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The Doha Climate Gateway: Stumbling Toward a Global Agreement at COP 18

Tom Schueneman's picture

Environmental writer, journalist and web publisher. Founder of

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  • Dec 13, 2012

Halting progress made at COP18In typical international climate summit fashion, COP18 ended in a last–minute marathon session complete with frustration, accusation, acrimony and a halting step forward in what is called the “Doha Climate Gateway” deal.

One of the main features of the deal is breathing the last gasps of life into the Kyoto Protocol, the first commitment round of which is set to expire at the end of the month. What’s left of the Kyoto Protocol will have little impact on global carbon emissions, especially with Russia, Japan, New Zealand and Canada refusing to join for a second commitment.

The remaining countries, including the 27-member European Union, Australia, Switzerland and eight others did not increase their emissions reductions pledges from nearly 15 years ago. In total the Kyoto Protocol only represents 15 percent of total world carbon emissions.

A bridge to a global climate agreement

While the Climate Gateway Deal did manage to keep the Kyoto Protocol alive, the substantive outcome from the climate talks in Doha is to help shine a light on the path to 2015 when, in theory, a new deal will be made that brings all nations into account for reducing their carbon emissions–a deal set to take effect in 2020.

“We did pass the bridge between the old system,” said E.U. Commissioner for Climate Change Connie Hedegaard. “We’re now on our way to 2015, the new regime. It was definitely not an easy ride. Definitely it also was not a beautiful ride. Definitely it was not a fast ride. But we did manage to cross the bridge.”

One sticking point in negotiations that lingered into the wee hours of Saturday morning was over a dispute between the United States and vulnerable developing countries seeking compensation from rich nations for damage “loss and the damage” a new issue catching the United States by surprise. US negotiators pushed back against small island nations and others from the most climate vulnerable countries for fear of being exposed to “unacceptable liability.” Any “compensation” said the US, would only be considered as “aid.” In the final deal, the Climate Gateway “promised” to have set in place by 2013 a system that could see rich nations paying billions of dollars more for disasters linked to climate change.

As in every COP since, Doha took up the pledge given at COP15 in Copenhagen from developed countries to provide $100 billion for climate mitigation to poor nations by 2020. “Vague assurances” in the Climate Gateway text promises funding for climate adaptation and technology transfer will continue and grow.

Tod Stern, US special envoy for climate change, expressed his satisfaction with the final outcome in Doha, characterizing what was accomplished as “unspectacular but important.” By resolving left over issues like finance and technology, Stern said, the pathway from the Kyoto Protocol, which only binds a few rich countries to cut carbon, to a globally binding agreement for all nations to reduce their carbon emissions.

“It’s going to be very challenging,” said Stern. “There will be growing pains in this process.”

And, as with all COP meetings of recent memory, those of growing pains are obvious. Delegates from low–lying nations and African countries, in other words those most vulnerable to climate change and with the least historical responsibility for causing it, expressed bitter disappointment with yet another week agreement hammered out in desperate last-minute marathon session, which has become the hallmark of the COP negotiating process. A deal they say does nothing to reduce carbon emissions or actually guarantee any money to aid these countries and climate mitigation.

“Those who are obstructive and self-serving need to realize we are not talking about impacts on how comfortable you people live, but whether or not our people will live,” said Nauru Foreign Minister Kieren Keke.

“It’s the weakest text I have ever seen,” said Farukh Khan, Pakistan’s lead negotiator. “It can be summed up in 2 words: we’ll talk.”

The bitterness, acrimony and dissolution may be all that can be expected in such a lumbering, complex negotiation. Ultimately steps were taken with the hope that by 2015, only 3 years hence, a global agreement can be forged that all nations can agree upon that by 2020 the nations of the world will share the collective goal of reducing carbon emissions, reducing before a station, strengthening resilience and building adaptation for a climate changed world.

