Qatar Climate Change Summit This Week: Any Shift Possible?

The next round of international climate talks is taking place this week in Doha, Qatar and runs through December 7. It comes on the heels of three major reports on climate change – all of them frightening. But even in the face of what should be alarming facts – that the world is literally on the verge of surpassing the 2 degree C mark, which all world leaders have agreed to remain under – countries are standing firm in their positions.

The UN report, ,"Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided" reports that global greenhouse gas emissions are now 14% higher than they need to be to hold temperatures to a supposedly manageable 2C rise.

It states: "It is useful to recall that a global mean temperature increase of 4°C approaches the difference between temperatures today and those of the last ice age, when much of central Europe and the northern United States were covered with kilometers of ice and global mean temperatures were about 4.5°C to 7°C lower. And this magnitude of climate change-human induced-is occurring over a century, not millennia."

While the goal at Qatar is to create an agreement on reducing emissions that would go into effect by 2020 – that takes the place of the expiring Kyoto Protocol – the focus remains on the distinction between developing and advanced nations.

China, India, South Africa and Brazil insist that advanced nations should lead on reducing emissions and should provide resources to the developing world to help them transition to cleaner economies. The US and other industrialized natoins want that firewall to end.

Meanwhile, 100 major corporations signed a letter calling for a worldwide price on on carbon emissions.

Here is what John Vidal, Environment Editor at The Guardian says about the summit:

Evidence of global warming mounts both on the ground and in science, but in the bubble world of international climate diplomacy, little happens. Countries have become less and less able to collectively address the crisis unfolding around them. When UN talks fell apart in Copenhagen in 2009, world leaders claimed they could cobble together a new binding agreement to cut emissions within six months. That became a year, then two years, and now the rich countries tell a bemused public that it will be 2015 at the earliest before a final agreement will be reached.

Trillions of dollars can be found to bail out banks in a few months, but the world’s most experienced negotiators cannot find a way to get Americans, the British or anyone to just turn down the air conditioning or lag their roofs to reduce the amount of energy they use.

So what is the point of the massive UN climate talks which started Monday in Doha, one of the most energy-profligate cities on Earth? Negotiators from 194 countries are meeting in an atmosphere of mutual mistrust. They are divided and frustrated, and know their political masters mostly seek only painfully slow progress. We already know rich countries will refuse to commit to any further cuts in emissions or to provide more money, just as we know the poor will try to cling to the few global climate agreements reached between nations years ago. There will be fights, tantrums, and righteous anger from the non-government observers and world media.

The blame for this miserable state of diplomatic affairs must be laid squarely on the US in particular and the rich countries in general. For three years now, they have bullied the poor into accepting a new agreement. They have delayed making commitments, withheld money and played a cynical game of power politics to avoid their legal obligations. The resulting distrust has fatally plagued the talks.

In 2009 the rich countries agreed to give $100 billion by 2020 to help poor countries adapt to climate change. So far, they have not even provided the $30 billion they promised as a down payment. Instead, they have offered less than the annual bonuses given in the City of London – and most of that in the form of loans, not grants. Led by the US, the rich have now wrecked the Kyoto treaty, the one international agreement that legally binds the rich to making cuts, and now it appears they want to ditch the Bali action plan, which commits the US and other countries to reduce emissions. Meanwhile Europe, after three years, still will not say what cuts it is willing to commit to even though the first phase of Kyoto expires in a few months and there is nothing in its place .

The time for such cynicism and parsimonious diplomacy must be over. Obama, trailing victory, missed the chance to lead the world at Copenhagen but can now commit the rich world to a generous agreement. Britain, who will send two ministers to Doha, can lead Europe. A new Chinese administration can be flexible.

The science and evidence of climate change is clearer than ever, the poor countries on the frontline of the immense changes taking place have done everything that was asked of them by the rich to cut their emissions. In short, there is little time left and no more excuses.

Keep up with the Qatar summit and related news at The Guardian

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