Through the Doha Gateway

December 11, 2012

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

‘There were some winners here — the coal industry won here, the oil industry won here, the fossil fuel industry won here. This wasn’t an environmental or science-driven discussion, this was a trade fair.’ — Alden Meyer"

Image RemovedAbdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, Chairman of Qatar’s Administrative Control and Transparency Authority and President of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP 18/CMP 8) was visibly ebullient. The Doha Gateway delivered a next step, on time and on budget. See here for a summary of the final text.

It was the first time in several years we can recall the business of the COP being concluded before a Saturday overnight emergency session. With time on their hands, the UN convened a post-conference discussion to raise ambitions, and plan relief concerts for victims of catastrophic weather damage.

Whether US negotiators took the strategy gambit offered them here last week (see The Doha Nuance) or were just swept along with the tide no longer matters. The world’s first international carbon emissions treaty — the Kyoto Protocol — rather than being allowed to expire, as most expected, has been extended and expanded into Kyoto-2. Whether to participate in the carbon-limit regime now becomes an internal debate in the capitals of developing and developed worlds alike, including the US Senate, should the President elect. President Bill Clinton, it must be remembered, never forwarded Kyoto-1 for an up or down vote.

Negotiators have often displayed more ambition than their nations. The US negotiating team in Doha, on the other hand, seemed through the past two weeks to have considerably less ambition than either the public at home or the White House. Called out by Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo and Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman,  they retreated into mute silence and simply declined questions. Whether they had a role in Kyoto-2’s adoption (even if by igniting reaction to their consistent opposition) remains shrouded in mystery. Their negotiating position seemed to be, “We like what was done last year in Durban (nothing); we’re sticking with that.”


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Kumi Naidoo

Kyoto-2 seemed at the threshold of approval in Copenhagen in December, 2009, we may recall, but newly-minted President Obama dropped in at the last moment to substitute a voluntary pledge program, snatching defeat from the jaws of a potential international victory. Hillary Clinton sealed the deal with a dollar diplomacy pledge of $100 billion per year, which bought off enough opponents of the pledge system to backburner Kyoto until now.

This year, delegates were still looking under sofa cushions for that $100 billion, promised but never delivered, and Kyoto-1 was about to expire, for real, so they ditched the Clinton pledge telethon and put an admission price at the door to a 2-degree warmer world.

The pledge system remains legally in place under the Copenhagen Accord and subsequent COPs, so as a practical matter, Kyoto signatories are being given until 2014 to review their pledges. Those not participating are being detained after school. They have to attend workshops in 2013 to discuss ambition, and tell UN shrinks why they don’t have any. Everyone is anxious to see what lead US negotiator Todd Stern will say. Did the dog eat his homework? Really?

Image RemovedWhile Kyoto was extended in law, it remains a paper tiger until finance and specific targets are put in place. These negotiations will take until 2015, with implementation thereafter. Germany, China and the UK stood with poor countries and submerging island states and made commitments for Green technology transfer, so development and adaptation can move forward, without fossil fuels or nuclear energy. No excuses there. Korea was given administration of the Green Climate Fund, and Denmark became the first to put real cash into that fund, over the dead body of Canada.

There is nothing in the Doha deal that will keep emissions from going down instead of up. There is nothing to assure that $100 million, never mind $100 billion, will be found for the Climate Fund. There was no solution found for the Hot Air problem, wherein countries who were given low emissions reduction targets at Kyoto in 1997 (Russia and Eastern Europe) but whose emissions imploded as a consequence of economic collapse, were allowed to bank the difference and sell their credits to heavy polluters.

A number of countries in the Doha talks pledged to not buy hot air from Russia, Belarus or Ukraine, and to consider Kyoto-1’s credits now expired. Others were conspicuously silent on the issue.

Extending Kyoto was only a baby step; the reduction target in total is only about 15% of annual global emissions of greenhouse gases. WWF’s Samantha Smith said, “The EU is committed to 20% and they are well on track to do that – they could do that with their eyes closed.” Many countries have more ambitious goals than are likely to emerge from Kyoto-2, even with tweaking, and the real question becomes whether even those more ambitious goals will be enough. The science is not encouraging.

UCS’s Alden Meyer said, “There were some winners here — the coal industry won here, the oil industry won here, the fossil fuel industry won here. This wasn’t an environmental or science-driven discussion, this was a trade fair. This is not the future we need to leave to our children. We know that we need to leave four-fifths of the oil, gas and coal on the planet where it is — underground — that’s the only safe carbon reserve there is.”

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Qatari Youth confronting Climate Change

The major NGO players — UCS, Greenpeace, WWF, CAN, tcktcktck, — met to discuss merger and how best to apply their separate strengths into a combined force. Kumi Naidoo said afterwards, “We didn’t get a FAB deal (Fair, Ambitious and legally Binding) in Copenhagen, we got a FLAB deal — full of loopholes and bullshit. And we have the same bull coming out of here in Doha and I think the main message we have to take from Doha is this: yes, we support the multilateral process; yes, we want it to work; but if the people in the world, and especially the young people of the world think that they can invest their futures on a multi-lateral process which is held back by the weak national political will which negotiators bring from their capitals to these negotiations, then they are making a bad tactical error. … We will have to think about the proportionality of our investment, in terms of how much we put here (into the UN process) … and building a robust, broad-based movement. … To young people in particular, I would say, don’t accept that you are leaders of tomorrow, assert that you are leaders of today.”

What is required, in our humble opinion, is a change of narrative. Viewing economic development and climate change prevention as opposites is not a realistic assessment, much less a viable strategy. The economic story demands reframing. Hurricane Sandy’s damage just to New Jersey was greater than the funding sought in Doha for the Green Climate Fund. In our Post Petroleum Survival Guide (2006) we attempted to reframe peak oil and climate change as a joyous switch to better standards of living. This change is what has been postponed with each missed opportunity, and with each postponement the transition becomes more painful and beset with greater risks.

What does Obama and the US Senate have to fear from Kyoto-2, after all? The hot air credits bestowed on former Soviet countries by Kyoto-1 could easily accrue to the US under Kyoto-2. As its own economy collapses, it could wind up selling hot air to India or Brazil.

So now it’s on to COP-19 in Warsaw, in December 2013, and lets win there.

Albert Bates

Albert Bates was a civil sector representative at the Copenhagen climate conference, trying to point the world back towards a stable atmosphere using soils and trees.  His book BURN: Using Fire to Cool the Earth has just been released and his book Plastics: From Pollution to Evolution is due out in April 2019. Past books include Climate in Crisis and The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook. Working with the Global Ecovillage Network he has taught appropriate technology, natural building and permaculture to students from more than 60 nations. A former environmental rights lawyer, paramedic, brick mason, flour miller, and horse trainer, Albert Bates received the Right Livelihood Award in 1980 as part of the steering committee of Plenty, working to preserve the cultures of indigenous peoples, and board of directors of The Farm, a pioneering intentional community in Tennessee for the past 40 years. He has taught appropriate technology, natural building and permaculture to students from more than sixty nations. A co-founder and past president of the Global Ecovillage Network, he is presently GEN’s representative to the UN climate talks. When not tinkering with fuel wringers for algae, hemp cheeses, or pyrolizing cookstoves, he teaches permaculture, ecovillage design and natural building and is a frequent guest on the ETC Podcast.

Tags: Doha conference, fossil fuel interests