Report on the 18th Climate Change Conference in Doha

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. 

What happened in this conference and what results did it produce?

The arrival of the heads of delegations

The arrival of delegation heads and ministers in Doha four days before the scheduled end of COP 18 started the countdown for efforts to produce something meaningful before the December 7 cut-off date.

The working groups at the conference, who had begun their proceedings on November 26 had prepared reports to present to these delegate heads, with particular emphasis on those points that still proved controversial. The issues at the centre of the debate were those dealt with by the main three working groups: the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA), the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) and Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP).

In the field of technology transfer, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBTA) chewed over the same issues and terminology that has been under debate for the last five years without making any noticeable progress, while the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) seemed stuck fast in a series of sterile debates over national plans to meet climate change goals, and the best way to measure, report and achieve progress, particularly for those countries not signed up to Annex I of the Kyoto Protocol. Chair of the SBI, Thomas Chruszczow (Poland), has indicated that certain issues are in greater need of political consensus rather than scientific agreement especially those related to potential losses and damage, as well as to technology. As became abundantly clear at COP 18, Poland has no intention of abiding by EU pledges to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020, despite attending COP 14 in Poznan in 2008.

The AWG-KP, chaired by Madeleine Diouf (Senegal), also made little progress as it waited on policy decisions from signatory nations. 

Meanwhile, the chair of the AWG-LCA, Aysar Tayeb (Saudi Arabia), indicated that some progress had been made regarding the reduction of emissions, while climate change policy, funding, technology and building capabilities remained stumbling blocks and finally, declared that “more work was needed” on a number of other issues (in sum, a diplomatic reference to the fact that nothing important had been achieved). Summarizing the debates he added, “that work is currently ongoing to define those issues of a political nature and which need ministerial intervention.”

National positions on climate change

One of the most important national positions on climate change was that announced by the Algerian representative just prior to the start of the first official session attended by delegation heads. Speaking on behalf of a group of 77 nations (including China) the representative stated that issues of national climate change policy and technology transfer were priorities for the group and warned against using a lack of time as a pretext for failing to reach a consensus. He also referenced Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), evincing his group’s support for their demands and emphasizing the importance of funding and treaty obligations, before time ran out.

The Australian representative spoke on behalf of what he referred to as an “umbrella group”, which numbered the US and Russia among its members. He highlighted the need to continue with the work begun at Cancun and Durban: the search for a comprehensive treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol. 

The EU representative restated the need to continue along the lines laid down last year in Durban: finalizing a new agreement by 2015 to be implemented by 2020 and abiding by a second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol, despite the many doubts over this issue. 

Developing nations, meanwhile, voiced their disappointment that the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund remained empty, with one of them describing it as a “dud”.

Entrenched pessimism

As has been the case in every climate change conference since the disastrous events of Copenhagen in 2009, almost all specialists in the field agreed that pessimism has become the rule at these gatherings. COPs may highlight the need to solve this most pressing of issues, but they also show the limited outlook of nations confronted by current economic crises and the dominating influence of the market economy, in which a culture of cut-throat competition leaves no room for cooperation over the greatest threat currently facing mankind.

Proposals by those countries most affected

Speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) at the roundtable discussion for ADP Work stream 2 (Work plan on Enhancing Mitigation) the Nauru representative presented a draft text on “enhancing ambitions to reduce emissions in the pre-2020 period” containing a detailed work plan for the ADP workgroup. The text emphasizes the need to close the current gap on measures to reduce the current rate of climate change and proses holding a number of work sessions throughout 2013 dealing with a variety of issues. Furthermore, the text invited all parties to present their own proposals concerning measures to enhance reduction targets in the pre-2020 period, a quantitative assessment of these measures, the possibility of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, hurdles to implementation, funding and technology and capacity building to support implementation. A number of parties welcomed the AOSIS’s text as a useful means of moving the debate forward.

The Marshall Islands representative called for study and a proper examination of the targets and pledges required for reduction and affirmed that the work plan had a much greater potential to reduce emissions than any international cooperative initiatives.

The ADP also convened unofficial sessions to discuss AOSIS’s proposal and the revised version of the draft text produced by the co-chairs of the ADP, which tried to give a fair reflection of all the interventions and documents put forward by the parties in the course of 2012.

A number of parties stated their view that the text itself could be much improved, pointing out its lack of detail regarding future plans and calling for further work on international cooperative initiatives, making pledges, commitments by the political leadership of Annex I parties, accommodating to the climate change regime, means of implementation and the chief elements of the Bali Action Plan. Yet more parties backed a call for the presentation of documents on a greater range of issues.

