Like last year’s UN climate change talks, this year’s conference in Doha culminated in an all-night session to hammer out a deal on preventing further global warming and protecting people from the effects of climate change. While some promising compromises were made, the absence of a strong commitment to slash greenhouse gas emissions and help vulnerable populations adapt to climate change was evident in the conference’s 39 decisions.
IRIN provides a snapshot of the three overarching themes of the decisions that came out of the 18th session of the Conference of Parties (COP18) to UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and what these decisions mean for humanitarian actors.
Loss and damage
Tweeting out of the conference, one of Argentina’s negotiators said the decisions don’t feel “ground-breaking” but are “more likely saving face”. “What we got for it, only loss and damage and nothing else”, he said.
Poor countries, including small island states and the least developed countries, were looking for a decision to create an international mechanism to address losses and damages caused by climate change. The mechanism would open the door to possible compensation from affluent countries for poor countries facing the mounting costs of extreme climate events. It would consider both their economic and non-economic losses, and possibly explore technological interventions.
In the end, they had to settle for the possibility of this happening in the COP19 talks taking place in Poland next year. Still, the fact that the possibility of such a mechanism was mentioned in the decision at all was considered a breakthrough.
Additionally, a work programme collecting data on loss and damage caused by slow-onset disasters – such as droughts – received an extension. The programme will also consider climate change’s impact on migration patterns and displacement, as well as efforts to reduce risk.
The decisions on loss and damage echoes much of a framework proposed by a group of NGOs earlier in the conference, which had recommended focusing on the international mechanism, the work programme, and consideration of non-economic losses. But ultimately, the decisions are subject to money being made available for development of the work programme.
What it means: With the extension of the work programme, more information on possible policy approaches will be forthcoming. This will help humanitarian organizations better scale-up responses to extreme climate events, which are increasing in frequency and intensity.
But NGOs and the civil society will likely have to wait a long time for affluent countries to make firm commitments on funding, risk transfer mechanisms such as insurance, and technology to help poor countries improve their resilience to climate change. Given that money to help vulnerable populations adapt has been ad hoc and insufficient, there is little optimism for funds being made available for compensation.
In 2009, developed countries promised to provide US$30 billion by 2012 to help poor countries adapt to climate change. They also promised to provide $100 billion a year from 2020 onwards.
Developed countries reported in Doha that they had reached the $30 billion target, but this was disputed by academics and civil society.
“It is very difficult to know where that finance went and how,” said scientist Saleemul Huq of the International Institute for Environment and Development. “We need to come up with procedures for monitoring, reporting and verification of these finance figures. We need to agree on some format so that money can be tracked effectively. It hasn’t been tracked previously.”
The developed countries further indicated that, with the global recession, they are unable to make firm commitments to finance poor nations’ efforts to adapt. Instead, a decision was made to set up a work programme in 2013 to help developed countries identify ways to raise this money.
What it means: No global funding pledge has been for the interim period between 2013 and 2020. Individual pledges by five European countries – including the UK, France and Germany – have been made, but cumulatively, these fall far short of the $60 billion that developing countries had requested for the interim.
It is also not clear if the five pledges are specifically for climate change adaptation or if they are part of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) that developed countries provide to the developing world. The UNFCC requires that developed countries provide money for climate change adaptation that is additional to their ODA.
The good news to emerge from the talks is that the Kyoto Protocol – a global agreement to cut emissions that was set to expire in 2012 – has been extended to 2020.
They also agreed that a roadmap to create a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol should be ready in 2015.
But meanwhile, there are no firm commitments to take on deeper emissions cuts. And with Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and the US opting out of the Kyoto Protocol, the protocol applies to only 15 percent of current global greenhouse gas emissions.
What it means: Scientific organization, including the UN Environment Programme have warned that failing to further cut emissions could increase global temperatures by over four degrees Celius by the turn of the century. The internationally embraced goal is to limit this warming to two degrees Celsius, but the International Energy Agency has shown that achieving this goal grows more difficult and expensive with every passing year. This means poor countries and aid agencies will have to contend with the possibility of more frequent and intense climatic events and the mounting costs associated with prevention, relief and recovery.
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