12 December 2012
The United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP18/CMP8, which this year took place in Doha, Qatar, concluded last weekend. Negotiations were extended in an effort to reach a positive decision involving all parties; however, yet again, we have witnessed a COP sadly devoid of significant decisions on climate change, one of the most serious issues humankind currently faces.
This demonstrates once more the lack of political will to deal with this challenge. The refusal of some governments to prioritise climate change and its consequences exposes a vast inadequacy of effective global governance and a disregard of moral obligations. Without political will there is no political action.
Negotiations at last year’s conference, the COP17/CMP7 summit in Durban, initiated the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. This mandate was to underpin plans for a new, legally binding international agreement committing all countries to reduce greenhouse gasses, to be formalised by 2015 and take effect by 2020. It is imperative that this plan advances from the negotiating table to become a solid, effective and fully operational collective treaty, and extensive headway on this should have been seen in Doha. A work plan and timetable of meetings have been organised to take place during the next three years in order for a negotiating text to be ready by May 2015. Nevertheless it is deeply disappointing that a consensus was not achieved for an earlier completion date, considering the enormous urgency of the matter.
Despite opposition from some states, a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol has been agreed, which will extend the agreement from 1 January 2013 to the end of 2020. However, it is not backed by some major nations and covers only 15 per cent of global emissions. The Protocol, which is currently the only binding climate change treaty in existence, provides a framework for obligations on emissions reductions and underlines the historical responsibility of developed countries to lead in this task. This is a necessity that was re-emphasised by many speakers at the conference, including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Developing nations, as we know, are not only vulnerable to the effects of climate change but are seriously affected by the emissions from other countries. They unfortunately lack the capacity and resources for mitigation and adaptation, and reported at the COP18 that finance had now become a make or break issue.
Finance was one of the crucial matters hindering progress at Doha. It is deeply worrying that no substantial commitments have yet been made by developed countries, despite their acknowledgment of responsibility. At the COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, developed nations pledged a fund of US$100bn annually by 2020, but there is no evidence in the outcome of Doha that this pledge will be fulfilled. Advances have been made since COP17 to the Green Climate Fund and some financial contributions have been pledged from several countries in order to ensure the Fund’s operation. However, while it was agreed that a significant share of multilateral funding would flow through the Fund, without it the Fund will be redundant.
In the year since the last summit, environmental disasters such as hurricanes, flooding and droughts have occurred at an alarming rate and with growing force. In 2012 extreme flooding was witnessed across the globe, and most particularly in Africa and Asia. In September 2012, scientists reported that ice caps in the Arctic Sea had reduced to unprecedented levels. They projected that, within four years, these ice caps will melt completely during summer months, signifying a ‘global disaster’. In October 2012, ‘super-storm’ Hurricane Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, devastated parts of the Caribbean and the North-eastern United States, killing 253 people from seven of the countries it passed through. A 2012 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report suggests that hurricanes and cyclones of this magnitude will become more frequent and that it is very likely heat waves will increase.
These recent environmental events have had catastrophic effects on nations and no example carries more immediate impact than that of typhoon Bopha which tore through the Philippines while delegates argued unsuccessfully on issues at the COP18. In describing the destruction caused by the typhoon, the lead negotiator of the Philippines delegation made an emotional appeal to world leaders to face the stark reality, asking that 2012 be remembered as the year the world found the courage to find the will to take responsibility for the future we want. As he put it, “if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”
Climate change cannot be ignored. From the displacement of people to severe food and water shortages, the damage is unfolding in front of us. An international treaty to substantially reduce emissions and provide mitigation and adaptation measures to help cope with the changing environment is a vital instrument to secure the survival of planet Earth.
Effective action to prevent the planet’s temperature from increasing by more than 2°C, the target for containing global warming as set out in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, is long overdue. The pledges made in Doha to reduce emissions are inadequate for this aim and it is now overwhelmingly apparent that the 2°C goal may be unattainable. The proposed new treaty’s projected timescale of 2020, or at best 2015, means that results of any new commitments may also materialise far too late. If we are unable to achieve the target of a 2°C limit, we are left with a completely uncertain future.
As the Socialist International has advocated, the key objective must be growth based on low-carbon technologies and efficient use of energy. Policies to confront the current financial crisis must be combined with policies that combat climate change. There is no choice between preserving the earth’s environment and rejuvenating the global economy – the two tasks are fully interrelated and should be accomplished when taken together. It is essential that more funding is prioritised for research and innovation on new models to achieve sustainable development. This is a key step forward to fight climate change. As the SI underscored in its report “From a High Carbon Economy to a Low Carbon Society”, we have the shared goal of reaching a low carbon society centered on climate justice. This is a matter for every country, as every country’s survival depends upon it.
The world’s biggest greenhouse gas-emitting countries must face up to their responsibilities. Issues of contention such as disparity between countries on levels of action, finances, and surplus credits should be dealt with swiftly. The Socialist International reiterates the need for a strong commitment from the international community to forge the political will necessary to combat climate change and come together now for action to secure a sustainable world.