Compensation versus aid and funding

The issue of funding is one of the most serious hangovers from previous COPs. Advanced nations were supposed to have paid out emergency aid to the tune of 30 billion dollars between 2010 and 2012 and furthermore to fulfill their promises to supply aid at a total value of 100 billion dollars paid out annually until the year 2020. Developing nations (especially AOSIS) affirmed the importance of receiving the pledged aid and called for 60 billion dollars of aid o be given by 2015.

French Minister of Development, Pascal Canfin stated that the principle donor nations refused to abide by a commitment to pay out such a large sum and that negotiators were working to produce a framework that would help in drawing up a roadmap for the payment of the 100 billion aid package.

For the duration of the conference the US remained opposed to any talk of a roadmap which would oblige them to provide aid subject to international oversight mechanisms linking it to emission reduction targets. Their stance was itself rejected by developing nations.

The biggest surprise of the Doha meetings was the demand by southern developing nations for “compensation” from northern industrial nations for the “losses and damages” resulting from climate change. This demand came in response to the Americans’ stubborn refusal to provide aid to poorer nations and represents an alternative to aid.

An observer of these talks commented that developing nations were seeking to set up a clear mechanism for the provision of financial aid to counteract the effects of climate change. The US delegation meanwhile expressed fears that the issue might one end in a court case. 

One innovative approach to the funding issue was suggestion to impose taxes on international air and sea travel and transport in addition to a tax on financial transactions.

The emissions gap

A number of reports and studies published before and during COP 18 confirmed that the global air temperature was set to rise between three and five degrees centigrade and not the target rise of two degrees, leading to a grave decline in the climate system as a whole. 

The most important report on this matter was the Emissions Gap report prepared by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in cooperation with the European Climate Foundation. Issued just days before the start of Doha the report states that greenhouse gas emissions currently stand at 14 per cent of the levels prescribed for 2020. Far from going down, the levels of temperature increasing gases such as CO2 concentrated in the upper atmosphere have increased by some 20 per cent since 2000. 

Written by 55 scientists from twenty different countries, the report predicts that if swift action is not taken, emissions will reach 58 gigatons per year within the next eight years. This will create an “emissions gap” far greater than the estimates produced by UNEP in 2010-11 and is at least partially attributable to the anticipated growth in the principle developing economies, a phenomenon known as “dual computation” in calculating changes in emissions. Previous reports showed that emissions must reach an average of 44 gigatons per year or less in 2020 if the most necessary reductions were to be achieved at affordable cost.

The Emissions Gap report shows that even if the most ambitious proposed pledges and obligations are adhered to by all nations (and monitored by the most rigorous set of rules and penalties) the emissions gap will reach 8 gigatons of CO2 per year by 2020. This estimate is some 2 gigatons greater than the same estimate reached last year. 

The report’s preliminary economic evaluations estimate that the failure to take any measures now and postponing the issue of reductions for the decades ahead will result in a 10-15 per cent rise in cost after 2020. It goes on to state that major reductions are easily achievable now (i.e. an average reduction of 17 gigatons of CO2 per year) in areas such as construction, power generation, transport and deforestation, which would more than close the emissions gap by 2020. There are also many examples of measures that could be taken at the national level, such as improving building design and laws governing fuel consumption in vehicles, which could be replicated and expanded across the globe. 

The World Bank repeats its figures

  • In its report, presented at Doha, the World Bank repeated the same figures and scenarios it has endorsed in previous years concerning the effect of climate change in the Arab world. 
  • World Bank Vice President and Network Head for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte warned against the continuing rise of the global ground temperature and drew attention to studies that concluded that “if the average temperature rises by two degrees this will mean a rise of ten degrees in some countries, which will compel us to build refrigerated living units in the future.” She pointed out that the temperature in Arab countries was rising some 50 per cent faster than the global average and that climate change related disasters in the region had affected some 50 million people over the last thirty years. 
  • 56 per cent of the region’s inhabitants live in urban areas, which are the most vulnerable to climate change. 
  • The cost of climate change to the tourist sector is estimated at some 50 billion dollars per year.
  • Reports estimate significant losses to the Lebanese tourist sector, especially in areas dependent on snowfall, as well as seaside resorts. They also predict an increase in dust storms in Jordan.
  • The current report reaffirms previous predictions of a rise in diseases resulting from climate change and a concomitant rise in healthcare costs.
  • The availability and quality of water and agricultural land in the Arab region will be heavily affected.
  • Those countries whose agriculture will suffer the most include Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon with a sharp fall predicted in agricultural output.

