Doha Getaway: World on line for new regime, US on track to escape

Indrajit Bose, Doha

Two weeks of intense climate negotiations ended rather dramatically at Doha on December 8, 2012. The countries gathered made sure they achieved the minimum required to let Qatar claim the meeting was not an abject failure. The long-term cooperative action or LCA track was closed. A second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol was agreed upon. And, a plan of work was laid out for the post 2020 agreement under the Durban Platform. Doha, however, with these three decisions, failed to do more than give the world a fig leaf to hide the fact that the environmental imperative of ambitious and quick action to reduce emissions had not been met.

The fact remains that while the LCA track closed, contentious elements under the track such as finance, technology, adaptation and loss and damage remained unresolved. The parties further diluted the weight that these issues would get in future talks. The future of the Kyoto Protocol, between 2013-2020, could be agreed upon only when the parties accepted European Union’s and other countries, such as Australia’s, insignificant emissions reduction pledges. The framework for negotiations under the Durban Platform could be sealed only after the parties agreed to a weakened acceptance of the primacy of the existing UN climate convention’s principles.

But these weakened agreements did not satisfy all. Under the second commitment period of Kyoto Protocol, Russian Federation protested the limitations put on the use of surplus Assigned Amount Units (AAUs). Parties’ targets under the Kyoto Protocol are expressed as levels of allowed emissions, or assigned amounts, over the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. These allowed emissions are divided into assigned amount units or AAUs. Russia protested that the amendment to the Kyoto Protocol adopted at Doha did not give it more leg room to sell surplus AAUs and therefore not ease the need to take actual actions for reducing emissions in future. 

The US too objected to the weakened decisions. Under the third track, ad hoc working group on Durban Platform or ADP—the post 2020 deal—groups such as G77 and China and BASIC (Brazil, India, South Africa, China) had ensured the way forward would be constructed under the principles of the Convention, including equity and the logic of common but differentiated responsibility. The US rejected this notion, claiming it reserved the right to not be party to future talks if they were guided by the principles of the convention. For India and other like-minded developing countries who had played a major role in establishing that any future global agreement would have to be on the basis of equity and common but differentiated responsibility, the US played spoilsport by reserving its right to opt out at will anytime in future just as it had done back in history with the Kyoto Protocol. This, while the US head of delegation at Doha, Todd Stern, claimed that the US was after decades of opposition now willing to discuss the principle of equity with others even though it disagreed with the interpretation of equity expressed by others. 

India too officially reserved the right to be party to the Doha decisions only if all the elements and provisions enshrined in the Doha declaration were accepted by others in future.  India made it clear that any future negotiations will be difficult if they are not based on the principles of the Convention. “Equity is the basis,” said Mira Mehrishi, lead negotiator from India, “on which future negotiations will be carried out. We are not happy with all the parts of the text. Some areas are extremely problematic.” The problematic areas include framework for sectoral approaches, which is lacking, weak reference to technology related intellectual property rights and no concrete commitments on finance. Referring to the US, she added that the Doha outcome should not be violated in “letter and spirit”. 

All these caveats and counter-caveats came only after the CoP president gaveled through the adoptions in a single breath, dismissing any objections, after closed huddles with other parties to find a way to beat the lack of consensus in the plenary hall of the Qatar National Convention Centre on December 8. While this may have taken care of the issues at a very peripheral level in Doha, negotiations will get nastier as the date to draw the post-2020 agreement draws closer.