DOHA, Qatar – Delegates worked through the night to salvage a deal at United Nations climate talks, as efforts to bridge gaps over financing for poor countries and demand for bolder actions by rich countries on emissions made little headway.
The two-week U.N. conference in the Qatar capital of Doha was never meant to yield a global climate pact to curb emissions of greenhouse gases – that has been put off until 2015. But even the modest goals of extending the Kyoto Protocol and laying the groundwork for the 2015 deal only served to reopen old disputes between rich and poor countries that have dogged the talks for decades.
And with the negotiations on the brink of failure, activists said they were giving up hope that any deal would include tough measures to protect the planet from the effects of global warming.
“The deal in Doha is a recipe for disaster. The deal in Doha is a coffin for the planet,” said Michael Dorsey, a professor at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, speaking outside the negotiations. “We will see the failure to have emission targets sufficiently high enough. We are going to see the failure to move critical resources to countries on the margin in the developing world who desperately need resources to get out ahead of the unfolding climate catastrophe that is playing out around the planet.”
Most of the key disputes revolved around money.
Poor countries, especially a coalition of island nations and African countries, came into the talks demanding a timetable on how rich countries will scale up climate change aid for them to $100 billion annually by 2020 – a general pledge that was made three years ago – and how they will raise the money. They also want a mechanism established to deal with what is called “loss and damage” to help them clean up from natural disasters linked to climate change.
But rich nations, including the United States, members of the European Union and Japan remain in the midst of a financial crisis and were not interested in detailed talks on aid at this meeting. The current text on financing agrees only to continue “scaling up” aid until 2020 and delays most detailed decisions until 2013. It includes no midterm targets or mechanisms – such as a tax – for raising the revenue.
With the rich nations refusing to budge on aid, many activists blamed the deadlock on the United States which unlike many European countries has failed to make any new pledges for assistance in 2013.
“It’s troubling that some developing countries, for example the U.S., are very skeptical toward doing anything beyond saying ‘we have made a promise of $100 billion by 2020,”’ said Norwegian Environment Minister Baard Solhjell.
Norway, largely shielded from Europe’s financial crisis because of its offshore oil and gas, favors language that clearly shows that aid figures will gradually go up until 2020.
Negotiators were also trying to finalize an agreement to formally extend the Kyoto Protocol, an emissions reduction pact for rich countries that expires at the end of this year. One of the sticking points was whether to allow countries to carry over surplus emissions allowances into the next phase as well as to extend it for five or eight years and whether there would be a trigger requiring countries to commit to more ambitions emissions targets at a certain date.
The U.S. never joined the Kyoto accord, while Japan, New Zealand, Canada and Russia don’t want to be part of its extension, meaning it would only cover about 15 percent of the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases.
Governments have set a deadline of 2015 to agree on a wider deal that would include both developed and developing countries, which now produce a majority of the world’s emissions. As part of that, delegates were also trying to make progress on the 2015 work plan and close loopholes that would bring all countries into one negotiating path.
On paper, these issues seemed routine.
But throughout the day, countries took advantage of these meetings to fight over a wide range of issues that included technology transfer to poor, emission commitments by rich countries in the next eight years as well as a demand from Saudi Arabia to discuss ways of helping countries diversify their economies under a new deal.
The Chinese were among the most vocal, at one point trying to insert language into the text that backtracked from the agreement in Durban that requires both rich and poor countries to take binding action to combat climate change when a new deal is set to take effect in 2020.
“We’re doing ridiculous things,” Chinese delegate Su Wei said, before backing off his demand.
The negotiations were also hampered, delegates and activists said, by a lack of leadership from Qatar. Draft agreements were not ready until the last second and Qatar did nothing to bring together key ministers to hash out a grand deal as past presidents have done.
Still, the talks remained alive and nobody was talking of walking away from the table.
The goal of the U.N. talks is to keep temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to preindustrial times. Temperatures have already risen about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit above that level, according to the latest report by the U.N.’s top climate body.
A recent projection by the World Bank showed temperatures are on track to rise by up to 7.2 Fahrenheit by the year 2100.
“There is a huge lag between the international policy response and what science is telling us,” U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres told The Associated Press. “We know that science tends to underestimate the impacts of climate, and so if anything, that gap continues to grow.”
AP reporter Karl Ritter contributed to this report.