The international effort to curb global warming inched forward with an agreement that extends pollution limits under the Kyoto Protocol and calls for work on a mechanism that would pay aid for climate-related disasters.
The deal endorsed by ministers from more than 190 nations in Doha yesterday restrains fossil fuel emissions from the European Union to Australia. It also for the first time suggests a channel for richer countries to compensate poorer ones for “loss and damage” from rising sea levels and drought.
The biggest accomplishment of the annual United Nations conference was to streamline the discussions, paving the way for a global treaty by 2015 that would cut greenhouse gases from 2020. Both diplomats who negotiated the pact and environmental groups expressed frustration it won’t have an immediate impact on the atmosphere.
“The results aren’t in keeping with what’s happening on the planet,” said Delphine Batho, the ecology minister of France, which has offered to host the 2015 meeting. “The impacts of global warming are accelerating. The deal here might appear derisory, but it’s better to have an agreement than none at all. It’s one more stage.”
This year’s gathering involving some 17,000 delegates was characterized by the UN as a housekeeping session to tie up loose strands from three parallel sets of discussions and focus on the one due to culminate in three years.
The complexity of the talks almost derailed the conference, with envoys working 27 hours past their deadline. Some negotiators left Qatar before the conclusion.
Marring the talks were rifts over the reluctance of developed nations to say how they’ll ramp up aid to the $100 billion a year they’ve pledged for climate projects by 2020. Recipient countries failed to get the roadmap they sought to generate $60 billion over the three years through 2015.
Instead, European Union donors promised at least 8.3 billion euros ($10.7 billion) by 2015. That’s above the 7.2 billion paid out in the three years through 2012 as the bloc’s contribution to $30 billion of so-called fast-start finance. Envoys agreed to work on details by the end of 2013 on how the aid will be scaled up.
``The major problem from my judgment was finance,'' Evans Njewa, a diplomat from Malawi who is lead negotiator for the group of least developed countries, said in an interview. The text was ``very weak in terms of commitments.''
Scientists say greenhouse gases from burning oil and coal are likely to hit a record this year. Without action, the temperature may rise 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, according to the World Bank.
That’s the most since the end of the last ice age and double the UN target. Arctic sea ice shrank to its lowest on record this summer, and ocean levels may rise 1 meter (3 feet) by the end of the century, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research says.
“The opportunity to keep below the 2-degree objective is closing fast,” European Union Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said. “This is definitely not perfect, but it is a modest and important step in the right direction.”
This year’s gathering didn’t contemplate pollution limits for countries beyond those in the 1997 Kyoto accord, which aimed to limit greenhouse gases in industrial nations through the end of this year.
Kyoto now covers about 15 percent of emissions worldwide. Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Russia renounced obligations under a second commitment period beginning in 2013. The U.S. never ratified the pact, and developing nations from China to India were never set binding goals. Developing countries see it as an important step by rich nations most responsible for global warming move first toward a solution.
“The Kyoto Protocol is the standard of environmental integrity,” said Brazilian Environment Minister Izabella Teixeira, lamenting “the lack of ambition” among industrial nations on global warming. “They are not leading. They are shifting the burden.”
The Doha meeting established rules for the second round of commitments for 37 nations and preserves the Kyoto framework until 2020, when the next agreement would come into force.
For carbon markets, 33 countries mostly in the EU ruled out buying excess UN pollution credits left over from the first Kyoto period to meet targets in the second. The so-called Assigned Amount Units were handed to countries with binding Kyoto targets and represent a cap on their pollution.
Russia and Ukraine led eastern European nations in building up surpluses after economic slumps closed factories and curbed emissions. They retained the right to bank their unused permits.
Environmental groups led by Greenpeace dubbed the surplus in AAUs “hot air” that undermines climate protection rules. Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, the Qatari diplomat presiding over the talks, gaveled the decisions with such speed that he overlooked an objection from Russia, prompting cheers and applause from hundreds of delegates.
“We do not think that the strength of the voice and the gavel is a dignified way to carry out such a high level meeting,” said Oleg Shamanov, the envoy from Russia.
The deal also tightens restrictions on the purchase of Certified Emission Reductions, which are generated by projects that reduce pollution in developing nations. Countries that didn’t sign up for new Kyoto restrictions can’t use those permits to offset their own emissions. CERs made about $25 billion of the $176 billion-a-year global carbon market in 2011 and AAUs accounted for $318 million, the World Bank says.
“This package offers improved continuity from existing carbon markets to the new markets of the future,” said Dirk Forrister, president of the International Emissions Trading Association. “It still won’t inspire action at the scale commensurate with the objective of limiting warming to 2 degrees. For that, we need much more clarity around a robust market mechanism that can deliver at scale.”
The four-page decision on loss-and-damage may be the most far-reaching step outlined in the agreement. It’s the first time in more than two decades of pressure from island nations that a proposal for the mechanism has been framed in the text from these talks, which are aiming at enshrining language into a treaty that would be binding on all nations.
The U.S. and EU resisted the measure out of concern it could leave them with unlimited legal and financial liabilities from disasters in developing nations. Islands pushed it as a way to prod donors past their $100 billion aid target. Compromise language allows loss-and-damage relief to be folded into current aid goals while granting the UN authority to work on the insurance mechanism island nations wanted.
“The package before us is deeply deficient,” said Kieren Keke of Nauru, who leads the 43-nation Association of Small Island States. “The outcome provides little more than a gateway to a long path. There is a fork in that path. We need to take the correct turn when we reach that fork or this process will collapse and our nations will disappear.”
Envoys from developing countries criticized President Barack Obama for his decision to seek $60 billion from the U.S. Congress to help states devastated by superstorm Sandy while refusing to detail climate-aid plans past this year. Typhoon Bopha, which killed more than 400 people in the Philippines, provided a focal point for anger about the issue.
“Are we really talking about a lot of money when we talk about $100 billion?” said Ronald Jameau, a diplomat from the Seychelles.
For the negotiators, simplifying the talks in future years marks the biggest change to the UN process since 2007. Then, work to produce a treaty replacing Kyoto was divided into two parallel strands of discussion, which often met simultaneously to go over the same issues. A third track opened last year when the conference was held in Durban, South Africa.
The complexity of maintaining three tracks strains smaller nations that must send representatives to each meeting. Even so, closing the two older tracks and concentrating on the so-called Durban Platform was a delicate task. It required the most controversial issues not yet resolved to be transferred to the new track, with the U.S. and EU resisting.
Lightning-rod topics included the principles of equity and “common but differentiated responsibilities.” Those concepts seek to ensure that all nations are treated fairly in reining in greenhouse gases, taking into account their wealth and historical pollution rates. Richer countries are concerned that developing countries use the words to avoid fossil-fuel reductions.
References to those ideas in the Doha agreement “cannot and will not be the basis upon which the U.S. will engage” in the negotiations for a treaty in 2015, said Todd Stern, the U.S. State Department’s lead envoy on climate.
“It wasn’t pretty, but Doha delivered just enough to keep the process moving forward,” said Jennifer Morgan, director of climate at the World Resources Institute, a research group monitoring the talks. “Much more remains to be done. Getting on the right track will take a greater sense of urgency than we saw here in Doha.”