UN climate change talks conclude with modest results

Updated On: Dec 12, 2012

The UN conference on climate change in Doha, Qatar ended on Saturday with almost 200 nations agreeing to extend the Kyoto Protocol until 2020, with a modest set of measures that many countries and environmentalists say would not do anything to stop increasing world greenhouse gas emissions. Earlier during the conference, however, Indonesia announced it has approved a forest conservation project.

Talks conclude with Kyoto Protocol extension

The talks, scheduled to have closed on Friday, ran a whole day into extra time. After days of deadlocked discussions, conference chairman Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah rushed through the package of deals he called the "Doha Climate Gateway", riding roughshod over country objections.

The Kyoto Protocol obliges about 35 developed countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions until the end of 2012. The extenstion just before its expiry at the end of this year keeps the pact alive as the only legally binding climate plan.

But the Protocol has been weakened by the withdrawal of Russia, Japan and Canada, with the remaining supporters, led by the European Union and Australia, now accounting for merely 15 percent of global emissions. The nations pulling out say it is pointless to set new targets when emerging countries have none. And the US never ratified the pact.

Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said, "[The delegates] face two unpalatable options - accept a weak text or risk the collapse of the entire talks."

Kieren Keke, foreign minister of the Pacific island state of Nauru on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, said, "Much, much more is needed if we are really going to address climate change and reduce emissions,"

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the deal but believed that "far more needs to be done," his spokesman said.

But environmentalists were not impressed by the "Doha Climate Gateway". "The UN climate talks failed to deliver increased cuts to carbon pollution, nor did they provide any credible pathway to $100 billion per year in finance by 2020 to help the poorest countries," the Climate Action Network-International said.

Some major countries raised objections at the end of the final plenary on Saturday night. The US said it could not accept a reference to a 1992 UN climate Convention in one text. Russia said it disagreed with the terms for extending the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012, and wanted less stringent limits on unused carbon emission allowances.

One decision at Doha raised the possibility of a new "mechanism" to help developing countries cope with damage from the imapcts of climate change like hurricanes and rises in sea levels.

Developing countries will push in 2013 for the mechanism to compensate them for the impacts, depsite reluctance amnog wealthy states which would have to foot the bill."We look forward to the establishment of the international mechanism next year," Nauru's Foreign Minister Kieren Keke said.

But developed countries are concerned that such a system could be costly for Western governments, most of which are struggling now to cut massive budget deficits. The US insists any money would have to come from $100 billion in aid already promised from 2020 to help poor countries cope with global warming, delegates said.

The draft deal at Doha merely agreed to put off to next year decisions for a promised tenfold increase in aid to $100 billion a year by 2020.

Report: Doha climate talks throw lifeline to Kyoto Protocol [Reuters, 8 Dec 2012]

Report: Poor to seek U.N. climate change compensation scheme in 2013 [Reuters, 9 Dec 2012]

Report: Agreement to combat climate change reached at Doha meet [AFP, in Times of Oman, 9 Dec 2012]

Report: UN climate meeting extends Kyoto Protocol to 2020 [Straits Times (print edition), 9 Dec 2012]

Good news from Indonesia: REDD project approved

In spite of the pessimism surrounding the talks in Doha, there was a piece of good news. Indonesia's government has officially approved the country's first project under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) scheme. REDD, to which Norway has committed $1 billion for Indonesia, pays developing countries not to cut down trees.

In this project, known as Rimba Raya, forests in Borneo the size of Singapore will be conserved and protected from being cleared for palm oil plantations.

Investors in the project include Russia gas firm Gazprom and German financial services corporation Allianz,  and will receive about 104 million credits over the project's 30-year life, each representing a tonne of averted carbon emissions.

At current market rates, these would be worth about $500 million, and the money will be channeled back into projects in the area including in clean water, health, microfinance, ecotourism. Not only is Rimba Raya seen as a step towards carbon emissions reduction, it is also good news for orang-utans, which have been facing habitat destruction from encroaching oil palm plantations.

The implementation of the Rimba Raya project was not without significant obstacles. As it appeared ready to go ahead in 2010, the project stalled and at one point, the government said its area would have to be slashed in half, making it unviable. A large oil palm corporation claimed overlapping concessions, which it has only just agreed to relinquish.

Report: REDDY at last [The Economist, 8 Dec 2012]