After Lebanon clarifies its official position on negotiations: What to expect from the 18th Climate Change Conference in Doha (COP 18)?

With the 18th round of the Conference of Parties (COP 18) due to be held in Doha—the first time such proceedings have been hosted in an Arab country—many questions are raised over the long-term visions, expectations, capabilities and true positions of the nations taking part (the United Nations and Qatari government agencies responsible for organizing the event are anticipating 17,000 individual participants to attend). 

So, what is expected of Qatar? What will the official Lebanese delegation bring to Doha? How has Lebanon prepared itself to deal with climate change and, more specifically, with negotiations over the issue, after pledging back in 2009 in Copenhagen (though without committing itself to any international protocols or agreements) to generate 12 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources?

What are the key areas to be negotiated in Doha? Where have negotiations over this issue got to in recent years? What are the anticipated outcomes of this round of talks? Before addressing the possible programs and promises that will come out of Doha, we must first look back at the last three years of climate change talks, as these are the developments which will shape the Doha agenda. 

The Copenhagen Conference in 2009 represented a major turning point, with the then recently elected US president Barack Obama coaxing participants to gamble on a binding international treaty that would replace the Kyoto Protocol. The nations summoned all their diplomatic resolve to produce something from this conference, each according to their own interests. For the US and President Obama the aim was to erase the stigma of their failure to sign up to Kyoto in 1997 (the sole framework for reducing harmful emissions). Their pretext was that the protocol was not ratified by all countries, in particular emerging nations and their direct competitors in the marketplace, and so they pushed for the creation of a new agreement to replace it even as other countries insisted on adhering to Kyoto. The only exit from this impasse was an improvised political deal between the major powers, contracted outside the framework on climate change talks and the United Nations.

The 2010 conference in Cancun did little to change the overall tone. Numerous delegates evinced a lack of conviction regarding the future of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and talks at Cancun resulted in agreements over both this convention (the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA)) and the Kyoto Protocol (the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the KyotoProtocol (AWG-KP)). There was a general impression that hope could be salvaged in the UNFCCC’s ability to coordinate a unified global political response to climate change.



The 2011 Durban Conference addressed the latest developments in the political foundations underlying the UNFCCC as well as summarizing the main issues that will be discussed in Doha. All sides in Durban agreed to put in place “a protocol, legal mechanism or agreed-upon conclusion with legal force to deal with the UNFCCC and which will be binding on all parties,” and which, furthermore, would be administered by a new body: the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) that was to conclude its deliberations no later than 2015 with an implementation deadline of 2020. The adoption of this resolution in Durban led to the creation of a commitment period from 2012 to 2020, which would fall under the purview of the new climate regime, to be set out by the ADP. The parties also reached an agreement to determine a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol from 2013 onwards.

The latest climate change talks

The most recent climate change talks in the run-up to Doha were held in Bangkok in August of this year. Based on discussions in Thailand it seems likely that the main issues raised in Doha will include determining the second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol (both the length of the period and the emission targets for all signatories to Annex A of the protocol). Some delegations have emphasized how important it is not to delay the implementation of the second commitment period, given that further procrastination could lead to the breakdown of the climate change regime. Other countries have openly admitted that they have no intention of abiding by the second commitment period, since the existence of major polluting nations operating outside the framework of the protocol renders it largely ineffectual.

Non-binding commitments

Regarding the climate change regime up to 2020, the Durban Conference called on all signatories to Annex A to provide—no later than May 2012—data on their commitments to reduce emissions and the targets they have set for emission reduction. Only the EU, Switzerland and Norway (and latterly, Australia) have expressed their intention to reduce emissions and have given “temporary” targets. The majority of developed countries which are not parties to Kyoto (e.g. Canada and the United States) and others that are (e.g. Japan and the Russian Federation) have already stated that they will not be participating in the second commitment period. Other countries, those with developing economies, are yet to take a stance. At the moment, in other words, the commitment period only covers some 15 per cent of total global emissions. 

A number of developing countries—especially small island states—feel that developed nations must offer more commitments and pledges to lower emissions. Since Copenhagen, some eighty-five countries have made such promises, but these commitments are voluntary (non-binding), vague and, taken together, incapable of reducing the global temperature by the two degrees that is the target set in Cancun.

