Still stalling

Like Copenhagen in 2009, Bali in 2010, and Durban last year, some 190 countries spent a fortnight in Doha bitterly debating what a possible global agreement to reduce carbon emissions should look like, only producing a last-minute commitment to extend the increasingly inefficient Kyoto protocol beyond its December 2012 expiry. The Doha talks, which began on November 26 and went into an extra day of negotiations on Saturday, also concluded with calls to develop a mechanism to pay for climate change-related disasters. The friction at the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18) centred around the issue that has plagued all previous attempts at a global framework: the degree of financial responsibility rich countries should assume for their part in global warming, and the mandate of developing countries like India and China, which had historically low levels of greenhouse gas emissions but are now among the biggest polluters.

At Doha, the agenda was modest. With much of the developed world, including the US, EU and Japan, still reeling from the effects of the recession, there was little hope anything concrete would emerge, despite poor countries demanding a timetable of how the developed world would scale up climate aid. In that context, the concessions that led to the extension of the Kyoto protocol until a more wide-ranging agreement is concluded by 2015 are a small victory. Yet, the US is still outside the Kyoto framework, and Russia, Japan and Canada have also opted out, limiting Kyoto to only 15 per cent of global emissions. Though it was not surprising wealthy nations postponed resolving a dispute related to the $100 billion fund for assisting countries most affected by climate change, their lack of commitment to a good-faith negotiation does not augur well.

Despite expressing "grave concern" that it was too late already to meet the UN's central goal of keeping global temperatures from rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times, COP18 continued to put off significant deal-making. A recent World Bank report indicated global mean temperature is on track to rise to 4 degrees C above pre-industrial levels by 2100, which would mean a rise in sea levels threatening coastal cities, and other climate changes like droughts and storms. Clearly, policymakers are still in denial of how urgently they need to act or find it expedient to continue kicking the ball down the rapidly crumbling road.

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