Big Picture Overview: State of Play

By Anjali Appadurai and Nathan Thanki

This is our analysis — informed by various actual experts — of what is currently happening in these negotiations from a birds-eye view. Look at it as a stock-taking of sorts. (Please comment if we use too much jargon.)


We are headed towards a 6-degree warming world. We all know the impacts of this. What needs to happen is very serious emissions reductions, very quickly: global emissions must peak by 2015. Doha is a [late] culmination of the Bali Action Plan that started in 2007 to complement the Kyoto Protocol. The BAP is meant to cover the emissions of all non-Kyoto countries (essentially the USA). We are supposed to wrap up the BAP work in the Long-Term Cooperative Action (LCA) track of negotiations. This work entails enhanced action on adaptation, mitigation and the means of implementation (finance, technology transfer, capacity building). But instead what we are seeing is an unceremonious closing of the LCA without carrying over the key points from the BAP to the new track of work (the Durban Platform) that was established last year. The LCA cannot close without having clarity on its work on finance, comparability of efforts, an aggregate global reduction target or a shared vision of how to accomplish this. There is no point of having had the LCA if the work done up to now is lost.

Kyoto Protocol

The 1st commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is coming to an end. This was the only existing legally-binding set of specific emissions reductions targets. A second commitment period will be negotiated and agreed in Doha. The question is how strong it will be — currently the 2nd commitment period is looking like it will have low targets with loopholes that are larger than the reductions themselves. Non-Kyoto developed countries are saying they want access to the KP's carbon markets through "flexibility mechanisms" like the Clean Development Mechanism. A weak 2nd commitment period would be worse than no 2nd commitment period at all.

We fight for Kyoto not because of its strength as a regime but because of what it represents: a rules-based (inherently science-based), top-down approach to emissions reductions. We cannot have a climate regime that is not rules-based and top-down. By way of analogy: if you have to build a dam for the coming flood, you could either divide up the work (fairly) and have everyone bring a certain amount of rocks to build the dam (top-down approach), or you could tell everyone to just bring what they feel like and hope it is enough ("pledge-and-review" system, the alternative, to be explained below).


Finance is a make-or-break issue. Right now, developing countries are using their own money to pay for mitigation, adaptation and to cover "loss & damage" from climate change. A lack of finance undermines ambition and equity because it tasks the poorest, most vulnerable and least responsible with (a) paying for their own mitigation and adaptation and (b) alleviating poverty and moving to sustainable development. Developed countries are asking developing countries to mitigate, but aren't delivering financial resources to help them do so. Then, to add insult to injury, they turn around and blame the developing countries for not taking on larger commitments. A further insult is that right now, 10% or more of finance to developing countries is "recycled" money, under the label of "climate finance", but really just Official Development Aid that would have been given anyway.

Durban Platform (ADP) – new negotiating track

This track was established last year and the US/EU are hoping that it will eventually contain all the issues from the Kyoto Protocol and the LCA. But they want this all under the "pledge-and-review" system. Recall the dam analogy, above. Pledge-and-reveiw is not science-based and with the levels of ambition we've already seen, spells disaster in terms of achieving the reductions we need. Additionally, the ADP is all about post-2020 mitigation. It currently has no work on 2012-2020 – which is the period during which emissions must peak. Key issues from the LCA need to be migrated to the ADP and further developed, such as clarity on mid- and long-term finance — but this all is useless if the LCA is closed this year and new commitments don't take effect until after 2020. Especially important to include are the principles of historical responsibility and common but differentiated responsibility, which have been undermined since Durban. The pledge-and-review system cannot be implemented in the ADP – we have no hope of addressing climate change if it is.

Bottom line

Civil society should be demanding a world with less than 1.5 degree warming, with low carbon economies that are social equitable and ecologically sound. This can only be achieved by national and international action. UNFCCC is not the only stage to work toward this world, but it is one stage: demanding deep, top-down emissions cuts from the industrialized world with enough finance to help the developing world mitigate and adapt.

In Doha, civil society should focus extreme outrage towards: market access (non-KP members wanting access to markets), finance (lack thereof), and pledge-and-review (inadequate to addressing climate change).

All of this is working towards a top-down, rules-based regime that will be effective before 2020 — the only outcome that will grant us and future generations the world that is our birthright.

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