The two-week UN climate change negotiations came to an end on Saturday with no concrete steps taken to try to halt global warming, some promises for future action and, perhaps most importantly, a historic alteration of its principles. That no concrete steps or commitments by countries to reduce emissions would be made was pretty much expected. First, of course, was the location of the talksthe fact that Qatar, with the highest per capita greenhouse emissions in the world, managed to edge out South Korea, arguably one of the hardest working countries in terms of green growth initiatives, as host said something about the character of the talks that were held at Doha. The US, which has so far refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, failed yet again to put any meaningful emission reductions on the tableit agreed to cut emissions by a mere 3% over 1990 levels, a joke. The Kyoto Protocol, drafted in 1997 and obliging wealthy countries to cut their emissions, has now been extended to 2020, but this again is little more than words. The emissions of those still bound by the Kyoto Protocol amount to only an estimated 15% of the global total. What is needed, as was suggested during last years Durban talks, is a new treaty obliging all countriesrich and poorto tackle climate change. One of the main achievements in Doha this time around was the clearing of the way for the Kyoto Protocol to be replaced by this new treaty. But, again, nothing concrete was established. Well have to wait for next years talks in Poland for this to go forward.
The most significant step taken at Doha, however, is the first of its kind agreement for an international process for addressing loss and damage caused by climate change. This process, long resisted by developed countries for fear of never-ending compensation claims, was vociferously argued for by island nations and least-developed countries, many of which have had to bear the brunt of drastic, and often catastrophic, weather events. Surprisingly, the US agreed to this loss and damage system, but then it too has been on the receiving end of extreme weather, such as Hurricane Sandy (for which Barack Obama reportedly asked for $60 billion). The details of the system, however, are still to be nailed down.
As things stand, though, were still far behind schedule. Several reports, most notably a recent one by the World Bank, predict the world is on course for a sharp rise in global average temperatures in the range of 2.5-4 Celsius. While some, like Harvard University climate agreement expert Professor Robert Stavins, argue that the Doha agreement for compensation and the commitment to come up with an all-country treaty is a transitional step in a long, drawn-out process (it probably is), the truth of the matter is that we may be running out of time before the environmental damage becomes irreversible. As Naurus foreign minister and chair of the Alliance of Small Island States said, This is not where we wanted to be at the end of the meeting... It certainly isnt where we need to be in order to prevent islands from going under.