The 18th Climate Change Conference in Doha repeats the failures of Durban

Despite the proceedings of the Doha Climate Change Conference (COP 18) running a full day over their scheduled two week cut off, the nations of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) failed to come up with anything either new or meaningful. Doha ended as Durban had a year before: a commitment to extend the Kyoto Treaty (which, since its signatories produce less than 15 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, mean to has little to offer the cause of climate change) and laying the ground for a new agreement to be brought in by 2015.

In an effort to make things seem less disastrous, the president of the conference, His Excellency Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah, described the agreement reached at the end of proceedings as “a gateway to the future” and the starting point for a new global treaty that would replace Kyoto and would be binding on all nations. This treaty is due to be ratified in Paris in 2015 by all UNFCCC nations and be fully implemented no later than 2020.

This is exactly the same conclusion reached by all parties last year in Durban!

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, speaking at her final press conference, described the Doha Agreement as a “bridge” between the original Kyoto Protocols (ratified in 1997and operative up until the end of that same year) and the protocols that all parties agreed in principal that they would endorse in 2015.

Though Figueres remained determinedly optimistic, with all nations agreeing in Doha to provide detailed documentation of their carbon emission reductions six months prior to the 2015 climate change conference, she nevertheless admitted that “current pledges are not sufficient to ensure that the global average temperature does not rise more than another two degrees.”

The head of the Russian delegation had complained during the final session that his country’s reservations were not given the attention they deserved, and also voiced his objections to the organization of the sessions, Al Attiyah’s voice (which he described as loud) and the way the president used his gavel to bring discussions to an end.

Things were pretty dull in Doha. No uproar; nothing out of the ordinary. We didn’t see delegates sprinting down corridors, as happened during previous rounds of negotiations, nor did we hear raised voices away from the official meetings. There was not a single impassioned debate. Everyone seemed limp: resigned to the idea that nothing would ever get done in meetings like this.

Even the numbers released by the UN and the host nations (194 nations taking part in the conference with an estimated 16,000 participants—including 6,868 official representatives, 5,829 observers, 861 members of the regional and international press and 10,900 technocrats—reserving some 70,000 of Doha’s hotel rooms for the duration of the conference) seemed dubious when one looked at the meetings themselves and compared them with previous years.

It was nothing like Copenhagen in 2009, when journalists jostled to get into the hall where the American president was due to hold his press conference. Maybe Copenhagen was the cause of all this frustration in Doha. Copenhagen teemed with unprecedented numbers of presidents and many people (albeit those unversed in the true nature of national policies and the demands of the market economics) expected that the meeting would result in binding agreements and treaties. In the end, the highly political pronouncement that issued from this glorious gathering, a product of the negotiating protocols observed by the UN, managed to destroy the reputation of the entire process of negotiation. True, no important advance had ever been achieved prior to Copenhagen either, but up until that point the overall framework remained viable, if only for a lack of an alternative.

These repeated failures led some to consider new frameworks through which to address the issue of climate change, an alternative to the structures used by the UN to gather together each year governments, civil society, the media, investors and young people. This way of doing things has become dull and has reached a dead end. Serious government representatives complain of the lack of real political will back in their home countries. Civil society’s once impressively effective role outside the official meetings has been reduced to symbolic representation on the benches, a passive observer of the failures therein. Those investors who hunt down small projects to support continue to face problems from one or both of the parties above, while the media has become jaded from witnessing the same scenes repeated over and over again.

It was against such a backdrop that we first heard of a new initiative at Doha: that parliamentarians from ten countries were to descend on the Qatari capital to hold a series “parallel” meetings after the end of the official conference to consider the idea of forming a “global parliament” The idea was to give climate change some impetus after the failure of governments to make headway on any of the issues at hand.

But the equation of climate change conferences is now well known: a world subject to the dictates of a market economy based on competition can never hope to resolve a global issue that requires cooperation. This is why, year after year, we see demonstrated the impossibility of reaching binding agreements. Even the annual pledges proffered by advance and developing nations alike are meaningless, and can be reneged on whenever these countries want. Even supposedly binding protocols (like Kyoto) can be backed out of with impunity. Never was this more evident than last year, when Canada shamelessly went back on its Kyoto pledge without provoking any real outcry.

Even as pessimistic reports continue to pour off the presses about rising temperatures and the multifaceted environmental disasters they bring about, it was vital emphasize once again that what was needed was a change in policy, not more empty promises. And what was done in the end? What did this conference give us?


Published in Al-Safir Newspaper on December 11, 2012