With the aim of reducing emissions (and closing the “emissions gap”), work has begun on an ambitious plan under the guidance of the ADP. Yet many developing countries still feel that developed countries could do more. They point to a study by the Stockholm Environment Institute which shows that commitments by developing countries have resulted in far greater reductions than pledges offered by developed nations. 

Regardless of how long commitment to the articles of the Kyoto protocols is set to last, the resolutions and principles put in place by the AWG-LCA will continue to be applied. Nevertheless, developing nations fear that these principles are not strong enough to guarantee effective action to confront climate change.

New solutions and proposals

Even more important, however—and the issue likely to dominate debate in Doha—is the fact that the Durban Agreement (set to become global by 2015 and fully implemented by 2020) contains no reference to the principle of “shared but unequal responsibility” which less developed nations have always explained as drawing a necessary distinction between the obligations of rich and poor countries. 

Many poor countries have noted that the new agreement is applied to all parties equally, which obliges them to make adjustments to their already struggling economies. Some have prepared alternative approaches with the aim of reaching a more equitable solution in Doha. These approaches distinguish between three classes or categories of country: developed (i.e. advanced industrial nations), emerging (e.g. China and India) and developing (i.e. the poorest and least industrially advanced). These concepts first emerged last year in Durban.

Expectations and demands for Doha

The Doha Conference will thus begin where the Durban Conference (and intermediate talks in Bonn and Bangkok) left off. It will attempt to produce a balanced package of measures that will balance the competing needs of the various agencies and bodies involved in the negotiations. 

Eugenia Recio, an analyst at the International Institute for Sustainable Development, has stressed the importance of resolving the following issues in Doha:


  1. Determining the duration of the second commitment period. Less developed, African and island nations are calling for it to be set at five years, while the EU supports an eight-year period subject to a review of emission reduction targets after four years. 
  2. Guaranteeing legal, technical and bureaucratic continuity between the first and second commitment periods despite the inevitable “legal gap” that will result from extended local procedures in most countries. This will require the political will to proceed and possibly the provision of legal guarantees in the transition between the two periods.
  3. Taking a decision regarding the fitness of all signatories to Annex A. 
  4. Transferring all carbon units to the second commitment period and advising on taking appropriate measures.


Lebanon’s official position


  1. The second commitment period shall commence on 1/1/2013, immediately following the expiration of the first. There shall be no transitional period between the two.
  2. The second commitment period shall run for eight years: This will enable countries to meet their emission targets and avoid a gap between the Kyoto Protocol commitment periods and those of any subsequent agreement. The extra time should be used to formulate an effective agreement for the post-2020 period. 
  3. An agreement shall be reached regarding a mechanism to enable developed nations to reduce their emissions and offer pledges to further lower their emissions in response to scientific reports.
  4. Developed nations shall pledge to abide by clear and precisely defined commitments to reduce their carbon emissions by 2050. These commitments shall be measurable, public and subject to regulation. They must also be in accordance with the scientifically based recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
  5. Voluntary measures taken by developing nations to reduce emissions shall be directly linked to the amount of funding received from developed nations.
  6. Internationally funded voluntary measures to reduce emissions shall be subject to international review, through an international process of consultation and analysis. Oversight of voluntary measures funded by local sources shall be the responsibility of the country alone. 
  7. Reduction measures undertaken by developing nations shall be recognized as part of the “global regime for dealing with the challenges of climate change”, not with the aim of holding these nations more accountable but in order to formally recognize the voluntary efforts made by such nations, which will lead to an improvement in the targets of developed nations. 
  8. Accommodating the negative impact of climate change policies shall be a priority. It is of the utmost importance that national strategies for accommodating climate change be debated and restructured in Doha and a solution reached.
  9. A decision shall be reached in Doha concerning a review of all measures adopted by all countries, to ensure the global temperature does not rise more than two degrees over the long term. 
  10. Developed countries shall be requested to provide a clearly defined and increasing sum of money to fund emission reduction processes and accommodation measures, pegged to a timetable, to reach 100 billion dollars annually by 2020. 
  11. The Green Climate Fund shall be subject to the will of the conference and the necessary financial resources provided to it by the developed nations.


First published in Al Safir Newspaper on 14/11/2012