Countries set a 2015 deadline to adopt a new treaty
DOHA, Qatar — UN talks on a new climate pact resumed on Nov. 26 in oil and gas-rich Qatar, where negotiators from nearly 200 countries will discuss fighting global warming and helping poor nations adapt to it.
The 20-year-old talks have not fulfilled their main purpose: reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are warming the planet.
Attempts to create a new climate treaty failed in Copenhagen three years ago but countries agreed last year to try again, giving themselves a deadline of 2015 to adopt a new treaty.
Several issues need to be resolved by then, including how to spread the burden of emissions cuts between rich and poor countries. That’s unlikely to be decided in the Qatari capital of Doha, where negotiators will focus on extending the Kyoto Protocol, an emissions deal for industrialized countries, and trying to raise billions of dollars to help developing countries adapt to a shifting climate.
The UN process is often criticized, even ridiculed, both by climate activists who say the talks are too slow, and by those who challenge the scientific near-consensus that the global temperature rise is at least partly caused by human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil.
“We should not concentrate on the per capita (emissions), we should concentrate on the amount from each country,” said former Qatari oil minister Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah.
The concentration of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide has jumped 20% since 2000, according to a UN report. The report also showed that there is a growing gap between what governments are doing to curb emissions and what needs to be done to protect the world from potentially dangerous levels of warming.
The goal of the UN talks is to keep the global temperature rise under 2 degrees C (3.6 F), compared to pre-industrial times.
But efforts taken so far to rein in emissions, reduce deforestation and promote clean technology are not getting the job done. A recent projection by the World Bank showed temperatures are expected to increase by up to 4 degrees C (7.2 F) by 2100.
Dangerous warming effects could include flooding of coastal cities and island nations, disruptions to agriculture and drinking water, the spread of diseases and the extinction of species.
Many scientists also say that extreme weather events, such as Hurricane Sandy’s onslaught on the US East Coast, will become more frequent as the Earth warms, although it is impossible to attribute any individual event to climate change.
The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997, is the most important climate agreement reached in the UN process so far. It expires this year, so negotiators in Doha will try to extend it as a stopgap measure until a wider deal can be reached.
The problem is that only the European Union and a handful of other countries – that together are behind less than 15 per cent of global emissions – are willing to put down emissions targets for a second commitment period of Kyoto.
The US rejected Kyoto because it didn’t impose any binding commitments on major developing countries such as India and China, which is now the world’s No. 1 carbon emitter. The US and other Western countries insist that the firewall in the climate talks between developing and developed countries must be removed so that the new treaty can apply to all nations.