What Happened in Doha?

The weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

With Kyoto about to expire and the main outcomes of Copenhagen withering, hopes were high for the recently-concluded Doha round of climate change talks. And there were some exciting outcomes. The big news is the “loss and damage” agreement for countries suffering as a result of climate change. They will be able to claim compensation from major polluters including Europe, the US and China. The objective is “to address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts in developing countries, that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change to enhance adaptive capacity”. Needless to say, this went down like a tonne of carbon bricks with big polluting nations, including China which classes itself as a developing nation even though it is the world’s biggest polluter and its economy is set to overtake that of the US within the next few years.

The “loss and damage” session ran for 36 hours and was fraught with tears and drama, but developing nations finally won most of their case. It means that vulnerable countries which suffer because of extreme weather events such catastrophic flooding or drought will be able to claim funds from developed economies for damages through an as yet unspecified “international mechanism”. 

This sounds like a Nirvana for lawyers, but it isn’t because there is no language of liability or compensation in the decision. Polluting nations will have to contribute to a yet-to-be-defined special fund, presumably according to their emissions, from which victims can draw. This decision will act as a terrific deterrent for the big polluters who thus far have no grown-up carbon reduction policy, such as the US. Lip service can only go so far and with this agreement, there is a price to pay for lack of action. Finally there is a financial cost for countries who want to pollute. This is good news, because the only real motivator in climate change mitigation and environmental impact reduction seems to be money.

The other big success in Doha is an extension of the Kyoto protocol, due to expire this year. The European Union, Australia, Norway and several other countries have agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol to 2020, along with their emissions reductions targets. This will cover about 15% of global emissions which doesn’t sound like much, but once Americans realise that their polluting ways are costing the country money, perhaps the US will also sign up to Kyoto. Participants in the Doha sessions also decided to have a universal climate agreement by 2015. This may sound rather fanciful but as Pliny said, fortune favours the brave!

– Laurel Brunner

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