Delegates at the UNFCCC climate talks in Doha, Qatar. (UNFCCC)
Delegates from more than 190 nations meet in Doha, Qatar to negotiate limits on climate-changing gas emissions and funding for developing countries for adaptation. Union of Concerned Scientists’ Alden Meyer tells host Steve Curwood about progress made at this year’s talks.
CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Boston, this is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. For the last 18 years the United Nations Climate Secretariat has brought together just about all the nations for annual talks. But so far a rigorous deal for mandatory caps on global warming gases has stayed out of reach. There was Kyoto in 1997, where the US signed but later refused to ratify.
There was Copenhagen in 2009; that blew up when the world’s two biggest emitters, the United States and China collided amid hardball politics. Yet the process continues with weak agreements keeping it alive. This year the talks are in Doha, Qatar, where we turn to Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists for an update.
MEYER: Well, this is a kind of a transitional meeting. It’s closing down two sets of negotiations that have been going on for about seven years ago, one extending the Kyoto protocol, giving it eight more years of life. And the other trying to engage the United States, developing countries and others that aren’t included in Kyoto in ramping up their level of ambition and action on climate change in a voluntary way outside of the legally binding framework. This meeting in itself in Doha is not going to lead to any more reduction in emissions that the atmosphere sees, it’s really more of a process.
CURWOOD: So, what does Doha mean for the Kyoto protocol?
MEYER: The initial comitments under the Kyoto protocol are due to end at the end of this month, in 2012, and since 2005, they’ve been negotiating about what would replace those or extend those. The betting here is that you would get the European Union, Australia, Norway, Switzerland, a few other countries, agreeing to stay in Kyoto, but you’ve already seen Japan, Russia, New Zealand and Canada say that they will not take on commitments covered by Kyoto. So the share of emissions covered by Kyoto continues to shrink. So, obviously by itself it’s not going to do the job.
CURWOOD: Now, the United States, indeed the world, is part of a voluntary deal cut in Copenhagen to reduce emissions. What’s been done about the voluntary side of things at the Doha meeting?
MEYER: Well, a couple of things. There have been a couple of countries that have come in and made pledges, the Dominican Republic, for example just announced that they would seek to cut their emissions by about 25 percent. The irony is that the host country, Qatar, which is one of the richest and highest emitting per capita countries in the world, has not made any pledges to reduce its emissions.
CURWOOD: What has happened in Doha in terms of getting legally binding limits on greenhouse gasses going forward?
MEYER: That part of the negotiation is actually going pretty well. In terms of laying out the plan of work for next year, for what’s called the Durban platform track. What’s not going well is finance. You’ll remember that in Copenhagen, President Obama and Hillary Clinton came in and promised to try to ratchet up collective support from developed countries on climate finance for activities like deploying renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies in developing countries, conserving rainforests and adapting to the mounting impacts of climate change.
They’ve committed to try to ramp up that support from the nearly ten billion dollars a year that has been financed a year, towards 100 billion a year toward 2020. And the big question here is: Will the United States, Japan, Europe and the other industrialized countries keep their promise?
CURWOOD: Of course the world is in the middle of an economic crisis…Alden Meyer, what are the odds of the industrialized countries keeping up this commitment to less developed countries to come up with all this cash for less developed countries to help fight climate change?
MEYER: Well, it’s obviously a tough fiscal environment in Japan, Europe and the US, but on the other hand, just think that Superstorm Sandy cost New Jersey, Connecticut and New York an estimated eighty billion dollars for one storm alone and that cost is rising. So, you have to put this into perspective of the impacts that we’re seeing. There was a very emotional intervention by the Philippines’ delegation talking about the impact of a typhoon that’s currently devastating the Philippines and what that’s doing, and it got a very emotional sustained ovation from everyone.
So I think people are putting this in perspective, and saying that yes, there is going to be a cost of helping developing countries take action, but the cost of inaction is far greater. And it’s also not gone unnoticed that when the world banking system was on the verge of collapse in 2008, leaders and finance ministers from around the world mobilized one trillion dollars, seemingly overnight, to bail out the banks. And yet, we’re having such a hard time going above ten billion dollars a year towards bailing out the world’s ecosystems and ailing communities.
CURWOOD: So, in the wake of extreme events like the typhoon in the Philippines and Hurricane Sandy in the greater New York area, what sense if any is there of renewed urgency in Doha to take more immediate action?
MEYER: Well, there’s clearly continuing urgency among the countries on the front lines: the least developed countries, the coastal countries, the small island states like Bangladesh, they’re getting increasingly desperate in their pleas for help on this front. There doesn’t seem to be tremendous urgency among the major emitting countries whether it’s the US, Japan, China. I think the reality is that until those countries and political leaders start feeling some political heat from their constituencies back home that that’s not likely to change.
CURWOOD: Alden, before, you go, observers of this process see it moving so slowly they question whether it serves any function anymore. How do you respond to folks that feel what’s going on at the UN Climate Summits isn’t amounting to much?
MEYER: Well, I mean, it’s not amounting to what we need, but it’s clearly doing more than we would have seen on the business as usual basis. So it is making a difference, it’s just not making enough of a difference fast enough. But the reality is, there’s no other game in town. You sort of have to negotiate and try to work your way through this by the system that you have, not the system that you wish you had.
CURWOOD: Alden Meyer is Director of Policy and Strategy at the Union of Concerned Scientists - thank you so much.
MEYER: Thanks Steve, great to be with you.
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