Inside Story

Has Doha delivered?

As warnings escalate over the perils the planet faces, we ask what the COP18 summit has achieved.

A crucial UN climate conference has been taking place in Doha, the capital of Qatar. But as warnings escalate over the perils the planet faces, can the world unite and agree a deal? Will Doha deliver?

The annual UN bandwagon has rolled into town. At stake: the necessity to chart a way forward in tackling climate change. But developed and developing nations are at loggerheads. And the stated urgent need for action has been met with political stalling.

The symptoms of a warmer world are already with us – stronger storms, heavier floods and hotter, longer heat waves.

At the top of the agenda at the Doha climate talks is trying to find a way to extend the Kyoto Protocol. It is due to run out at the end of this year and, if it does, so too will the commitments of a number of developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is not the process [that is dysfunctional]. The process is fine. If you look now at the past 20 years, what has delivered more climate action? This process has delivered more than anything else …. Countries come here and this process tries to find what common political will exists and it captures it. But if the political will is low, then what it can capture is what exists.”

– Wael Hmaidan, from Climate Action Network International

Getting an agreement on how to extend the treaty and under what terms has been slow work.

Mira Mehrishi, India’s chief negotiator at the talks, spoke of her disappointment at the low ambitions of some developed countries and called on them to “raise their ambition consistent with what is required by science and the principles of the convention”.

Delegates have also been working on what will replace the Kyoto Protocol. Under Kyoto only some developed countries made binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is hoped that a new treaty will include binding commitments from all countries, especially India and China – the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide.

Under Kyoto, China was not obliged to limit its greenhouse gas emissions. But it has promised to reduce what it calls carbon intensity – the amount of carbon dioxide produced for each unit of economic growth.

China has used the Doha talks to make the case for a different way of calculating carbon emissions. Carbon dioxide can remain in the environment for centuries, and that is why China says historical emissions are significant and that those countries that emitted the most in the past must now make the greatest cuts.

Accumulated carbon dioxide emissions, calculated from 1850 to 2007, put the US well out in front. During that period it produced three times as much CO2 as any other country.
Also on the agenda: how to find money for the newly created green climate fund. It is supposed to oversee the funding of aid to help poor countries deal with climate change. But exactly where it will find what is hoped to be $100bn a year by 2020 is unclear.

Holding a rare public protest along Doha’s waterfront, activists at the UN talks hoped for more urgency. They say the outcome of COP18 is a test for the world’s leaders to demonstrate to their own people, if not the whole world, that they are serious about tackling climate change.

But just how much political will is there? And is the whole process dysfunctional?

Joining Inside Story, with presenter Nick Clark, from the summit are guests: Kumi Naidoo, from Greenpeace International; Wael Hmaidan, from Climate Action Network International; and environment specialist Mohammed Jassim Almaslamani.

“The world must not forget the history of this problem and Kyoto helps us to actually remember that the problem of carbon accumulation has gone on for two centuries, that the rich nations built their economies on the burning of fossil fuels and, therefore, this principle of common and differentiated responsibility … has to be maintained. Because sadly … developed countries want to sort of negate and de-historify the problem and say everybody has to be treated exactly the same way. And, developing countries, of course, are constantly saying ‘hang on a minute, you folks built your economies on this basis and now you are denying it to us’ …. And the Kyoto Protocol is the sort of placeholder to say ‘let’s understand there’s different responsibilities for different countries’.”

Kumi Naidoo, from Greenpeace International