Qatar Convention Centre – venue for this week’s climate talks

By Claire

Climate talks begin today in Qatar, for the 18th session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The key topic for discussion will be the Kyoto Protocol, which is scheduled to expire this year.

“The main aim of the Kyoto Protocol is to contain emissions of the main anthropogenic (i.e., human-emitted) greenhouse gases (GHGs) in ways that reflect underlying national differences in GHG emissions, wealth, and capacity to make the reductions. The treaty follows the main principles agreed in the original 1992 UN Framework Convention. According to the treaty, in 2012, Annex I Parties who have ratified the treaty must have fulfilled their obligations of greenhouse gas emissions limitations established for the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period (2008–2012).” 

What are the ramifications for failing to meet set targets you may ask?

“If the enforcement branch determines that an Annex I country is not in compliance with its emissions limitation, then that country is required to make up the difference during the second commitment period plus an additional 30%.”

So essentially, there are no ramifications. You just need to try harder next time. Assuming you agree to take part in the next round of commitments.

In 2011, Canada formally withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol. Canada was committed to cutting its greenhouse emissions to 6% below 1990 levels by 2012, but in 2009 emissions were 17% higher than in 1990. Canada’s withdrawal from the agreement was done in order to avoid the penalties of failing to meet emissions targets.

As you can probably tell from my tone, I find the terms of the Kyoto Protocol pretty disappointing. Firstly, participation is optional, targets are less than ambitious and there are no real penalties for failure to meet these targets.

But, despite this, some countries still refuse to participate. (Yes USA. I’m looking at you! And don’t even get me started on the “Australia Clause“!!)

Current levels of CO2 in context.

So this brings us to today. With CO2 levels the highest they have been in hundreds of thousands of years, there really isn’t a lot of time to mess around.

One of the biggest hurdles in coming to a global agreement on the new Kyoto targets, is the notion of “common but differentiated responsibility” (CBDR). What this basically means is that while it is recognised that every country needs to work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it is the job of the developed countries to take the lead in emissions reductions. After all, it is the developed countries that have emitted the bulk of the atmospheric greenhouse gases, and developing countries shouldn’t have to bear that burden.

To me, this sounds like a reasonable request. To politicians, apparently it doesn’t.

When it comes to agreeing on a future emissions target, everyone seems to revert back to their toddler states. “I’ll only reduce my emissions if they have to as well!” is pretty much the standard response at the moment.

So while the politicians squabble over who will and wont have to cut their emissions, and by how much, CO2 levels continue to rise, Arctic sea ice continues to melt, droughts, floods and heatwaves continue to intensify, and nothing is being done.

… I think I’m going to go back to bed.