A meeting of world leaders in 2014

  • After holding meetings with a number of parties in Doha the General Secretary of the UN gave a speech during the ministerial round-table meeting in which he announced his determination to hold a meeting of world leaders in 2014. This meeting would aim to generate a political consensus just as the ADP was concluding its negotiations to produce a new global agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol in 2015. One well informed negotiator remarked that such high level action had already helped produce what he regarded as “positive results” from Cancun and Durban. 
  • COP 19 will be held in the Polish capital Warsaw at the end of next year, the second time that the COP has been held in the country, with COP 15 held in Poznan in 2008. It appears Poland was chosen due to its failure to reach consensus with the EU and abide by its European obligation to reduce emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, a failure in no small part due to its over reliance on coal-based power.
  • There were new negotiators at Doha this year, especially those from the Arab world. Some of these delegates were a little hasty in assuming the COP 18 would come up with anything important, affected perhaps by the news of the destruction wrought by Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines.

Amusing sideshows: The importance of transport

  • The use of municipal buses to transport conference participants led to complaints from any foreign workers about a lack of transport in the city and their inability to do their jobs properly.
  • Many participants complained that the Qatar National Convention Centre where the COP 18 was hosted was situated a considerable distance from their hotels, which meant that they wasted almost an hour and half getting to and from the centre. The situation was particularly bad in the mornings. 
  • A number of wits commented on the slogan adorning the sides of the buses allocated for conference participants (“Ride on these and help reduce pollution”), asking whether they had any choice in the matter and pointing out that while delegates might ride the buses, the Qatari citizens reading the slogan almost all possessed private vehicles. 
  • Bitter experience in the morning traffic made it all too clear that Qatar was the nation with the highest rate of private vehicle ownership in the world. 
  • In one of the public evening evaluation sessions a day before the end of the conference a climate-change denier chose to ride in on a microbus before demanding that climate science be completely reevaluated. This met with considerable displeasure from those present at the meeting, some of whom demanded that he be expelled and prevented from attended any further COPs.

The Arab bloc and charcoal smuggling

In every round of negotiations the official Arab delegations would meet together in the afternoon behind locked doors to discuss developments and ensure their coordination. In accordance with an agreement reached by all Arab environment ministers, Egypt was selected as the official representative of the Arab bloc in open sessions.

A day before the end of the conference, attendees at one closed meeting were taken aback by the Somali representative, a former minister of the environment himself, who stood to his feet and stated he had been charged by the Somali prime minister with raising the issue of the illegal trade in charcoal between Somali militias and the Gulf. This trade had resulted in the deforestation of Somalia and the loss and theft of millions of dollars as a result of smuggling operations and he called on the Gulf States to bring it under control. He threatened to raise the topic in front of international delegates in his country’s scheduled speech. The meeting’s chair and Arab League representative attempted to calm the situation and asked the representative to either make his complaint to the countries concerned, or to the Arab League, or to raise it at the meeting of Arab environment ministers scheduled to be held in Baghdad. The Somali ex-minister responded that his country had repeatedly raised the issue since 2009 and had been ignored, and went on to say that the militias involved in this smuggling were funding Al Qaeda.

After a considerable number of interventions and discussions, the representative ended up raising the issue before the main body of the conference, though without mentioning the names of the countries importing smuggled charcoal, which was used for grilling meat. 

Meanwhile, the head of the Lebanese delegation, Nazem El Khoury, reiterated before the conference’s opening session his country’s pledge to generate 12 per cent of its power from renewable sources by 2020, adding that this target was only attainable with material and technical assistance from advanced nations.

Summary of the results of the Doha Climate Change Conference

1. Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol

An amendment was made to the Kyoto Protocol, as the sole currently valid agreement requiring signatories to reduce the emission heat-trapping gases to the effect that the protocol should remain effective from January 1 2013 and that the second commitment period should last eight years. Furthermore, those countries who have adopted additional obligations under the protocol agreed to review the extent of their emission reduction targets no later than 2014, with the aim of enhancing their ambitions in this regard. 
Agreement was reached to continue using the market mechanisms outlined in the protocol (i.e. clean development, joint implantation and global emissions trading) from the start of the second commitment period in 2013.
Australia, the EU, Japan, Lichtenstein, Monaco and Switzerland announced that they would not be carrying over any excess carbon credits into the second commitment period.

