negotiating a big new treaty to go beyond the timid Kyoto accords, America, plus China and other big emerging markets, announced a deal outside the UN framework, promising to cut emissions but leaving the talks in disarray. The next year, at Cancún in Mexico, others bowed to the inevitable and brought the “Copenhagen accord” within the UN framework. The year after that, at Durban, with the obligations that Kyoto put on rich countries about to expire, countries promised more talks about talks, saying they would negotiate a new climate regime by 2015 and have one in force by 2020. The Doha meeting begins that negotiation.

In other words, the first period of the Kyoto accord ends in December with no new treaty to replace it and no prospect of one till 2020. In its second period, Kyoto has been reduced to a shadow of its former self. Russia, Japan and Canada have either pulled out or said they will not make any new promises. A climate-finance system, Fast Start Finance, set up at Copenhagen to help poor countries pay the costs of mitigation and adaptation, also ends this year, without being fully funded. Worst of all, no country has made significant pledges to cut greenhouse-gas emissions since the Copenhagen conference and its aftermath. Climate policy is going nowhere fast.

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