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Doha Climate Summit Ends, Did They Manage to Save the World? Here's What You Need to Know

Like last year’s Durban climate summit, three distinct negotiating streams produced three overlapping but independent agreements.

Photo Credit: AFP


Written by Andrew Light, Rebecca Lefton, Adam James, Gwynne Taraska, and Katie Valentine

After a 48-hour marathon negotiating session, largely held behind closed doors, this year’s UN climate negotiations Qatar ended at approximately 9:45pm Saturday Doha time.  Like last year’s Durban climate summit, three distinct negotiating streams produced three overlapping but independent agreements.

The Kyoto Protocol was reauthorized for another seven years, albeit with fewer countries signing on, so now covering some 12 or 15 percent of global emissions.  The negotiating track created in 2007 on “Long-term Cooperative Action,” that produced the Copenhagen Accords and the Cancun Agreements, which include voluntary commitments covering 80 percent of global emissions, concluded.  And the new track on the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action,” designed to conclude a new treaty in 2015 that aims to be applicable to all parties and cover 100 percent of global emissions took its first steps toward its primary mission.

Responses to the meeting’s outcome have been varied, but, as with most of these climate summits it is largely considered  far from adequate to address the growing climate crisis.  EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard  called it a “modest step toward a global climate deal.”

But these criticisms seem overwrought. It’s not that critics of the meeting are wrong to want faster international action on climate change. We all should.  It’s just pointless to imagine this body working much faster than it is designed to do. This is especially true now.

As we have been arguing for the past year, the 194 parties to the UN climate convention unanimously decided last year to set themselves on a path which would not produce a major breakthrough in the negotiations for another three years.  It should come as no surprise that the outcome of this meeting was relatively modest.  We conclude here as we have before:  The intrinsic difficulties in the UN climate process demand that we continue to look for other opportunities for faster climate action in the near term while we slowly build up the institutions created in the past four years out of these annual climate meetings.

Kyoto Protocol Enters Stage Two

The Kyoto Protocol, the world’s only legally binding agreement on emissions reductions, was set to expire at the end of December.  On Saturday, the  protocol was extended.  A second commitment period will begin on January 1, 2013 and end December 31, 2020.  This period will bridge the gap between the end of the first commitment period and the beginning of the next legally binding climate agreement, to be created in the Durban Platform track, which is set to be finished in 2015 and take effect in 2020.

Unlike the Durban track treaty, which is to be universally binding, the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol establishes obligatory emissions cuts for only the European Union and a handful of industrialized countries, including Australia, Norway, and Switzerland.  Japan, Russia, Canada, and New Zealand, which participated in the first period of the protocol, opted out of the second period.  The second period does not cover the United States, which signed but did not ratify the original protocol, and it does not bind developing countries, such as China and India.  The United States and China are the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters.

The transition to the new commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol was not however without controversy.   As these relatively straightforward negotiations were concluding, Oleg Shamanov of the Russian Federation charged that the president of the conference, H.E. Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, Deputy Prime Minister of Qatar, used the “strength of voice and gavel” to smother objections and push through an agreement.  Al-Attiyah may become legendary for his thunderous declarations of “I hear no objection! It is decided!” at the end of the meeting in announcing each accepted agreement despite the fact that Shamanov claimed to have been audibly objecting on behalf of the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Belarus the whole time.

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