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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.

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One aspect of the Durban Platform to watch will be 13c, or the provision around the “scope, structure, and design of the 2015 agreement.” As several negotiators noted in the ADP talks so far, parties are in some cases “pre-negotiating” their positions by trying to influence the framing of the agreement in these early procedural stages.  The shape the Durban Platform will take, and ultimately its successful adoption, will hinge on the structure of the agreement coming out of this procedural negotiation.  The U.S. position, as  advocated by Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, has been to consider a flexible agreement that draws on the Australian “schedule approach,” which would more resemble the structure of the Cancun Agreements in allowing countries to first articulate what they are willing to do by some future date and then finding ways to increase their collective ambition.  Others, including the EU, are pushing for language about binding “commitments” even in these early stages.

Closing the Ambition Gap

Even with the success of the LCA text in drawing out all of the major carbon emitters to articulate what they are willing to do in the near term, global pledges to reduce emissions are still inadequate.  In his opening press conference in Doha two weeks ago, US Deputy Climate Envoy Jonathan Pershing, quoting President Obama, did not deny this but stated flatly, “We haven’t done as much as we need to do.”

Unfortunately though, no parties have stepped up to the plate and offered to increase their ambition this decade.  Rather, some of them seem willing only to demand that other parties increase their emission reductions.  A  submission to the Doha summit during the first week of the meeting by Bolivia, China, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and a handful of other countries called for developed parties to “reduce their aggregate emissions by 40 to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.”  This would be twice the highest commitment of any party to these talks to date.

But not responding to such requests in the affirmative does not indicate a weakness of will.  Such calls for action are not laudatory, they are not heroic, and they are not necessarily productive.  It’s easy to address the current ambition gap toward achieving any hope of climate safety by simply stipulating that other parties take it on entirely.  What is harder is to find a cooperative solution that is actually achievable and appropriately divides burdens among the world’s largest carbon polluters.

The final paragraph of the Durban Platform asked parties to submit proposals last February for increasing the level of ambition this decade, to create a work plan for overcoming the ambition gap.  While some parties also used the opportunity to insist that global emissions should be stabilized by a handful of countries, others, such as the  U.S., generated productive ideas, such as ramping up mitigation on short-lived climate pollutants like HFCs, methane, and black carbon, and fulfilling existing commitments in the G20 to remove subsidies for fossil fuels.

We conclude by highlighting two top priorities for moving forward:  the need to increase climate finance, and increased action on greenhouse gasses other than CO2 in the near term.

Finance Again

While the Doha document does call for increasing discussions of climate finance over the next year, we need more by way of action.  We can  cut the 2020 ambition gap from one half to one third of what is needed to keep the door open to a 2C pathway by financing the clean energy projects in developing countries that have already been put on the table by these parties as part of their submissions under the Copenhagen Accord.  But the process of ramping up climate finance move faster the sooner the world realizes that the best way to move forward is by increasing the amounts committed to mobilizing private finance.  A push in this direction is in the interests of the United States and within our reach given current levels of investment we make to energy projects abroad already.

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