Doha: A Fresh Start on Climate Change


Though the recent U.N. Climate Change Conference in Doha failed to establish a comprehensive climate change treaty, it successfully initiated the foundation for an agreement long sought by both scientists and the environmental community.


In a marathon session, more than 200 negotiators defined the basis for a new climate change pact that would come into effect in 2015 and fully replace the existing Kyoto Protocol by 2020.


For the first time, the new agreement would aim to bind developed and developing economies to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. Andrew Aulisi, a Director with Credit Suisse’s sustainability affairs group in New York, says that represents a significant break with Kyoto.


“In the new agreement there will not be a distinction between the countries that have to reduce emissions and those that can come along later,” explains Aulisi. “In principle, the new agreement will require everybody to put something on the table.”


Some camps have criticized the Kyoto Protocol because it largely gave the developing world a pass on greenhouse gas output, placing the burden of cutting emissions on the developed world. Subsequent climate change negotiations have largely failed because China and other large developing economies have fiercely opposed changes to Kyoto’s two-tier system. Developing nations claim that limiting their emissions would hurt their economies and prevent them from joining the ranks of fully developed countries.


In the meantime, a slimmed down version of the Kyoto Protocol will remain in effect. The pact was originally set to expire at the end of the year, but 37 signatories have pledged to honor what remains the world’s only global climate change treaty, at least on an interim basis. Canada, Japan and Russia, all opted out of the extension, while the United States never agreed to ratify it in the first place. The countries that signed on to the extended version of Kyoto account for a combined 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.


A pledge by rich countries to recompense climate change damages incurred by poor countries was another of Doha’s victories. The Guardian describes the commitment as “historic,” noting that this was the first time “the phrase ‘loss and damage’ from climate change was enshrined in an international legal document.”


Despite advances made in Doha, many questions remain, including the matter of defining what would constitute a climate change-induced natural disaster and how foreign aid would be administered.


“Like a lot of matters in this debate, it is a principled point, but can such a policy be practically implemented?” Aulisi wonders.


Though it is easy to see Doha’s potential limitations, the summit’s commitment to a binding agreement without the two-tier system could turn out to be a high point of climate change politics and ultimately, instrumental in building a truly comprehensive climate change agreement.


Photo courtesy of: UNFCCC