From the Failure of Rio+20 to the Hope of Doha, Qatar

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is being held in Doha, Qatar from November 26 to December 7.

United Nations Framework on Climate Change

In a recent post, I included a video – History of Climate Change Talks in 83 Seconds – poking fun at the lackluster accomplishments of world leaders in previous climate change negotiations and diplomacy. But the repetitive failures in reaching consensus on action to curtail climate change is no laughing matter.

The Future We Wanted

The best that could be achieved at the recent Rio+20 conference was a broad outcome document, The Future We Want, which consists of 283 paragraphs of unenforceable commitments. I call it the “reaffirm doctrine” with empty words – recognizes, underscores, concern, urges, suggest, recommend – meant to show good intention but lacking a plan for precise detailed action on climate change. The word “reaffirm” appears 60 times in the document.The report should be re-titled ”The Future We WANTED“. The conference was a total abdication of responsibility by world leaders and an insult to the people of our planet. I have called it The Great Abdication in a previous post.

3 Reasons to be Hopeful in Doha?

1. President Barack Obama: The very first reason why there may be hope for significant action in Doha is President Obama.  He could single-handedly kick-start the process should he choose to do so. Kelly Rigg (Executive Director of GCCA) sums it up superbly in her recent HuffPo article asking if Obama will seize the moment:

Superstorm Sandy changed the U.S. political zeitgeist on climate change virtually overnight. When BusinessWeek runs a cover blazoned with “It’s Global Warming Stupid” and politicians start breaking their “climate silence,” you know the jig is up. President Obama acknowledged as much in his acceptance speech, when he said he wanted to “pass on a country that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

Kelly Rigg, Executive Director of GCCA, Global Climate Change Alliance and Blogger in Huffington Post

Kely Rigg, GCCA

Rigg further points out that Obama will be under “increasing pressure to act”.  Over 70% of Americans now believe climate change is real as reported on BoomerWarrior. In his acceptance speech, the President said “We want our kids to grow up in an America… that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

“After a blistering summer, record Arctic sea ice melt and now Hurricane Sandy, let’s hope that the president is prepared to turbo-charge the growing momentum for action” says Rigg. There’s that word again, hope.

2. Corporate Initiative:  In a recent letter,  Shell is joined by Unilever and more than 100 companies in calling for lawmakers worldwide to put a “clear” price on carbon emissions in order to contain global warming. This initiative was coordinated by Prince Charles’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change (a club of companies brought together by the heir to the British throne and managed by the University of Cambridge). Source: Bloomberg Business Week, Alex Morales, November 19, 2012. The companies wrote:

 ”A clear, stable, ambitious and cost-effective policy framework is essential to underpin the investment needed to deliver substantial greenhouse gas emissions reductions by mid- century,” the companies said in the e-mailed statement. “Putting a clear, transparent and unambiguous price on carbon emissions must be a core policy objective…effective carbon pricing offers the potential to mobilize finance at a scale that can impact the climate challenge.”

3. Recent reports:  The latest publication - Turn Down the Heat- from the World Bank  is now painting a somewhat desperate picture of the dire consequences of climate change unless immediate and decisive action is taken. The report says today’s climate could “warm from the current global mean temperature of 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels, to as high as 4°C by 2100, even if countries fulfill current emissions-reduction pledges.” More from the report:

 “A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided — we need to hold warming below 2°C,” World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim said on the release of the report titled “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided.” Kim’s “below 2°C” mark is achievable according to the report, which urges the immediate implementation of energy-efficiency initiatives; increasing the production of renewable energy; and redistributing the $1 trillion of subsidies that currently go to fossil fuel and other industries.

The study was completed by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics for the World Bank. It predicts:

 Sea levels rising up to three feet or more, affecting coastal cities in Mexico, India, Bangladesh, Mozambique, Madagascar, the Philippines and Vietnam, as well as small island nations, which could become uninhabitable.

Drought could affect 44 percent of global croplands, threatening the world’s food security.

Water sources for humans could become scarce in northern and eastern Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

Stephen Leahy, Environmental Journalist, Truthout,

Stephen Leahy

Stephen Leahy (International Environmental Journalist) reports in his Truthout article of November 22, that statements found in the  IEA‘s (International Energy Agency) “annual flagship publication, the World Energy Outlook,” paint a gloomy picture of what is to come in the absence of concerted climate change mitigation strategies.

 Although global heating of the planet by two degrees C is not considered safe, going beyond that is often called dangerous climate change. To have a coin-flip chance (50-50) of staying at two degrees C, the IEA has calculated that most of the world’s coal reserves, 22 percent of oil and 15 percent of natural gas reserves must stay in the ground.

Geographically, two-thirds of these reserves are in North America, the Middle East, China and Russia.

What to Expect

Fiona Harvey, journalist for The Guardian

Fiona Harvey

Fiona Harvey is a journalist reporting on environmental issues in The Guardian. In her post, (Doha Talks, What to Expect) she expresses a less optimistic view, “the round of climate change talks has every chance of suffering the same fate as the others: stalemate and failure”. She goes on to say:

Doha is a byword for stalemate and failure. So when the United Nations chose the Qatari capital as the location for this year’s round of climate change talks, there was a collective groan from greens. There is every prospect these negotiations will suffer the same fate. The history of climate talks is as unpromising as the location – this year, the negotiations “celebrated” their 20th birthday, but after all that talking there is still no global treaty stipulating cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and the best governments are now hoping for is to draw up an agreement in the next three years that would not come into force until 2020.

 As a world, we are doing worse than ever on climate change, just when we need to be doing better – if emissions do not peak by 2020, scientists have warned, we may lose forever the chance to contain climate change to manageable levels. On current trends, the world is headed for 6C of warming, a level not seen for millions of years and that would cause chaos, according to the International Energy Agency. Fatih Birol, chief economist, says: “I don’t see enough of a sense of urgency. We do not have time to waste. We need progress at these talks.” Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN environment programme, warns: “While governments work to negotiate a new international climate agreement, they urgently need to put their foot firmly on the action pedal.”

OK Fiona, I get it! But don’t be so cynical. Perhaps the prospects for success are looking dim but allow me a fortnight (to use your expression) of fantasy and illusory thinking. Let me sleep well for a few weeks knowing that my government’s representatives are, ah..well…hmm representing our best interests.

Maybe the Climate Change Gods will inspire this group of diplomats who have rained down on Doha to surprise all 7 billion of us.

What do you think?

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