Envoys at United Nations global warming talks are working on streamlining their negotiation process for the first time in at least six years, a step toward drafting a treaty by 2015 mandating more greenhouse-gas limits.
Delegates from more than 190 countries plan to close two parallel strands of talks and concentrate on one track, the biggest change to the process since 2007. The meeting, now in its fifth day in Doha, has avoided the rancor of the past three gatherings to focus on laying the groundwork for a deal limiting fossil-fuel emissions that would take effect by 2020.
The plan would revisit the effort to enact targets that failed in Copenhagen in 2009, when the meeting dissolved into finger-pointing between rich and poorer nations over which should move first on emissions. The new effort would require the U.S., China and India, the biggest emitters, to join carbon dioxide curbs in force in the European Union and Australia.
“It’s a landmark because we’re going to stop negotiating as before,” Andre Correa do Lago, Brazil’s ambassador to the talks, said in an interview in Doha. “We’re going to use what we have negotiated over the past five years to achieve things on the ground.”
The agreement, due on Dec. 7 when the meeting is scheduled to conclude, won’t have an immediate impact on the climate. The biggest polluters led by the U.S., China and the EU have ruled out increasing their targets to cut emissions this year. That leaves the world on track to warm more than double the internationally-agreed goal of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, according to reports this month from the World Bank and International Energy Agency.
Delegate will make “substantial progress” outlining their agreement by the end of tomorrow, said Christiana Figueres, the UN envoy organizing the talks, said in Doha today. She expressed frustration this year’s pact won’t do more.
“The atmosphere sees this as a very, very urgent need to get to a global peaking point,” Figueres said. “I don’t see as much public interest for governments to take on more ambitious and more corrageous decisions. Each one of us needs to assume responsibility. It’s not just about national governments. It’s about individuals. It’s about civil society.”
Meeting the 2-degree target is still technically and economically possible, though it requires “rapid action,” Climate Action Tracker, a project by run by three European research groups said today in a report.
“We have to start now, not wait until 2020 to act,” Bill Hare, head of Climate Analytics, one of the groups, said in a statement. “If we wait, we won’t have many choices left.” The other two researchers on the project are the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the consultant Ecofys.
Also at this meeting, industrial countries aren’t likely to add to a pledge to deliver $100 billion a year in climate aid by 2020. That lack of immediate ambition leaves environmental groups and island nations that are the most at risk from rising sea levels uneasy about the work being done in Doha.
“If they succeed in combining the tracks it will be a procedural milestone,” said Alden Meyer, who has followed the talks for the Union of Concerned Scientists for two decades. “In terms of what the atmosphere sees, it’s not going to be a happy meeting. Unless there’s divine intervention, there is nothing that will change the profile of emissions anytime soon.”
With pollution limits under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol set to finish at the end of this year, the envoys aim to finalize new commitments under the treaty that were made last year. They’re also planning work for a new deal under the Durban Platform, set up last year in the South African city. The new treaty would be agreed to in 2015 and take effect in 2020.
The Durban Platform was born from a standoff between the EU and poorer nations on one side, arguing that a road map to a new deal was necessary, and India, the U.S. and China, which opposed the plan. Those discussions overran by 36 hours. This year, delegates from the U.S., EU, Brazil, China and India have avoided setting red lines or publicly criticizing each other.
The two-track approach started in 2007 in Bali, Indonesia. One set of talks aimed to extend the Kyoto Protocol once its first set of emissions targets expired in 2012, while the Long Term Cooperative Action strand was set up to outline efforts to cut carbon by developing countries, which had no targets under Kyoto. The U.S., which didn’t ratify the treaty. Diplomats this year want to close discussions under those tracks and move to the Durban Platform.
“There’s a lot of overlap on the issues,” Artur Runge-Metzger, the EU’s lead negotiator, said in an interview. “You discuss the same issue three times. These three discussions are interlinked. But still we discuss in three different forums, and sometimes at the same time. It’s just duplication and a waste of resources.”
Streamlining the process is important because the complexity requires so many delegates and so many meetings to coordinate positions. At least 17,600 people are accredited to attend the talks in Qatar, including 7,000 observers and interest groups and 800 members of the media.
“The potential stumbling blocks are on the process side,” in finding a way to address issues not yet resolved in the two tracks that are closing, said Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions in Arlington, Virginia. “The question will be whether they fall off the table, whether they get folded into the Durban Platform track or steered in some other direction.”
The lack of new commitments for aid and emissions reductions mean the nations most vulnerable to climate change are unhappy with the likely outcome in Doha, said Pa Ousman Jarju of Gambia, who is head of the 48-nation group of Least Developed Countries.
“It’s important because all hands must be on deck, working toward 2015 -- that’s very vital,” Jarju said in an interview. Even so, “we have a trust gap here. If that trust gap isn’t narrowed, then even moving toward 2015 would be a very risky task.”
Reports of the effects of fossil fuel emissions on temperatures, ice sheets and sea levels have mounted this week. The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said two days ago that the lower 48 U.S. States are heading for the warmest year on record and the globe may post its ninth-hottest year. On the same day, he Potsdam Institute said sea levels are rising at 3.2 millimeters a year, faster than the 2 millimeters forecast by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007.
Oceans rose an average of 11.1 millimeters (0.44 inches) from 1992 to 2011 as ice sheets near both poles melted, researchers from institutions including the University of Washington and NASA said today in the journal Science. Combined, Greenland and Anatarctica are melting about three times faster now than in the 1990s, they found.
The danger of locking in a low level of ambition through 2020 is “a major concern that we have,” said Selwin Hart, an envoy from Barbados who negotiates for the 43-nation Alliance of Small Island States.
“We must close the two tracks in a way that demonstrates there is progress in the fight against climate change,” Hart said in an interview. “We’re seeing sea-level rise happening much faster than predicted. We’re seeing increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events. It’s a life and death choice for many of us.”