Frozen at gateway

The Doha outcome is all talk no action. In 2007, the Bali Action Plan had called for an urgent reduction in carbon emissions by developed countries to keep the average global temperature rise below 2°C. The threat of extreme weather events has since increased. The next round of climate talks will be under the Durban Platform but before that it is important to assess progress since Bali. Indrajit Bose, Arnab Pratim Dutta and Souparno Banerjee report


Frozen at gateway

COP-18 president Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah drops the gavel, adopting the final texts

Two weeks of intense negotiations at the UN climate talks in Doha concluded within minutes on December 8. Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, president of the 18th Conference of Parties (COP), gavelled through the draft decisions of three negotiating tracks and adopted them. In what seemed a premeditated attempt, every strike of the gavel was accompanied by a deafening applause which ensured dissenting voices did not reach the podium.

Any objection to a draft decision must be raised before the president adopts it, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Al-Attiyah, through several hours of huddles with groups of countries, ensured the dissenting voices were few. Except for the Russian Federation, Al-Attiyah had convinced all countries not to let the talks collapse. It did not matter, of course, whether the outcome was in favour of arresting catastrophic global climate change or not.

  COP-18 should have closed on December 7, but till 4 am on December 8, three different draft texts were on the table and the negotiating countries, or Parties, did not see eye to eye on any of them. These texts pertained to the three negotiating tracks, called ad hoc working groups, on Kyoto Protocol, Long-Term Cooperative Action (LCA) and Durban Platform (ADP). Over the two weeks since talks began on November 26, countries had put forth their proposals and each group wanted its interests reflected in the draft texts. But this was not possible because interests of developing countries are considerably different and they wanted different outcomes from the talks at Doha.

Through the second week, negotiations went into a tizzy, with negotiators working 20-hour shifts to ensure their countries’ interests were taken care of. Talks seemed set for a collapse because of extremely divergent views. But the COP president changed this in four hours.

dohaEarly December 8 morning, Al-Attiyah introduced new draft texts, claiming everyone’s interests had been accommodated. He gave Parties 90 minutes to read the texts, but the break stretched to well over 10 hours. It remains a mystery how he convinced countries not to object before he adopted the decisions. Unconfirmed reports note the COP president and the UNFCCC secretariat met several key parties behind closed doors, convincing them that to open the “package of texts” at the late juncture to make further adjustments would cause utter chaos.

Drama unravelled soon after. The Russian Federation found it “unbelievable that the decisions were passed so unforgivingly”. Not happy with the decision to disallow transfer of surplus carbon credits to the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the Russian negotiator said: “It is difficult to believe that you did not hear the nameplate that I banged (to bring to the president’s attention the country’s wish to intervene before he adopted the decision), which is against the nature of Russian diplomacy.” To this the president replied, “I value the warm relations between my country and the Russian Federation. It was my sense that the decision reflects the will of the party as a whole to resolve Doha.”

Then, the US sprung its card. It made clear that it would not be part of any new global deal that was guided by the principles of UNFCCC. In other words, even though the talks were being held under the Convention, it did not want any future climate regimes to be under the Convention’s principles. Early signs of this had been visible during the wrangling between developed and developing countries on the use of the phrase ‘guided by the principles’ in the draft decision under ADP. Developing countries insisted that it should be explicitly written that ADP would be guided by the principles of UNFCCC and that it would operate on the principles of equity and CBDR, or common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR). But the final text omitted reference to these two ideas. The US and other developed countries even put their foot down at the mention of a passing reference to the June 2012 Rio+20 summit, which endorsed the principles of equity and CBDR in its decision, in the ADP draft text.

Responding to the US’ statement post adoption, India made it equally clear that future negotiations would be difficult if they are not based on the principles of the Convention. “We have heard arguments that equity cannot be the basis of our work. That our work will be anchored in the principles of the Convention was a clear understanding when we agreed to the Durban Platform. The phrase ‘under the Convention’ was coined to give comfort to all parties who did not want an explicit reference to equity and CBDR,” said lead Indian negotiator Mira Mehrishi.

