COP18 Q&A: outcomes of the Doha climate talks

What are the major outcomes from the climate talks and what does it all mean for developing countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change? We spoke with Saleemul Huq, senior fellow with IIED's Climate Change research group, for his analysis.

Article, 12 December 2012
Climate protestors in Doha. Photo: adopt a negotiator

Climate protestors in Doha. Photo: adopt a negotiator

Q: IIED’s Director Camilla Toulmin calls the outcomes from the COP18 ‘modest’. What are the main points to come out of the collective outcome from the talks, called the ‘Doha Climate Gateway’?

There are three main things to come out of the Gateway.  The first good news is the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol. We now have a second commitment period from the European Union, Norway and Australia and others who have signed on. The bad news is the level ambition and the number of countries who have signed on has gone down quite a lot [the US, Japan, Canada, Russia and New Zealand have not signed on].But this keeps the show on the road and we can continue the negotiation towards a new treaty.

The second major issue was finance. Developing countries were expecting rich countries to put forward a number on how much they would provide in the next few years between 2013 and 2020 – they’ve promised (US) $100 billion from 2020, but nothing in between. A few countries, like the UK and the European Union, stepped forward with some numbers, but the rest of the countries didn’t. So all we have is a vague promise that they will try and provide funding at the same level as they did in the last years which was roughly (US) $10 billion a year.  So that was quite disappointing for the developing countries.

The third and last major issue was something new that could be counted as a significant victory for the more vulnerable countries – something called “loss and damage.” This refers to compensations to vulnerable communities for the loss and damage caused by climate change. While we didn’t set up an international mechanism on loss and damage in Doha, which is what the least development countries wanted, we have an agreement to look at the possibility of setting up an international mechanism in future.

This was vehemently opposed by developed countries, particularly the United States of America, who didn’t want this item to remain on the agenda because they worried it opened up the door for unlimited compensation. But in the end they let the compromise text go through. The US haven’t agreed the mechanism, but they have agreed to discuss the mechanism, which in a way is a victory as they wanted it totally shut it down in Doha.

Next year in COP19 the actual mechanics and content of what an international mechanism will be will be discussed then.

Q: A new commitment period for the Kyoto protocol has been agreed leaving countries with a negotiation process intact. What are the next steps to getting a new global climate treaty by 2015?

The Durban Platform (agreed last year) aims to develop a new climate treaty by 2015. All the countries – including the rich and developing countries – have agreed to take on some emission reduction targets, which will be much more ambitious than the Kyoto targets. And this, we hope, will be an opportunity to ramp up ambition on the mitigation side and on finance as well.

So right now everything is geared to intense negotiations in 2015. That should give us a new, ambitious treaty that includes everybody.

Q: Damian Ryan Senior Policy Manager at the Climate group calls it a ‘Pyrrhic victory’ as the protocol covers just 15% of emissions. Do you think this new commitment period of the Kyoto protocol will have any impact on emissions?

Yes, the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol is pyrrhic, in that it is not a major reduction in emissions. The protocol just keeps the show on the road. It was quite a disappointment – it didn’t achieve anything great. The major result is that it didn’t crash and that we live to talk another day.

Q: For the Least Developed Countries, the small island states and African block what was the best outcome from these talks?

They stuck to their guns on the loss and damage issue very strongly. The last night Ministers from the LDCs and small island states made it clear that they were prepared to go away from Doha and let the whole thing come crashing down – and they would have blamed the US for that. It demonstrates their solidarity with each other and their ability to take a tough stand, but it still shows that on the larger issues of finance and emissions reductions they really weren’t able to get want they wanted out of it.

Q: Where do the vulnerable, developing countries go from here? What are the next steps?

Everyone will be focussing on 2015. Their strategy is to get the most ambition out of all developed and developing countries alike so that we move away from our current trajectory of 4 degrees down to 2 degrees or less.  

There were a few practical operational victories they will focus on implementing. There was an agreement on how to develop the next phase of the adaptation work – they’ve agreed guidance for countries to do national adaption plans. And this is what the small island states, the African countries and least developed countries are going to focus on at home now – there will be finance for that.

There was also agreement on how to operationalise REDD+ so that can move forward as well. The procedures for carrying out REDD+ projects have been agreed, and the Annex 1 countries who wish to support REDD+ activities can now go ahead under an agreed framework for supporting countries, and quite a lot of them are. For example, Norway is providing (US) $1 billion to REDD+ projects in Indonesia so some of these large developing countries with large forests will benefit from the REDD+ ‘window’ that has now been agreed.

Q: It is now commonly cited that the world is on track to 4 degrees or more by 2100, but you mention trying to hit a target of 2 degrees of less. 

This is the biggest elephant tin the room – everyone’s agreed they want to meet 2 degrees butt their actions are taking us towards 4 degrees. None of them are agreeing to reduce their emissions sufficiently to take us down to 2 degrees. The battle now between now and 2015 is to have a lot of publicity and advocacy to get the world leaders to having the emissions decreased over time. This will now include large developing countries for the first time like India and China. China is the biggest emitter in the world, apart from the US, so we can’t have a treaty without them.  

We need an ambitious emissions’ pathway so we can bend the curve from 4 degrees – where we are now headed – to 2 degrees, which is where we want to get to. 

Want to know more? Watch Saleemul Huq’s wrap up video from the climate talks.

COP18 briefings