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What To Expect In Doha: An Overview of This Year’s UN Climate Change Negotiations

Here's an overview of the talks and what the results of US elections may mean for the Obama administration’s positions during them.

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Even assuming that congress is not willing to move forward on progressive climate action, the Obama administration  will continue to address global warming using executive authority and rulemaking under the Clean Air Act, including the development of rules for new power plants.  We can also expect that the administration will pursue progress on limiting greenhouse gas pollution through bilateral and multilateral partnerships to advance clean energy technology deployment, expand sustainable energy access, and aid developing countries that will be hit hardest by climate change as part of US foreign aid diplomacy and national security goals.  In this respect we expect no change in US commitment to the UNFCCC process and through multilateral bottom-up efforts like enhanced action through the G20, and the US-led  Climate and Clean Air Coalition, which brings together states, the private sector, and NGOs to address short lived climate pollutants such as methane, HFCs, and black carbon, which are more powerful than carbon dioxide.

What to watch in Doha?

The UNFCCC talks in Doha will continue the progress that has been made to date toward advancing a  series of tracks toward a comprehensive climate agreement.  While none of these tracks alone is sufficient to address global climate change, taken together they have advanced us closer to a comprehensive international solution than we have ever seen before.  The biggest items on the three primary tracks on the Doha program are: the closing of the Ad-hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA), agreement on a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, and advancing a work plan for the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP).

Closing of the Ad-hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action

In 2011 during previous climate talks in Durban, South Africa parties to the UNFCCC agreed that the LCA should conclude in Doha.  The LCA, which began in 2007 to implement the  Bali Action Planthat was agreed to under the Bush administration, gave rise to the Copenhagen Accord and the Cancun Agreements.  Though Copenhagen was viewed as a disappointment for many throughout the world hoping for a binding international treaty, it was never likely the case that the 2009 meeting could have ended in a binding agreement.  The US would not have signed onto an agreement that did not solve the problem of rising greenhouse gases by leaving out major emitters like India and China–now the largest emitter in the world with the country’s  per capita emissions on par with the European Union’s emissions.  China even objected in Copenhagen to developed countries articulating their own 2050 emission reduction targets in a formal agreement, presumably because it would entail that rapidly developing countries would be responsible for the remainder of required emission reductions to achieve some level of  climate safety.

Yet, Copenhagen was groundbreaking because for the first time countries at all stages of development agreed to put forward pledges for national actions to address global warming by 2020.  Over the past three years  141 countries, including all the major emitters in the developed and developing world, responsible for over 80 percent of global emissions, have made voluntary mitigation pledges.  This was an important step forward given that until then the only articulated pledges for reductions were made by developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol, which now only accounts for less than 15 percent of global emissions.

Perhaps most importantly, the LCA allowed for a pathway for a bottom-up approach bringing pledges from both developed and developing countries to the table.  The bottom-up approach, as opposed to a top-down architecture allows for varying commitments by country.  This is significant because it recognizes the different capacities and levels of development of each country.  The question is how do we ensure that the sum of parties’ commitments will keep us on a pathway where it is still possible to hold temperature increase at 2 degrees Celsius, over pre-industrial levels, which is now the agreed upon goal of the UN process?

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