India also made it clear that it was not happy with most parts of the text. “These are serious issues that affect the interests of all developing countries. There is no framework for sectoral measures in the decision. The unilateral measures have been dealt with almost as an afterthought. And, there is a weak reference to technology-related intellectual property rights issues. Most important, there is no concrete commitment on financing,” Mehrishi said.

Reiterating the focus on equity and CBDR in the context of shared vision, India reserved its right to be party to the Doha decisions only if others accepted all the elements and provisions enshrined in the decisions. “The entire package must be treated as a composite one and not violated either in spirit or letter,” Mehrishi warned, setting the tone for the next three years of talks.

See also: Doha: inaction in the face of urgency

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  • It is unfortunate that with

    It is unfortunate that with twenty years of climate negotiation under UNFCCC we are in squire one. The situation epitomizes a Nepali proverb "Big bulls are fighting and the calves are being trampled down in the process.

    Probably every one agrees over the principle of climate justice. Countries like USA has definitely taken unfair atmospheric space in terms of GHG emission. But the point is that shall we watch the earth system collapse by the time we are able to sort out who made the mistake in the first place. I wish we could defer our differences till a point we are able to bring the earth into the safe limit in terms of global temperature rise (which of course is mere wishes as we are quickly heading to 4 degree world). But let us stop fighting and and try to rescue the world first. We will be able to talk about equity etc only if the earth system survives.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 8 years ago | Reply
  • I would like to reiterate and

    I would like to reiterate and repeat my comment on Failure of Doha Negotiations:

    Failure of the week long informal negotiations on climate change in Bangkok on September 5 was not a mystery. The intension of the developed countries is loud and clear. They would like to continue with the superiority in trade and weapons that they have achieved by impoverishment of resources of the developing and least developed countries by waging and winning wars, and doling out economic aid, loans. and arms.

    In order to sustain their superiority, they would advise others to adopt austerity measures while they themselves would remain wasteful. [They here does not mean just the Americans; it means every one who has gone up or is trying to go up the ladder of growth at the fastest rate, knowing fully well that fast rates are non-sustainable. Non-sustainable because they are consumption oriented and hence bound to impoverish the resources.

    This is what they did at Bangkok when they pushed for diversionary tactics such as measures to reduce emissions by institutions and initiatives outside UNFCCC. These measures included reducing emissions through the control of hydrofluorocarbons, methane and black carbon. They did not make any mention of the lethal weapons or the carpet bombing or drone attacks, because if they did so their superiority would be jeopardized.

    I have already explained in no ambiguous terms that the production of CFCs, GHGs including excessive amount of water vapour is the result of intensifying the anthropogenic activity initiated and cashed by the developed countries. The harm that such activities have done to the environment of the earth is irreversible. Yet they would like to remain in command and for that matter they must maintain their growth rate.

    Sustainability principles on the other hand demand that excesses must be avoided and wastes must be minimized. To achieve this end the race for superiority must be given a grinding halt. It is easier said than done because no one would like to go back to stone age. But with so much of sophisticated arms around produced only to achieve a higher overkill capacity, are we not heading towards the stone wall, if not stone age.

    Sustainability principles clearly define arms build up as non-sustainable. The path delineated by these principles suggests peace to be the guiding principles of sustainability. But the superior nations maintain that they have engaged their enemies in war to bring in peace. So Sir, the vicious circle of social pollution is set into perpetual motion and will remain in motion because that is the way to go up the ladder of growth.

    When we prepare for any such meeting as at Doha, there should be only one agenda and that should be to devise a strategy for sustainable growth. This will limit the growth processes to sustainable living and would delimit arms production and perhaps that may be one way to live in harmony and peace.

    Dr. Mirza Arshad Ali Beg
    Former Director General, PCSIR, Karachi, Pakistan

    Posted by: Anonymous | 7 years ago | Reply