Doha, Qatar – Following two weeks of largely unproductive negotiations in Qatar, and two historic storms on opposite sides of the planet that have taken terrible tolls on lives and livelihoods, Conservation International (CI) expresses deep disappointment at the failure of world leaders to act urgently or responsibly in addressing the scale of cooperation, compromise and investment required by the multiple threats of global climate change to people. Efforts to address the climate crisis both within the United Nations framework as well as through regional, national and private means, will need to be redoubled to deliver an equitable and ambitious 2015 global agreement that will prevent further damage to Earth’s life support systems.
Although expectations for this process-focused summit were low, and a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol was eventually agreed by some Parties for the 2013-2020 period, CI’s analysts in Doha reported that there was woefully inadequate progress in the outcome “Doha Climate Gateway” agreement, which concluded talks after more than 24 hours of overtime. With Parties deeply divided on issues of financial responsibility, emissions reduction targets, and a path to move forward with adaptation action as impacts become increasingly real, the 18th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP 18) has fallen far short of its mandate to build on the momentum begun in Cancun and Durban, and to pave the way for an ambitious 2015 global treaty that curbs greenhouse gas emissions and holds temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius — the threshold at which science warns of dangerous tipping points that will affect water security, food security, economic security and human well-being.
Dr. Fred Boltz, Senior Vice President for International Policy at Conservation International, said: “Nobody expected a major breakthrough to happen at this summit, but there has been virtually no meaningful progress on any important issue, including sustaining existing levels of financial support to help the most vulnerable nations cope with the negative impacts of climate change that, unfortunately, are already a reality. At most, what this meeting has achieved is an agreement to continue negotiating next year. This is completely unacceptable and irresponsible considering the severity and urgency of the challenge.”
In spite of there being just three years left before the 2015 deadline to a global climate treaty that Parties agreed to in South Africa last year, countries seem to be resigned to postponing crucial decisions and investments to the very last minute — or beyond. “It is a terrible and a terrifying irony that, while the efforts of the global community here are moving at a glacial pace, the world’s glaciers are now actually moving — or rather melting — even faster," added Boltz. “The collective failure of countries to act with urgency and resolve is appalling; the threat of dangerous climate change could not be more apparent, and a growing chorus of scientific evidence warns us that time is running short to prevent irreversible harm."
Boltz continued, “The United Nations is a collective body, and there is plenty of blame and responsibility to go around. Here in Doha we’ve seen growing distrust amongst nations divided and incapable of addressing this urgent global problem. Countries continue to put their ‘national priorities’ first, forgetting that we have a common interest. They are playing a game of chicken that risks sending us all over the cliff.”
Tne modest achievement of the conference was the adoption by the nearly 200 countries present at the summit of an extension of the Kyoto Protocol through 2020. The second phase does not include some of the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, however, and only covers about 15 percent of global emissions.
“We are relieved to see countries coming together at the last minute to renew the Kyoto Protocol, even without some key players, because this is the only legally-binding agreement we have and therefore extremely important to maintain it and hopefully build on it when we achieve a global treaty in 2015”, said Rebecca Chacko, Senior Director for Climate Policy at Conservation International.
Scaling up Financial Support & Adaptation
Going into the Doha meeting, Conservation International joined partners in strongly urging Parties to pledge at least $60 billion in new and additional financing from 2013-2015 --double the so-called “fast start” promises made in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009. Capitalization of the now-empty Green Climate Fund, a mechanism established by the U.N. to provide money to developing nations for urgent mitigation and adaptation measures, was also stressed.
“While a few countries made new pledges toward the Fund and deserve recognition for their leadership and contributions, the reality is that the amount we have so far does almost nothing for the short term,” said Chacko. “Current pledges amount to a mere $5 billion. It’s ironic to me that while some nations are focused on finding funding to aid recovery from individual natural disasters, they cannot come up with the money to invest more proactively and preventively. As we’ve seen in the Philippines this week, devastating super storms like these are only becoming more extreme, more frequent and more costly — not only in economic terms, but also in incalculable ways."
Solutions are at hand if we choose to make use of them. For example, nature’s inherent defense systems can help societies survive and adapt to the impacts of global climate change,” Chacko added. “Ecosystem-based adaptation measures, which strengthen so-called green infrastructure by building resilience in ecosystems such as mangroves, forests, watersheds and coral reefs, are among the most immediate and cost-effective means we have to protect people.
“When it comes down to it, countries just aren’t doing the math. If they did, they would see the wisdom in funding climate solutions rather than paying huge bills after climate catastrophes strike.”
On the mitigation side, technical decisions on the U.N. scheme known as REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), which compensates developing countries for keeping their forests standing, also became politicized and hit an impasse. Discussions involving the scheme were punted until the next annual summit, due to bickering mainly over financing and how countries will account and verify avoided carbon emissions.
“This was the first time talks on REDD+ broke down and they did so for political reasons, not technical ones. Progress in Doha was key to leverage REDD+ from the current piecemeal approach to the necessary global scale. Deforestation is responsible for 16 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and REDD+ provides us with one of our best chances to lessen the effects of climate change in the immediate term, while simultaneously saving threatened species and bringing social benefits to communities in forested nations,” said Chacko
Chacko acknowledged that the decisions on the table are not easy ones. “We are talking about transformational change here. But transformational change is what we need. Our survival depends on it.”
While the U.N. is the only forum we have for the global collective action needed to limit climate change below 2 degrees Celsius, Boltz added that it is important to recognize that it is not the only venue for addressing climate change. He highlighted the need to greatly increase alternative, faster-paced processes that include other sectors of society in mobilizing a response to the climate problem.
“It is time to realize that the UNFCCC is a global forum to establish the floor for our efforts and not to define the ceiling. We believe that it can set the minimum bar while also motivating and incentivizing more ambitious action. Until it does so, its actions or inactions should not constrain the efforts of businesses, willing nations, civil society and local governments to act with greater speed, innovation and courage to resolve the climate crisis. The scale of the climate challenge requires bold leaders; everyone must step up,” he said.
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