An International Perspective: Weighing the outcomes at Doha
Issue 44 January 2013
2012 was a year of introspection for the Climate Monitor, with much emphasis on local events such as the implementation of the carbon price, soaring electricity tariffs and the release of the Federal Government’s Energy White Paper. 2013 opens with broad developments on the international stage. This issue of the Climate Monitor weighs the outcomes of the recent Doha Climate Change Conference and takes stock of the world’s current climate change trajectory.
The Doha Round
December’s UN Climate Change Conference saw the eighteenth session of the Conference of the Parties hosted in Doha, Qatar. In total, seven negotiating bodies and groups convened, including the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, the Ad hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action and an Ad hoc Working Group negotiating further legally-binding commitments for industrialized countries.
Their primary objectives were four-fold: (i) ensure the smooth transition of the Kyoto Protocol into a second commitment period; (ii) reach a universal climate change agreement covering all countries from 2020; (iii) complete the 2007 Bali Action Plan; and, (iv) complete new infrastructure and chart a way for long-term climate finance.
First, the Kyoto Protocol. Set to expire on 31st December, 2012, the world’s only major legally-binding agreement to limit carbon emissions required an urgent extension. The Conference achieved this, keeping the agreement afloat till 2020, when a universal climate change agreement is to be reached. The crucial compromise, however, was that the extension covers only the European Union (EU) and Australia, whose combined share of global greenhouse gas emissions is 15%. The United States never ratified the agreement, and countries such as Canada, New Zealand, Russia and Japan – where the Kyoto Protocol was first signed – discontinued their involvement.
For Australia and the European Union to commit to the extended Kyoto Protocol in the face of waning international support is noteworthy. Being part of the Kyoto protocol ensures that liable Australian and EU entities are guaranteed access to international credits under the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism, which can lower the costs of abatement to each economy. Yet, the market for carbon emissions trading may not be as rosy as previously expected for 2013. While local regions in China, South Africa and the United States are kick-starting their own trading programs this year, analysts at Thomson Reuters Point Carbon forecast a 30% drop in the value of the world’s largest – the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme.
One major outcome of the Doha conference which has been hailed a success is the proposal of a new "Loss and Damage" mechanism. For the first time, it was established that rich member states should move towards compensating poor member states for their losses due to inevitable climate change. Although negotiations did not settle how the fund would be managed and how it might relate to other international humanitarian aid and disaster relief funds, they did break the Mechanism into components that comprise “Insurance”, “Rehabilitation” and “Risk Management”.
Medium-term climate financing also appears to have gotten to a good start with the launch of a new partnership between the World Economic Forum and the UN Climate Change secretariat. This partnership will have direct access to the Green Growth Action Alliance, which includes 50 of the world’s largest energy companies, international financial institutions and development finance banks. Industrial nations have meanwhile pledged $100 billion per year by 2020 in public and private financing to help vulnerable states mitigate the impact of climate change.
With regard to reaching a universal climate change agreement, progress was more in the sense of agreeing to agree. The United States (US) has been pushing for the removal of the “common but differentiated responsibilities” provision, which in essence places more responsibility on developed countries than developing ones to reduce emissions and compensate the global community for the cost of emissions impacts. Brazil, China and India have maintained that the provision should be retained in the new agreement, but with China now surpassing the US as the world’s biggest polluter, the question of what constitutes fair responsibility may be harder than ever before.
Breaking the carbon budget
Another key outcome at Doha was the public acknowledgement that the world might not be able to achieve the 2⁰C global atmospheric temperature stabilisation target.
Greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion are in fact at their highest in human history. New data from the Global Carbon Project projected a 2.6% growth in emissions in 2012, on top of a 3% rise in 2011. Relative to 1990, the reference year for the Kyoto Protocol, emissions for 2012 were 58% higher. If the world continues on its current trajectory, termed "Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5" by the IPCC, global temperatures are likely to rise by 4⁰C to 6⁰C before the end of the century.
The gravity of the situation becomes clear when these projections are juxtaposed against targets the global community has been working towards. According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), global warming beyond 2⁰C creates “dangerous” climate change. The World Bank’s ‘Turn Down the Heat’ report just released shows the world remains firmly at risk of having temperatures rise by 4⁰C through the century, well above the 2⁰C threshold. At 4⁰C to 6⁰C, what Dr. Josep Canadell of the Global Carbon Project believes will be “an unrecognisable planet” might even be an understatement.
The Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, Maria van der Hoeven, says that the aim of limiting global warming to 2⁰C "is becoming more difficult and more expensive with every passing year". Yet, the task at hand is not an unachievable one.
As noted by the Global Carbon Project, countries such as Belgium, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom have historically reduced their emissions independently of climate policy. By decreasing their dependence on oil, supplanting coal with natural gas, or expanding their nuclear generation capacities, these countries have significantly changed their greenhouse gas trajectories.
Consumer demand can play an equally strong role in putting the global effort back on track. Nearly all energy-users in Norway, for example, use electricity from 100% renewable sources across the international Nordic energy network.
Giving a nod to economy-wide carbon pricing, whether in the form of carbon taxes or a cap-and-trade mechanism, is Robert Stavins. The Professor of Business and Government and Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program believes it is "the only approach that can conceivably achieve the targets scientists advocate."