Climate change conference: The ‘big issues’

The 18th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar, will kick off Monday, Nov. 26. Photo by: Arend Kuester / CC BY-NC

The year’s biggest conference on climate change kicks off Monday (Nov. 26.). Will anything get done this year?

World leaders attending the 18th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar, will have a lot on their plate. They are expected to, among others, lay out the rules governing the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol and discuss financing for the Green Climate Fund.

“There are a lot of expectations to come from Doha,” Fahad bin Mohammed Al-Attiya, chairman of Qatar’s National Food Security Program and among the organizers in the conference told Al Jazeera in an interview.

Second Kyoto Protocol

The success of the conference will depend on world leaders delivering on a number of outcomes. One of them is ensuring the implementation of the second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol by Jan. 1, 2013, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said in an interview with Yale360.

“What governments need to do is not to decide if there’s going to be a second commitment period” for “there will be a second commitment period,” Figueres said.

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997. But many have criticized it for failing to impose legally binding emissions targets on developing countries and on one the world’s largest emitter  the United States.

Australia has recently announced its intention to sign up to the second period of the protocol. The country will be joining a select few that have agreed to stay on board until a new agreement comes into effect in 2020. It remains to be seen, however, if the United States will sign on to the protocol. There has been a renewed interest on addressing climate change in the United States following post-tropical storm Sandy.

There will be “increased frustration with the United States” if the Western nation “does not strengthen its participation in the global climate regime,” Figueres said. The United States was not among signatories to the first commitment period of the protocol.

Green Climate Fund

Discussions on climate finance will need to take note of two important things: resource mobilization and transparency. A study in May called on donors to provide detailed, accessible and timely data on climate finance.

Rich countries are expected to come up with a plan to meet their pledge to provide $100 billion to developing countries by 2020. Climate advocates should keep an eye on medium and long-term financial pledges at the conference, which will include “some innovative mechanisms to scale up,” Jennifer Morgan from World Resources Institute said in a blog post.

While the Green Climate Fund has finally found a home in South Korea, questions remain on how will it operate and raise funds.

Other tasks

World leaders attending the conference are also expected to set out a work plan toward a new international agreement that will replace the Kyoto Protocol by 2015.

Jonathan Shopley of the CarbonNeutral Company, a business provider of carbon-reduction solutions, said “this means starting all over again in the task of developing an international agreement — learning from and correcting past mistakes, keeping the parts that work, and filling the yawning gaps that made the Kyoto Protocol a flawed first attempt.”

There are calls for agriculture to strongly figure in this year’s talks, too.

“Agriculture will be massively impacted by climate change,” Head of CGIAR’s climate change, agriculture and food security program Bruce Campbell said in an article published at the Center for International Forestry Research. “We need to develop agriculture that is ‘climate smart’ — generating more output without the accompanying greenhouse gas emissions.”

But Campbell underscored the need for the conference to settle the “big issues” first, such as climate finance and emissions commitments, to “make progress on sustainable agriculture.

Bridging the gap

There are fears among the development community that this year’s conference may again result in disappointment. Skeptics believe nothing will get done at the conference. Figueres said this is because the general perception is that leaders just talk but “don’t make any decisions that have a policy effect on action.”

“That is actually not the case,” she said. “Over the past three years governments have actually progressed in a slow but steady manner in constructing the international policy response to climate.” But this is “clearly not” enough.

The U.N. climate chief noted the importance of “bridging the gap”  not only between emission targets and government pledges, but also between politicians and scientists.

“One reality is the reality of what science is demanding and which we have to hold front and center as our guiding light for our work here. We also have the obligation and the honor to support the political process that governments are putting together to address the urgency and the challenge that they have in front of them,” she said. “Those two things are equally real … and it is our very challenging task to encourage the closing of that gap.”

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.