December 3, 2012

Climate Talks At Doha Summit Remain At A Standstill After First Week

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

As a second week of climate talks begin at the Doha Summit in Qatar, the nearly 200 countries gathered there are no closer to a climate deal than when the last summit ended in Durban, South Africa in 2011. In fact, a rift that is continuing between wealthy nations and developing economies has led at least one country to back out of the talks altogether, saying it´s an outdated response to global warming.

While New Zealand´s climate minister moved to withdraw from climate talks, tension grew as other nations continued debates on which nations should be doing more to curb carbon emissions. Qatar, which has become one of the richest countries in the world per head with the highest carbon footprint per capita, has taken upon itself to pave the way. The oil-rich nation has seen emissions rise by 600 percent since 1990, largely due to air conditioning, desalination and burning off gas flares.

After the first six days of climate negotiations, observers said the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was far from adding to any progress made on the now 15-year-old Kyoto Protocol for curbing emissions and greenhouse gases, primarily from carbon dioxide produced from burning fossil fuels.

As evidence mounts that man-made climate change has contributed to devastating effects seen around the world, such as melting ice sheets, rising sea levels, drought, and extreme heatwaves, the world´s poorest countries are demanding that the wealthy nations step up their efforts to cut emissions and give more cash to help the developing nations adapt to the changing climate.

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a grouping of 43 countries at risk from warming-induced sea level rise, on Monday said that “further delay would mean the opportunity to avert a global calamity would be irrevocably lost“¦ We begin the final week of negotiations in Doha with the sober recognition that time is running out to prevent the loss of entire nations and other calamities in our membership and around the world."

But it seems no progress will be made toward a climate deal this year. New Zealand´s departure from climate talks is one key factor on why there will likely be no deal. Climate Minister Tim Groser´s move angered climate activists and stunned neighboring island nations, who fear global warming will destroy many coastal island communities if nothing is done soon.

Groser told The Associated Press on Sunday that New Zealand is shifting its attention away from the Kyoto Protocol and closer to a new global climate deal that would also include developing nations. He said Kyoto, which expires this year, was never ratified by the US because it didn´t impose limits on China and other emerging economies that have proven to be big carbon emitters.

Australia and European countries want to extend Kyoto until a wider treaty can come into play, which is not expected to happen until at least 2020. But Groser does not see the point in that, because those countries together represent less than 15 percent of global emissions.

"You cannot seriously argue you are dealing with climate change unless you start to tackle the 85 percent of emissions that are outside (Kyoto)," Groser said. "We're looking beyond Kyoto now to where we think the real game is."

The majority of emissions that most climate experts blame for rising temperatures currently come from developing countries, such as China and India, with the former being the top emitter of carbon dioxide in the world. Beijing argues that it must be allowed to continue to increase emissions as its economy expands, bringing much of the country out of poverty. It is also insisting that Western nations bear most of the responsibility for climate change, since their fossil fuel emissions have gone on far longer than China´s.

Therefore, China wants to retain the fine line between rich and poor countries that has been part of the Kyoto Protocol since climate talks began nearly two decades ago. The rich countries want to throw that deal out as it doesn´t reflect the world today as they see it.

Even though New Zealand refused to be a part of the current talks, it is likely moving in the right direction, since it is on course to meet its Kyoto target from the first commitment period. Still, activists around the world say the country´s decision to opt out of the Doha Summit and further climate talks under Kyoto has tarnished its reputation as a green leader.

"New Zealand's position is contributing to a political stalemate that is distracting from the real issues of these talks," said Simon Tapp from the New Zealand Youth Delegation.

Instead of binding to Kyoto, New Zealand has offered a voluntary pledge of cutting emissions by between 10 and 20 percent over 1990 levels by 2020.

As the Doha Summit heats up this week, fingers could be pointed toward Qatar and other Middle Eastern nations that have achieved comfortable lifestyles because of their oil-rich economies. While Qatar noted it has expected itself to lead the way in carbon emissions, it is likely it won´t happen anytime soon; the country´s carbon output increased another 12 percent from 2010 to 2011.

Desert nations, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates could make statements this week on its commitments to a greener planet. There have already been a number of announcements on sourcing more power from renewable energy, especially solar power in desert nations.

The AP put a call out to several area mosques in Doha this weekend to find what messages were being delivered to the public, but only one included an environmental message in its prayers, telling those in attendance to plant more trees, and to conserve water and electricity.

Fazlun Khalid, founder of the U.K.-based Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences, said it was time for the Muslim world to go further.

"It's absolutely frustrating," he said. "We get very little support from Muslims. They don't connect. We have to wake them up to the fact their existence is threatened by their own behavior. Modernity and the economic development paradigm is about dominating nature. Islam, as you are aware, is submission to the will of the creator. We need to remind ourselves that we have to submit."

Yet it is likely the talks will remain at a deadlock in Qatar.

As the wealthy nations continue to defy Kyoto, the developing economies will continue to suffer. And as the poor nations persist in their accusations that the wealthy are doing too little, the West will continue to defy, so it seems.

It quite possible that His Excellency Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, Deputy Prime Minister of Qatar, who is President of the Conference of the Parties, known as COP18, will have his work cut out for him this week. As a former President of OPEC, he is already treated with some suspicion by environmentalists. He must keep the talks on track by reassuring the poor economies that money is coming while pushing for progress on achieving carbon cuts.

This year´s talks are key to making any further progress on a global deal by 2015, said Jonathan Grant, a climate change advisor at PwC. He said if the talks fail, Doha could likely suffer a similar fate Denmark suffered when it hosted the 2009 chaotic summit.

"If the talks collapse, Doha will haunt delegates like Copenhagen. If they are successful, Doha will only be remembered as a housekeeping or administrative COP," Grant told the Telegraph.

Greenpeace, which has been on hand at the Doha summit since its inception, said the talks are becoming more controversial than what was expected, as they were initially only supposed to be “procedural talks.”