Will the Doha Climate Talks make a difference?

From Ann Egerton, Examiner.com

The eighteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP18) will take place from 26 November to 6 December 2012. Photograph: Osama Faisal/AP

On Nov. 26, the Doha UN Climate Change Conference began. 17,000 people representing 194 countries gathered at the Qatar National Convention Center for the U.N’s latest round of talks on climate change. The conference will last until Dec. 7.

Many of the negotiations will involve trying to extend the Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in 1997 and expires this year. It committed all rich countries to cut carbon emissions 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The U.S. never ratified the Protocol and developing countries have refused to sign it unless rich countries continue to cut emissions. Despite these problems, the Kyoto Protocol remains the only global treaty on climate change. Unfortunately, while the countries who signed it enjoyed some success in meeting their commitment, carbon emissions from the developing countries increased dramatically, particularly in China, which owes its booming economy at least partly to all of its exported goods.

Delegates will also try to replace the Kyoto Protocol with a new treaty. They had first attempted to do so at Copenhagen three years ago, but failed. Last year, at Durban, the U.N. delegates agreed to adopt a new treaty by 2015, which would take effect in 2020.

The UN has been holding climate talks for twenty years, and they so far have not fulfilled their main purpose: reducing green house gas emissions to keep the global temperature from rising more than 2 C° (3.6 F°), compared to pre-industrial times. Unfortunately, the Earth has already warmed 0.8C° (1.4C°) within the past century, according to climate scientists. Worse, the global temperature could increase 4 C° (7.2C°) by the end of the century, which would lead to rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and extreme heat waves.

The earlier talks had seen some successes, as countries agreed to the following: programs to slow deforestation, pledges by many countries to reduce their green house gas emissions, a system to verify said reductions, and a promise by rich nations to render financial aid to poorer countries that would help them adapt to climate change. The delegates at Doha hope to devise concrete ways for meeting these stated goals.

Scientists and others argue that the U.N. talks in general are moving far too slowly. They point out that climate change is happening now– and at a far quicker pace than anticipated. To have even a shot at averting catastrophic climate change, scientists maintain that all countries must agree to cut carbon emissions by 25 to 40 percent within the next five years. By contrast, the Kyoto Protocol extension would require its signatories to cut carbon emissions by 12 to 18 percent. They also argue that countries need to start financing the Green Climate Fund, which is supposed to have 100 billion dollars by 2020– but remains empty three years after its inception.

Even extending the Kyoto Protocol will prove problematic, though. The EU, Australia, Norway, Liechtenstein, Croatia, Ukraine, and Iceland, have all said they will sign up for another commitment period, which would run from 2013 to 2020. While many of these countries have declared they will reduce emissions by 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2020, their total emissions unfortunately make up less than 15 percent of what’s being currently produced.

The U.S had rejected the Kyoto Protocol the first time around because it didn’t impose any binding commitments on major developing countries like China and India– and China is now the world’s No. 1 carbon emitter. The U.S and other Western countries insist that that be changed. They want a treaty in which everybody has to make binding pledges to reduce their emissions. The U.S., in fact, refuses to sign any treaty unless China also cuts its emissions.

China and other developing countries, however, want to maintain the status quo. They say climate change is mainly a product of Western industrialization and that their own emissions must be allowed to grow along with their economies. They claim that forcing them to abide by commitments to reduce their carbon emissions will retard their economic growth, thus making it harder for their people to get out of poverty.

These conflicts are further exacerbated by arguments over climate aid meant to help developing countries adapt to rising sea levels and other effects of global warming and convert to renewable energy. Other issues tabled for discussion include deforestation, green technology and ways to measure carbon emissions.

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