2. Agreement on a timeframe for reaching a global agreement on climate change by 2015 and enhancing ambitions prior to 2020

  • Governments agreed to work swiftly in order to draw up a global agreement regarding climate change to come into force in 2015 and be implemented worldwide by 2020. They furthermore agreed to find ways to redouble their efforts to transcend current emission reduction pledges prior to 2020 to ensure the global rise in temperature remained at or below two degrees centigrade. 
  • A number of meetings and workshops will be convened in 2013 to prepare the new agreement and find other means of enhancing ambitions. 
  • Governments agreed to present the UNFCCC with views and proposals on means, measures and initiatives for enhancing emission reduction ambitions no later than March 1 2013 and that all elements of the negotiating document shall be in place by the end of 2014, allowing the draft negotiating text to be drawn up by May 2015.

3. Completing the new infrastructure

  • The South Korean city of Songdo (Incheon City) was selected as the headquarters of the Green Climate Fund. It will take up residence in the second half of 2013 and begin operations in 2014. 
  • Governments agreed to set up a UNEP-led consortium to host the Climate Technology Centre for an initial period of five years. The centre and the network associated with it will be the executive arm of the UNFCCC’s technological mechanism. Governments further agreed on a constitution governing the centre’s consultative council.

4. Long term funding for climate measures

  • Advanced nations reiterated their intention to fulfill promises to continue providing long-term financial aid for climate-related issues in developing countries with the aim of gathering 100 billion dollars to be spent on emission reduction and accommodation with the climate change regime by the start of 2020. 
  • The agreement encourages advanced nations to increase funding between 2013 and 2015, at the very least increasing the annual amount paid between 2010-2012 to ensure that a gap does not open up in the ongoing provision of funding.
  • Governments will continue to operate in accordance with the working program for long-term funding throughout 2013. This program is led by two co-chairs and aims to help increase funding for climate related issues and present a report to the COP 19 on progress towards its targets.
  • Germany, the UK, France, Denmark, Sweden and the EU announced limited financial pledges for the period ending in 2015, valued at six million dollars in total.

Other important results of the COP 18


  • Governments initiated a process for reviewing long-term global temperature targets. The review process will begin in 2013 and end at the start of 2015 and will provide an assessment of the threat to the global climate and the need to mobilize parties to take more steps.

Accommodating the climate change regime:

  • Governments set out a roadmap to build the capabilities of the weakest and most vulnerable to accommodate the climate change regime, and to ensure improved planning on the national level. 
  • A program of tangible institutional measures was set out to provide better protection to the weakest and most vulnerable from the harmful effects of long-term changes such as the gradual rise in sea levels.
  • Agreement was reached on ways to implement plans for accommodating least developed nations to the climate change regime, including linking funding and other forms of assistance.

Supporting measures in developing nations:

  • Governments completed a list of emission reduction measures in developing countries in need of evaluation and financial funding. The list will be a flexible and dynamic resource available on the Internet.
  • Doha saw the creation of a new work plan for building capabilities through education, training and raising awareness in the field of climate change, enabling the general population to participate in the decision making process regarding climate change measures. The aim is to build consensus for the new climate change regime which will come into force post-2020.

New market mechanisms:

  • Agreement was reached on a work plan to further develop new market-based mechanisms within the context of the framework agreement, and identify available means to put them into action.
  • There was also agreement on a work plan to provide a framework for those mechanisms set up outside the UN agreement, such as nationally and bilaterally administered compensation programs, as well as evaluating their role in helping countries realize their emission reduction targets.

Deforestation measures:

  • No progress was made in this. Doha’s contribution to the issue was an attempt to clarify methods of measuring deforestation and guarantee funding and support for anti-deforestation measures.

Trapping and storing carbon:

  • Parties in Doha continued to investigate means of ensuring the environmental effectiveness of projects that fall within the framework of the clean development mechanism outlined in the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for the trapping and storing of carbon emissions.

Developing and transferring technology:

  • No progress was made regarding the development and transfer of technology that could help developing countries accommodate themselves to the climate change regime and reduce emissions, since advanced nations refused to relax their adherence to intellectual property laws.

Avoiding the negative impact of climate change action:

  • In some instances, implementing measures for the reduction of emissions has negative economic and social consequences for other countries. Governments debated measures to deal with this issue in a dedicated forum.