The 18th session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is being held in Doha, Qatar. This is the first time in the climate talks’ history that they are being hosted by an OPEC state. That it also happens to host the world’s highest per capita greenhouse emissions is the icing on the cake, which everyone would have been eating in South Korea right now if only Qatar hadn’t won the race to host this year’s talks in Durban. It beat South Korea, a country that boasts an ambitious green growth agenda, even though Qatar has resisted submitting voluntary carbon-cutting plans. This doesn’t bode well for the UNFCCC this year, but it has anyway been going downhill since the the Copenhagen summit, the last one to have been attended by the holy trinity of Chinese, American and Indian leaders—that happens to be the order in which the world’s top three emitters of greenhouse gases are ranked today. All that the three countries’ representatives will try to do this year is hold the line, make sure that their covers haven’t shifted a fig leaf since the Kyoto Protocol was signed way back in 1997. The global emissions map has been transformed beyond recognition since “common but differentiated responsibilities” were notified back then, and the evidence for man-made climate change has spiralled up—a new World Bank report underlines that even if all current mitigation commitments are fully implemented, the world will be warmer by more than 4°C by 2100, suffering unprecedented heat waves, severe drought and major floods. This should move countries to sign a New Deal, but the odds are that they won’t.
An Australian think-tank has succinctly lined up the three potential outcomes of Doha: (1) No amendments are made to implement a second Kyoto commitment period, which leads to the collapse of the negotiations; (2) No amendments are made to implement a second commitment period but, in an attempt to save face, governments gloss over differences and delay key decisions to the next meeting in Eastern Europe in 2013; (3) Amendments are