Image credit: CGIR Climate, courtesy flickr

Randy Voges's picture
Randy Voges on Dec 13, 2012

Counter-response from Walter Russell Mead on COP18: "The inexorable decline of the climate movement from its Pickett’s Charge at the Copenhagen summit continues. The global green lobby is more flummoxed than ever. These people and these methods couldn’t make a ham sandwich, much less save Planet Earth."

Tom Schueneman's picture
Tom Schueneman on Dec 19, 2012

I can't disagree with the ineffectiveness of the UNFCCC process. But There is hardly a decline in the "climate movement" as anyone looking beyond the annual COP meeting would realize. 

The language of "these people" and the "green lobby" belies a complete lack of understanding of the players involved and the global impact of climate change. Such "us vs. them" mentality is one of the core issues as to why nothing gets done. 


Randy Voges's picture
Randy Voges on Dec 20, 2012

Alternative explanation: the core issue for greens is their policy incompetence. Cap and trade, subsidies, carbon trading, green venture capitalism, whatever; climate hawks have an uncanny penchant for policy failures.  They then compensate for it by overemphasizing climate science, unaware that it is one thing to know what IS the problem, but it is a much bigger deal prescribing what OUGHT to be done about it.

Tom Schueneman's picture
Tom Schueneman on Dec 20, 2012

I don't argue your main points - I wish it could be stated in better language. These are issues for which everyone should be engaged so that proper policy can be formulated. As long as it is apparently relegated to "greens" and "climate hawks" it remains divisive. Managing the energy-water nexus is not an issue only for a paticular advocacy group, and climate has a direct impact on how water and energy plays out in the coming decades. 

I am open to suggestions. 


Randy Voges's picture
Randy Voges on Dec 21, 2012

Suggestions?  Here goes:

1) Avoid the term 'solution' in the context of a policy discussion.  There really is no such thing, because no matter what 'solution' is offered, you will immediately be confronted with multiple problems.  Instead, constructive policy can only be formulated using the concept of tradeoffs, which can only be mitigated to some degree.

2) Understand how the 'is-ought' distinction (famously associated with the Scottish philosopher David Hume) affects the discussion.  In this case, the diagnosis of the issue resides in the arena of climate science (what IS the case), but the prescriptions lie in the realm of energy science (what OUGHT to be).  To put it another way, climate scientists may understand how CO2 is affecting the climate, but it does not follow that they know the right criteria for energy policy.

3) Understand that fundamentals of physics and chemistry are the foundation of the energy industry.  Bill McKibben lectures that fossil fuel companies is at war with the laws of the physics and chemistry; he fails to grasp that it is precisely because of our understanding of physics and chemistry that we generate the enormous amounts of energy that we utilize.  The critical point is that a ray of sunlight or a gust of wind simply don't carry that much energy compared with the burning of a comparable amount of natural gas or coal.  To expect that wind and solar are going to displace fossil fuels in any meaningful amount is nothing more than wishful thinking.

4) Understand that energy transitions take place over decades because of the capital intensive nature of the industry.  In our case, the situation is made doubly difficult given the state of the power grid. 

In light of all the above items, I'd argue that regarding electricity, the only policy which takes climate change seriously and which also has at least the possibility of success is an idea the journalist Robert Bryce advocates in his book Power Hungry: N2N, or Natural Gas to Nuclear.  It is well known that nuclear power plants cost a fortune but of the big three sources of electrical power (coal, natural gas, and nuclear) it's the only one that doesn't give off greenhouse gases during the generation process.  Natural gas plants are less expensive and quicker to build (actually everything is except maybe hydro!) and thus constitute a so-called 'bridge fuel'.  I am well aware that there are pitfalls and problems with such a policy, but those are part of the tradeoff issue.  It's the best we'll be able to do.

Make sense?


Randy Voges's picture
Randy Voges on Dec 23, 2012

(sound of crickets chirping)

Tom Schueneman's picture
Thank Tom for the Post!
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