DOHA, Qatar, November 26, 2012 (ENS) – Gathered in Doha for the UN’s annual climate change summit, thousands of delegates representing governments, international organizations and civil society groups are focused on honoring existing commitments to curb carbon emissions and turning agreed decisions into action.
The 10-day meeting brings together the 195 Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
“Climate change is a common challenge for humanity. We must work in earnest for a better future for present and for future generations,” said Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, president of the 18th Conference of the Parties, known as COP 18.
“We have a precious opportunity over the coming days, and we must make full use of it. Many delegates have stressed the importance of finalizing work on time, and that requires that we all show flexibility,” Al-Attiyah said.
Government delegates at the conference will, among other goals, try to extend the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2012.
During last year’s UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa, the UNFCCC parties agreed to a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol.
To ensure the seamless continuation of the protocol as of January 1, 2013 is a primary task for delegates at Doha.
The Kyoto Protocol is the only existing and binding agreement under which developed countries commit to cutting greenhouse gases. Under the Protocol, 37 states, both highly industrialized countries and countries transitioning to a market economy – have legally binding emission limits and reduction commitments.
The treaty underwrites international political trust that developed nations are responsible to lead emission cuts, and it preserves the important accounting and legal systems in the protocol as working models which may inform future agreements.
Key issues under the Kyoto Protocol that need to be decided in Doha include:
the length of the second commitment period and how to convert targets into so-called “quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives,” or QELROs, the units of binding reduction commitments.
the legal formulation of the amendment to the protocol, including how to carry over unused emission credits of economies in transition into the second phase of the protocol.
In Durban last year, the parties also agreed to create a universal climate change agreement covering all countries from 2020, to be adopted by 2015, and to find concrete ways before 2020 to increase efforts beyond the existing pledges.
In Doha, their objective is to plan the work so that this task is delivered and the timetable is met and different national circumstances are addressed in an effective, fair, ambitious agreement.
In Durban, the parties also agreed to launch the Green Climate Fund to help developing nations protect themselves from climate impacts.
The Board of the Green Climate Fund in October selected the Songdo International Business District, part of Incheon City, South Korea, as the host city for the Fund.
In Doha, delegates will be asked to endorse the location decision for the Green Climate Fund head office and the work plan of the newly established Standing Committee on Finance. They must also formally decide on the location and mode of operation of the Technology Mechanism’s Climate Technology Center and Network.
In addition, governments decided in Durban to complete the 2007 Bali Action Plan, curbing greenhouse gas emissions, adaptating to climate change, and conducting the finance, technology and capacity-building which developing countries require to build low-emission, climate-resilient futures.
In Doha, governments need to decide which elements of the Bali Action Plan have been achieved and/or implemented and what additional decisions need to be taken.
In her opening remarks today, UNFCCC’s Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, highlighted recent UN-led reports which point to the urgency of keeping global average temperatures from rising beyond an internationally agreed level of two degrees Celsius, beyond which climate change would have serious impacts.
Analysis published by the World Bank last week shows the world remains at risk of seeing a four degree Celsius rise in temperatures by the end of the century.
In its latest Greenhouse Gas Bulletin, the UN World Meteorological Organization said greenhouse gas concentrations reached a record high in 2011.
The annual Emissions Gap Report published last week by the UN Environment Programme warns that the gap between the emission reductions needed to stay below two degrees Celsius and what is so far promised by countries is still widening.
Figueres stressed that countries can still reverse these trends if they decide to act on the knowledge, technology and policy options already available. But she emphasized that time is running out.
“Expert analysis consistently says that we do have the possibility to keep on track and that to act now is safer and much less costly than to delay,” Figueres said.
“In the last three years, policy and action towards a sustainable, clean energy future has been growing faster than ever,” she said. “But the door is closing fast because the pace and scale of action is simply not yet enough. So Doha must deliver its part in the longer-term solution.”
Halting the loss and degradation of ecosystems and promoting their restoration can deliver over one-third of the total mitigation of climate change required by 2030, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the world’s largest environmental group.
“We need to come out of Doha with a sound political agreement that takes into account the variety of cost-effective solutions that nature has to offer and that brings about a real change and action,” said Stewart Maginnis, director of the Environment and Development Group at the IUCN.
Maginnis says the “Bonn Challenge” to restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded land by 2020 is one concrete way in which countries and landowners can contribute to this large-scale nature-based solution.
Appropriate management of nature reduces the vulnerability of people to the threats posed by climate change, he said. Protecting forests, coral reefs, mangroves and river systems helps people adapt to climate change and reduces its impacts.
“Decisions made in Doha must promote the development and implementation of an environmentally sound and equitable mechanism for forest-climate action at the national level known as REDD+,” says Maginnis.
Launched in 2008, the UN-REDD Programme is the United Nations collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation in developing countries.
The UN-REDD Programme supports nationally-led REDD+ processes and promotes the informed and meaningful involvement of all stakeholders, including Indigenous Peoples and other forest-dependent communities.
The program supports national REDD+ readiness efforts in 46 partner countries in Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America. By July 2012, total funding for support to countries’ REDD+ efforts totaled US$117.6 million.
Environmental groups are warning delegates to wake up to the reality that climate change is already gripping the planet. They are urging strong action to avoid catastrophic global warming.
Martin Kaiser, Greenpeace climate campaigner, said, “Climate change is no longer some distant threat for the future, but is with us today. At the end of a year that has seen the impacts of climate change devastate homes and families around the world, the need for action is obvious and urgent.”
Commenting on the floods now inundating parts of the UK, Friends of the Earth’s Policy and Campaigns Director Craig Bennett said, “As the international climate talks kick off in Doha, the floods that are currently devastating parts of Britain should be a wake-up call on the need for urgent action.”
“Experts predict that climate change will trigger more frequent floods in the future, creating further havoc across the UK,” said Bennett. “The government must show leadership and move quickly to slash UK emissions and help protect us all from the threat of increasing global climate change.”