Dawdling in Doha While the Planet Burns
The location of the United Nation’s 18th conference of Parties (COP18) climate conference in Doha, Qatar is fitting. Doha, one of the world’s leading carbon emitters per capita, reflects the hollow attitude on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by many industrialized countries responsible for the majority of planet's warming.
The conference will focus on a new cap-and-trade agreement to bind greenhouse gas emissions as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol is set to expire this year. The United States failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol after the Senate rejected it in 1997, dooming it to failure. The conference hopes to author a new international treaty that will eventually replace Kyoto by 2015, but negotiators have failed to do so throughout the 18-year history of the UN climate talks.
The brinkmanship between the global south and the global north is ratcheting up this week with only the European Union and a handful of other countries agreeing to new emission targets. One of the conference’s stated goals, a Green Climate Fund, is designed to raise aid to poor countries disproportionately impacted by the global climate crisis.
But Tim Gore of the British charity Oxfam said developing countries stand before a “climate fiscal cliff,” borrowing the oft-repeated phrase from the U.S. budget debate, as the fund has yet to begin operating.
The U.N. Environment Programme released a report just ahead of this week’s climate talks in Doha, showing that greenhouse gas emissions have risen 20 percent since 2000. The report warns that if immediate collective action is not taken to limit emissions, global temperature rise is on track to climb past the 2 degrees Celsius mark. Scientists warn that if average global temperatures rise beyond 2 degrees Celsius, the impacts would be nothing short of catastrophic for the planet.
In addition to the UN report, climate scientists are also pointing to self-perpetuating ecological systems that will likely accelerate global temperatures as the climate continues to change, and that these feedback systems have not been accounted for in many climate projections. Another UN report warns that as the permafrost covering almost a quarter of the northern hemisphere melts, it will release more than 1,700 gigatonnes of carbon stored inside— twice the amount currently in the atmosphere— amplifying global warming.
Many climate activists have been cautiously hopeful that the U.S. will take the talks more serious in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, and with a week left still for the negotiations, that remains to be seen. One thing is clear, however—time to keep emissions under the 2 degrees Celsius target is quickly running out.
Candice Bernd is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @CandiceBernd.