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Issue 284, Friday 28 December 2012 - 14 Safar 1434
Environment: Doha climate change conference: A contested ‘win’
By Sarah Marshall, University of South Florida
Protestors gather outside the UN Climate Change Conference, COP 18, Doha, Qatar, December 1
The most recent UN Climate Change Conference, COP 18, took place in Doha, Qatar, from November 26 to December 8.
As was expected, the event came with controversy over inaction and was even extended twenty-four hours in order to reach an agreement. At the conclusion, the Kyoto Protocol was extended until 2020. This includes encouragement by industrialised countries to financially assist poorer nations in coping with the effects of climate change, as well as a confirmation to adopt a new global climate pact by 2015.
The world’s largest polluters, the US, India, and China, are not legally bound to reduce any emissions, making the effort of other countries practically null and void, in the eyes of some because, though Kyoto has had significant support from the majority of the world’s countries, their combined carbon footprint barely compares to that of the major emitters. At the end of last year, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol, claiming that it was obsolete, would cost billions, and would do little to curb emissions because China and the US were not covered by the agreement. Japan, Russia, and New Zealand also opted out of signing on to the extension.
The Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis) left with their concerns largely unalleviated, fearing for their very existence in the near future if temperatures rise beyond two degrees, which would cause major sea level rise as well as stronger and more frequent natural disasters.
While the conference was going on, a major typhoon hit the Philippines, leaving hundreds dead and a quarter of a million homeless. The Filipino representative at the climate talks, Yeb Sano, broke down when addressing the plenary, stating, “We have to open our eyes to the stark reality we face” and pleaded, “Please, no more delays, no more excuses, please let Doha be remembered as the place where we found the political will to turn things around.”
The issue of poorer nations being struck with the brunt end of climate change, due largely to the inaction of big polluters, has been hotly focused upon. A warming climate does not take national boundaries into account and impoverished nations do not necessarily have the infrastructure or capital investment to bounce back quickly after such events. According to Environmental Leader, “Poor nations also won historic recognition of the struggles they face from climate change, securing a pledge from rich countries to work on a mechanism that would pay for ‘loss and damage’ from drought and rising sea levels.” This is significant, as it allows for developed nations to admit fault and pay for their contribution to climate change as well as its effects on less developed countries.
One critique by many attending the summit was that the science was not taken seriously enough, and that if it had been, more significant action would have been taken sooner. A plethora of research has been conducted, peer-reviewed, and published in the last decade, yet there are still debates in some parts of the world as to the legitimacy of global warming itself. With so much ideological neglect for the science, it is no wonder that progress is slow, but the far-reaching implications of inaction are not yet fully understood.
Currently, natural disasters are on the rise, as well as drought, famine, and wildfires, but humans have yet to wholly grasp the consequences of inevitable biodiversity loss, which may open the door to an increase in vector-borne diseases.
Public health concerns are considered secondary to financial concerns, and until that shift in thought occurs, rhetoric will supersede lasting change. These debates often end in a feel-good “clapping situation”, as head of the Venezuelan delegation, Claudia Salerno, would call it.
That is what negotiators strive for, an ending moment where they feel as though they have accomplished something meaningful and ovation-worthy, whether it ensures real reductions in emissions or not.
Another important critique had to do with why the climate change summit was held in Doha, specifically. Dissent is surely not welcome in the country, and there are many restrictions to rallying and handing out flyers. The fear of arrest as well as the exorbitantly high airline ticket rates kept many young protesters from attending the summit. The input of these voices can greatly affect the outcome of such conferences, as participants come from all over the world to creatively communicate how climate change affects them directly, in order to express the dire need for emissions reductions.
Some may call this Conference of the Parties a success, as the Kyoto protocol symbolises a straightforward effort to address climate change, but have the numbers become obsolete? Will these reductions really keep the world from reaching a two-degree, if not four to six-degree, increase in worldwide temperatures? It is too early to tell, but perhaps the discussion of temperature will become obsolete itself, as drought, famine, and natural disasters increase in frequency and magnitude.
As, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo, put it, “If not now, when? If not here, where? If not us, who?”
Sarah Marshall, Director of Politics & Activism, Student Environmental Association, University of South Florida
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