Scientists say climate change will cause ocean levels to rise and increase the likelihood of extreme weather.
Qatar, the host of the 18th United Nations climate change conference, known as COP18, has defended its right to host the talks saying that other host countries produce coal.
“Our CO2 comes mainly from the energy sector,” Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiya, former Qatari energy minister and president of the Conference of Parties told a new agency on Monday.
The climate talks have placed a spotlight on Qatar, which produces nearly 50 tonnes a year of carbon dioxide for each of its 1.6 million residents.
|Asad Rahman, senior campaigner for
Friends of the Earth, speaks to Al Jazeera
“I believe Qatar is a good place [for the conference]. Other host countries produce coal,” Attiyah said.
“I never believe in per-capita as a measure for distribution. I think it’s calculated to show the small countries as the bad boys,” he said earlier.
The Gulf state, the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas with one of the highest per capital incomes, has yet to indicate it will set specific targets for emissions cuts.
“The problem with Qatar is that they have not proven they are taking climate change seriously,” Wael Hmaidan, Climate Action Network director, a non-government organisation told Reuters news agency.
However, Attiyah said that Qatars’s environmental sustainability is a key pillar of our national vision.
It is also one of the 10 developing countries predicted to be most affected by rising sea levels, he said.
Tasneem Essop, from the World Wide Fund for Nature, speaking to Al Jazeera from the conference said that there is a trust deficit between developing and developed countries.
Central to the issue is the problem of “hot air” carbon permits. The term refers to attempts by some wealthy countries to carry over unused carbon permits so they can be offset against future cuts.
Developing nations say this is unfair and reduces the value of any commitment to reduce carbon dioxide.
Navigating divisions between developed and developing nations in terms of who should be responsible for emissions reductions will be a key challenge for the hosts, analysts said.
In one of the summit’s first announcements, Australia said it will aim to cut its emissions by 0.5 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020 in a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.
Maxwell Smith of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition told Al Jazeera he thought Australia’s decision to participate in a second period of the Kyoto Protocol was a “positive step”. But, he added, a 0.5 per cent reduction was “nothing. That is completely unacceptable”.
At the opening session of a working group on the Kyoto Protocol on Monday afternoon, New Zealand said that, although it would not join the second commitment period, it would continue to “play by the Kyoto rules” and work to combat climate change.
New Zealand noted that, under a second commitment period, the countries that would be required to make emissions cuts only make up about 15 per cent of worldwide emissions.
A Nauru delegate, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States – a group representing 44 mostly low-lying countries particularly vulnerable to climate change – called for greater ambition for a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which binds many developed countries to make emissions cuts.
“This conference is about nothing less than preserving the fundamental integrity of the climate change regime,” she said, “and that must begin with a strong second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol.
“If developed countries cannot live up to their current obligations, how can we have any confidence in a future agreement?”
Nauru also called for stronger commitments from developed countries to help developing countries finance ways to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Currently, developed countries have pledged to provide $100bn a year for adaptation and mitigation measures for developing countries by 2020.
Spotlight on polluters
Jamie Henn, co-founder of the environment group 350.org, said that Qatar had set some goals, including the plan to use 20 per cent renewable energy by 2024. Still, he said, the host country could do more.
“We are fully aware of the perils the world is facing as a result of climate change,”Attiyah said.
“We hope the conference will produce tangible results and reinforce international co-operation.”
In terms of volume, China remains the top emitter with more than eight billion tonnes of greenhouse gases every year – an increase of 171 per cent since 2000.
China is followed by the US, which produces over five billion tonnes annually, although its emissions have fallen since 2007.
In third place is India. Its economic boom has made it the third worst polluter, pumping out nearly two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.
And then there is Russia, producing around 1.6bn tonnes of emissions every year.