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Summit fails to deliver treaty

14 December 2012

While a typhoon killed hundreds in the Philippines, Joe Ware was witnessing stalemate at the climate-change conference


Ambitious: activists at the climate-change conference in Qatar

Ambitious: activists at the climate-change conference in Qatar

AT THE UN's climate summit in Qatar, on Saturday, negotiators kept hopes alive for a global climate treaty in 2015, but made little progress in tackling carbon pollution, or in helping those who suffer from the effects of climate change.

Exactly a day and one hour after the nominal deadline of 6 p.m. last Friday, the president of the talks, Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, brought the gavel down on a deal that secured a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP), but delivered hardly anything concrete needed by developing countries, or demanded by climate scientists, to prevent further global warming.

At the same time as the "super typhoon" Bopha killed hundreds of people in the Philippines, policy-makers from some developed countries at the 18th "conference of the parties" (COP 18) blocked attempts to produce an ambitious agreement.

Negotiators from Russia, the United States, and Poland, among others, refused to make any significant emissions cuts, or pledge vital funding to help the world's poor to adapt to the effect of climate change.

The "Kyoto countries" - the European Union, and others such as Australia - signed up to a second period until 2020, which ensures the survival of the only international, legally binding, rules-based climate treaty. Emission targets, however, remain woefully short - both by KP countries, and those outside the treaty such as the United States, Canada, and Japan - of what is needed to avoid runaway climate change.

Some NGOs have dubbed it the "Qatar-strophe". Campaigners had called on nations to respond to warnings from scientists that the world is on track for global warming on an unprecedented scale.

The senior climate-change adviser for Christian Aid, Mohamed Adow, said the world's poor had been left with very little from the summit. "The world's most vulnerable people, rather than being given an early Christmas present, were left with just a lump of coal in the bottom of their stocking," he said.

"The world's most vulnerable countries were desperate for a deal, but delegations from rich countries constantly undermined those efforts. The climate will not wait for governments to wake up and take action. People in the Philippines, continue to suffer while politicians drag their feet."

The head of the Philippines' delegation, Yeb Sano, had moved many at the conference to tears when he made an emotional appeal for global action to help avoid further unseasonal storms in his country. Mr Sano said: "If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?"

Lidy Nacpil, the International Co-ordinator of the Christian Aid partner Jubilee South, and a member of the Philippines' delegation, said: "This week in the Philippines we again felt the terrible reality of climate change with Typhoon Bopha.

"The frequency of 'super typhoons' has been unprecedented. . . We need climate finance to help us survive, and cuts in emissions from big polluters to prevent the storms from getting worse."

Despite creating the Green Climate Fund in Durban last year, to distribute $100 billion by 2020, developed countries left Doha with the fund still largely empty.

One of the few green shoots to come from the talks was the commitment by the UK to pledge £1.8 billion towards helping developing nations adapt to the impacts of climate change, and help them develop along a low-carbon pathway. The announcement by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Edward Davey, provided some momentum, leading the way for other countries to make their own commitments at the talks.

Overall, however, the willingness shown by the UK and some other EU countries was undermined by developed countries who refused to do their fair share.

Because the effects of climate change in many poor countries can no longer be averted, some developing countries and small island states pushed for compensation from developed nations for "loss and damage". This was blocked by the US, supported by Canada, Australia, and Japan, and almost led to the collapse of the talks.

In the end, the parties agreed to establish at COP 19 next year "institutional arrangements, such as an international mechanism", which presents an opportunity to address the issue of loss and damage.

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