UN Climate Summit – halfway report from Doha

02 December 2012

At the halfway point of the UN Climate Summit in Doha, Jonathan Grant, PwC sustainability & climate change rounds up the key issues and what to watch out for in the week ahead including Kyoto Protocol, Long Term Cooperate Action, pledges and ambition & what might Week 2 actually achieve?

An intricate web

In the middle of the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) stands a gigantic bronze and steel spider, by Louise Bourgeois, that once occupied the turbine hall at the Tate Modern in London.  The sculpture provides a useful landmark for delegates scuttling between meetings - ‘meet you at the spider.’  The other multi-legged beast in the QNCC is the UN Convention on Climate Change.  With so many subsidiary bodies and ad-hoc working groups covering such a wide range of issues, the climate negotiations are hard for governments and observers to tackle.

The main strands of the negotiations aim to:

  1. Agree on the duration and ambition of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol – ie, confirming who is going to take what target, and when it will expire.
  2. Wrap up the work on long-term cooperative action (LCA), started in Bali, by agreeing what has been completed and what will be discussed in the Durban Platform group.
  3. Continue the discussions by the working group on the Durban Platform which aims to develop a new legal agreement by 2015 which would bind all countries to more ambitious commitments to climate change mitigation.

In addition to this, the subsidiary bodies have been meeting to discuss a host of technical issues including CCS, forestry, technology transfer, IPR, and reporting.

KP RIP?

Reports before Durban, including our own, of the early death of the Kyoto Protocol were exaggerated.  But with countries representing only 15% of global emissions proposing to take on targets, Kyoto is on life-support.  Australia, the EU and a few other European countries have offered to place their existing emissions targets under the legal framework of the Protocol.  Many developing countries would like to see much greater ambition but there is little likelihood of this and it is probable that the second commitment period will run to the end of 2020.  Two further vexing issues for negotiators, on the carry-over of surplus credits from the first commitment period and whether non-Kyoto countries are eligible to use CDM credits, are unlikely to worry many outside the QNCC.

Action but no cooperation in LCA

The working group on Long-term Cooperative Action was launched in Bali in 2007 with the aim of reaching an agreement in Copenhagen.  If the talks in Doha unravel it will be because of a failure to conclude the work of this group.  The LCA group is addressing a range of issues including: REDD+, developed and developing country pledges, new market mechanisms, adaptation, technology and capacity building.  There are concerns that the drafting of the consolidated texts by the co-chairs of the LCA group doesn’t reflect the views of all countries and we’ve seen tactical blocking.  These procedural issues should be resolved in the next week with the arrival of ministers.

But the stumbling block is likely to be financing.  With fast-start funding coming to an end in 2012, developing countries want developed countries to increase their financial pledges, with an eye to the goal of mobilising $100bn a year for adaptation and mitigation by 2020.  Though some developing countries at least recognise that the debt crisis in Europe, the fiscal cliff in the US, and reconstruction in Japan after the tsunami last year mean that these countries are unlikely to make major financial pledges at this COP.

Principles and ambition

The Durban Platform group (ADP) is loosely divided into two sub-groups discussing the principles of a new 2015 agreement and how to raise ambition in the short and long-term.  These meetings are interesting and wide-ranging but directionless, unstructured and rarely insightful.  Equity and the interpretation of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ dominate these discussions and always threaten to poison the negotiations.  India and China want to permanently keep the hard divide between developed and developing countries.  Although developed countries accept the principle of CBDR, they do not see it in black and white terms, but rather as a continuum with all countries taking action which is proportionate to their national circumstances now, in 2020 and beyond.

While these principles are important and hugely contentious they are being overtaken by facts on the ground. The emerging economies of China, India and Brazil are some of the biggest markets for new renewable generation and they are making ambitious pledges to limit emissions growth.  An example of these success stories was given by Brazil at the start of the COP which announced that it had reduced the deforestation rate by a further 27% compared to last year.

Knowing that there are no exams until 2015, the students of these ADP negotiations have little incentive to study late into the night.  A positive outcome from Doha would be agreement on a well structured process for further talks in 2013 and beyond.  This should clearly delineate the agenda items that need be addressed, separating ambition of targets from principles and financing.

Weaving the strands of the web together – a highly realistic outcome

One senior negotiator commented last night that the consequences of failure in Doha are much greater than the rewards of success.  If the talks collapse, Doha will haunt delegates like Copenhagen; if successful, Doha will only be remembered as a house-keeping or administrative COP.  A relatively simple agreement is within reach, though some other delegations are contriving to make the deal more complex than necessary.  A neat solution seems likely as none of the career climate negotiators want to completely derail the process. 

Our expectation at this point is that the KP and LCA working groups will wrap up, cutting two limbs from the UNFCCC beast, and making the negotiations simpler for governments and observers alike.  The Kyoto targets will not be more ambitious but simply enshrine existing national pledges up to 2020.  As with Durban last year, the outcome will not surprise the market and so is unlikely to affect the price of EU allowances or CDM credits. 

On LCA the substantive issues of targets and financing will be handed over to the Durban Platform group and the more technical issues to the subsidiary bodies.  Finally the Durban Platform group will make progress in UNFCCC terms which will be imperceptible to the outside world.  At best it will agree a workplan or agenda for 2013, but with no agreement anticipated before 2015, there is no expectation that Doha will deliver.

Post script

It was confirmed earlier in the week that the next COP will be in Warsaw, Poland.  This left the more sensible delegates booking hotels and the conspiracy theorists searching for meaning.  There are many theories bouncing around the QNCC. Although the cynics amongst us would note that there does appear to be a strongly positive correlation between the amount of progress made at a COP and the outside air temperature at the venue. 

Follow the team's updates on Twitter @pwcclimateready