Opinion

Doha talks and effective
global climate governance

An event like the global climate change negotiations in Doha to be held from Nov. 26 to Dec. 7, like so many similar summits that preceded it, seems to be yet another annual convention for procrastinators. National delegations in attendance are known for setting a deadline and then missing it.

The negotiations are infamous: never-ending meetings to discuss deadlines for reaching agreements that then get missed and postponed for future consideration while the need for action becomes ever more pressing.

Doha is hosting the 18th session of the United Nations’ Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which may not promise any substantial results but it is expected to shape the transition to a new legal agreement.

However, this year’s conference marks the end of work on the mandates of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG LCA) and the end of the first period of Kyoto Protocol commitments.

Meanwhile, according to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), the present emission reduction pledges from the second commitment period to be started in 2013 only amount to 12 – 18 percent of the agreed reduction to 1990 levels that was planned to be reached by 2020.

This means that the huge gap will not be closed by the current pledges, which sought to limit global warming to less than to two degrees above the pre-industrial level.

Civil society is addressing this gap by pressuring parties to raise the bar for their second period commitments. This is even more necessary since the bitterly disappointing news that several major participants, including Russia, Japan and Canada, have announced they are withdrawing from the second commitment.

The end of the road for the AWG LCA negotiations does not mean there is no “unfinished business”. Several issues still have to be decided both in terms of mitigation and adaptation. For mitigation, it will be important to ensure that Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (REDD+) negotiations continue under the UNFCCC.

For adaptation, parties have to actually implement what was decided in Cancun and Durban. This includes providing vulnerable developing countries with equitable finance, suitable technology, capacity building and the technical means necessary to develop their adaptation mechanism.

High ministerial level meetings as the culmination of the Doha negotiation will indicate the strength of political will of the parties to negotiate the new legal agreement that will replace the Kyoto Protocol.

The negotiation will happen under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) and will involve two negotiation tracks: Pre- and post-2020. Both are expected to lay a strong foundation for a fair and ambitious binding agreement by 2015.

The ADP platform is seen by many as a response to the new geopolitical context of climate negotiations. The platform, commencing in 2020, will apply to both developed and developing countries.

With this approach it is expected that emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil, and Indonesia will be legally obligated to contribute to emissions reduction.

It is important, however, for the parties to ensure that the ADP adopts the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility and Respected Capabilities, and also takes into consideration the historical emissions of developed countries.

This will reflect a respect for equity and justice in global climate negotiations. Crucially, the adoption of these principles will ensure that poor countries will be supported and not burdened by the “historical sins” of developed countries.

Despite the slow progress of global climate negotiations, the anticipated financial pledges from developed countries are a cause for some optimism.

Around US$10 billion per year was delivered from 2010 to 2012. The implementation of the Green Climate Fund is expected to further motivate developed countries to meet their target of raising the fund to $100 billion annually by 2020.

So with this mixture of optimism and frustration people are starting to ask about the effectiveness of global governance in addressing cross-border problems such as climate change and poverty.

In a public lecture at the Victoria University of Wellington, Helen Clark, the administrator of the UN Development Program (UNDP), outlined three key aspects of governance for global institutions to deal with global challenges: effectiveness and efficiency, legitimacy and transparency, and accountability and fairness.

A concerted international effort is required to meet the requirements. In the context of global climate governance, effectiveness and efficiency mean a slimmed down negotiation structure that will avoid fragmentation and instead focus on the common global interest in stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations and thus avoid the dangers of anthropogenic interference with the climate system.

Meanwhile, legitimacy and transparency mean climate policies must be underpinned by robust science. The forthcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fifth assessment report in 2014 will hopefully shape the development of the ADP platform.

Therefore, it will truly represent a level of ambitions needed to avoid climatic catastrophes. Furthermore, to increase the level of transparency in global climate governance, it is important for the IPCC to involve experts from developing countries and not just from developed countries.

Finally, accountability and fairness entail listening to the poor countries whose interests are supposed to be at the core of the negotiations agenda. It is also important for the global climate negotiations to stay relevant to the current geopolitical context by giving space for the gradually increasing capacity of emerging economies to contribute more to climate negotiations.

It is imperative that both traditional state and non-state actors demand that these three key aspects will be incorporated into global climate governance.

Important decisions, delayed until the last dramatic night before being agreed upon, have been the fate of almost every global climate change negotiation. Late, late nights with conventions full of global procrastinators, where the coffee keeps coming but the sandwiches grow stale as energy flags.

Perhaps this is what we need: dry throats and empty stomachs to concentrate the mind and boost the motivation to reach consensus, even as the time to act is running out.

The writer is energy and climate policy coordinator at WWF Indonesia 2011-2012.

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