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Crunch time at the Doha climate negotiations

Published Dec. 6, 2012 by Clare Demerse

Clare Demerse

The international climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar are heading into the home stretch, and the stakes are high.

As the UN’s climate chief, Christiana Figueres, reminded negotiators this week, “The eyes of the world are upon us. The urgency of the science is upon us. The need for decisive ambition is upon us.”

If negotiators heed her words, the Doha talks can lay a strong foundation for the next phase of international cooperation on climate change.

2012 is a turning point for the UN climate negotiations, marking the end of the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol and the start of a second one. The Doha talks will also see the launch of negotiations on a new agreement that would take effect in 2020.

As we outlined in our backgrounder on the negotiations, Doha could deliver a successful outcome on these and other critical issues, but getting there is going to require hard work and real political leadership. As the talks head into their final hours, key issues still on the table include agreeing on the rules for a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol; clear commitments of adequate financial support from developed countries to support climate action in poorer countries; and increasing the overall level of ambition and the fairness of the international effort to tackle climate change under the future 2020 agreement.

We’ll know soon whether the ministers assembled in Doha push these talks to a strong conclusion, one that reflects the urgency of halting record-breaking growth in global greenhouse gas pollution. 

Canada in Doha

Delegates at the 18th Conference of the Parties in Doha, Qatar.Canada comes into the Doha talks from a position of weakness, after having faced strong criticism for the government’s decision to drop out of the Kyoto Protocol after last year’s talks. Canada, once again, has found itself at the back of the pack in a ranking of climate policy and emission trends in the world’s top 58 emitters: Canada placed fourth from the bottom, finishing ahead of Kazakhstan, Iran and Saudi Arabia. 

So for a change, let’s start by noting the better aspects of Canada’s position: Environment Minister Peter Kent’s speech in Doha Wednesday acknowledged the impacts of climate change that Canada is already facing, and committed to implementing policies to “meet” Canada’s 2020 target.

As the government often does, Minister Kent’s speech celebrated the government’s projections that we will be “halfway” to hitting our national target in 2020. Left unsaid is the fact that getting only halfway to the target in 2020 means that there’s a huge gap to close: the 113 million tonnes of additional reductions we still need to make are greater than the current emissions of every power plant in Canada put together. So in effect, Minister Kent’s commitment to the world in Doha should mean that he will dramatically ramp up his efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions at home. If he truly wants to achieve his target, there’s not a moment to lose.

Then there’s the bad news. 

Over the past week, Canada has drawn criticism in Doha for its positions on the crucial question of providing financial support to poorer countries so they can adapt to the consequences of climate change and make the transition to cleaner energy. Canada had committed to provide its “fair share” of that financing, a total of $1.2 billion of the US $30 billion in support that rich countries pledged from 2010 to 2012. While there are some significant problems with the way Canada has delivered on its commitment so far, Canada’s performance on climate financing to date has been much better than its track record on reducing greenhouse gas pollution at home. 

Unfortunately, things have taken a serious turn for the worse in Doha. Heading into Doha, Environment Minister Peter Kent said that the meeting “isn’t a pledging conference.” Many of his peers don’t see it that way: countries like the UK, Germany, France, Denmark and Norway, among others, have come forward in Doha with pledges for the years after 2012. For its part, Canada has yet to announce the final installment of its 2010-2012 funding, and has provided no indication that it will ramp up, or even continue, its financial support after 2012. 

Instead, Minister Kent has stated that Canada does not plan to help poorer countries reduce their emissions by contributing to the Green Climate Fund – a new fund whose progress was one of the success stories of recent negotiations in Cancun and Durban – “until a new agreement applicable to all, as agreed to in Durban, can be adopted by all parties.”

"Rather than being a reward to extract action from poorer countries, countries at the UN talks have agreed that financing is an obligation that rich countries need to deliver on as part of showing leadership and building trust."In other words, Canada won’t contribute funding for tackling greenhouse gas pollution until all the developing countries agree to cut their emissions in a binding deal. Since countries gave themselves until 2015 to negotiate that deal, and then will have to ratify it afterwards, that’s a very lengthy pause before making a contribution for emission reductions to the Green Climate Fund.

This position is a bit rich coming from a country with a track record of weakening and missing its own climate targets. It’s also exactly the opposite of the role that financing is supposed to play at the UN talks: rather than being a reward to extract action from poorer countries, countries at the UN talks have agreed that financing is an obligation that rich countries need to deliver on as part of showing leadership and building trust. Canada’s new stance on financing, unfortunately, does neither. 

A statement of Canada’s Doha position from Environment Canada contains a few other troubling assertions. Some of the “highlights” include: 

  • While countries (including Canada) agreed in Durban that an “early and adequate” round of pledges is needed to get the Green Climate Fund up and running, Canada’s Doha position says instead that the “timeline for capitalization of the GCF should be considered in the context of negotiations toward a new climate change agreement that includes mitigation commitments by all major emitters.” As discussed above, the government of Canada is already ruling out a Canadian contribution for financing to reduce emissions under the Green Climate Fund until all countries adopt a new deal. But this position takes it a step further, arguing that other rich countries should also hold off on making their contributions to the fund until countries like China, India and Brazil have put pledges to reduce their emissions into a binding agreement. (It’s worth noting that many major emitters have already made significant commitments to national actions to reduce emissions.)
  • In a Q and A on Canada’s Doha action, the government asserts, “We are addressing emissions from other major-emitting sectors such as oil and gas.” The reality is that despite the incredibly rapid growth in oilsands emissions, there are no federal policies in effect to curb greenhouse gas pollution from the oil and gas sector. So far, the Government of Canada has done nothing more substantial to “address” those emissions than saying it will regulate them in the future. By that logic, a smoker has “addressed” her problem just by making a new year’s resolution.
  • "Canada’s positions contain no reference to the urgency of action or the need to increase ambition in line with the science. These gaps in our position, along with a troubling track record of go-slow climate action at home, will not reassure countries in Doha that Canada is serious about the threat of global warming."

    Canada’s Doha position states that the 2020 deal must “maintain a long-term
    focus”; the government also says that the 2°C limit on global warming is a  “long-term goal.” Since 2009, countries at these talks have agreed that their goal is to hold average global warming below 2°C in order to avoid truly catastrophic consequences of global warming, and there’s no doubt that this is a long-term objective. But what that Canadian position leaves unsaid is that avoiding dangerous global warming is not a task for the faraway future: we need urgent short-term action to maintain any hope of staying below the 2°C limit. For example, the International Energy Agency’s 2012 analysis found that the world’s emissions (energy-related CO2) need to peak before 2020 to get us on track for a fair shot at avoiding 2°C of global warming. 

Canada’s positions contain no reference to the urgency of action or the need to increase ambition in line with the science. These gaps in our position, along with a troubling track record of go-slow climate action at home, will not reassure countries in Doha that Canada is serious about the threat of global warming.

Doha is probably best known as the home of a seemingly endless series of futile trade talks. Climate change is far too urgent to fall into that abyss. So let’s hope that climate negotiators earn Doha a different legacy by reaching a strong agreement there this week. Against all the evidence to the contrary, I’m still hoping that Canada finds a way to be a constructive part of the world’s effort to tackle global warming.

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Lynne — Dec 10, 2012 - 06:16 PM MT

Where is the Doha conference in the news. I'm watching Democracy Now and that's where I heard of it. Canada is not only out of it by way of government but it's citizenry seems out of it as well.

Roger Gagne — Dec 07, 2012 - 03:35 PM MT

You're more optimistic than I am, Clare. Thanks for digging hard to find the hope that still remains at Doha!

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