LONDON (AlertNet) - Aid and environment groups have criticised the outcome of the U.N. climate talks in Doha as a betrayal of the poorest people who are suffering the worst impacts of more extreme weather and rising seas. But negotiators from developing states have singled out an agreement to advance work on loss and damage from climate change as a bright spot, even though it is weaker than they had hoped.
The climate conference approved the extension of the Kyoto Protocol for a second period until 2020, as well as a basic work plan for negotiating a new global climate pact to be finalised in 2015 and implemented from 2020. But the lack of significant commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions this decade and the absence of a target for climate finance to be provided by rich nations for 2013-2015 are regarded as major failures by low-income nations and their supporters.
"Doha slaps the poorest on both cheeks," said Emilie Johann, climate policy officer for CIDSE, an international alliance of 16 Catholic development agencies from Europe and North America.
"On the one hand, world leaders let climate change spiral out of control, which makes it more difficult for the world's most vulnerable to cope with extreme weather. On the other, the poorest are left in the dark about the amount of money they can expect in support of urgent adaptation and mitigation measures," she said.
At the end of the conference on Saturday, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told journalists that the new period of the Kyoto Protocol covers nations responsible for just 10 to 12 percent of global emissions. And even though promised emissions cuts are higher than in the first period, this is "clearly not enough" to limit global temperature increases to below 2 degrees Celsius - which many scientists regard as the upper limit to avoid dangerous climate change.
What is needed to change that is "increased political will", Figueres said, noting that the world has enough technology and funding to limit temperature increases. She added that some European countries and the European Union promised around $6 billion in climate aid for 2013 in Doha, and she expects that will be complemented by further pledges.
A first three-year period of "fast-start" funding to help poor countries cope with climate change impacts and achieve green growth ends this month. Developing states had wanted richer nations to outline clearly at the Qatar talks how they would scale up their contributions towards an agreed goal of $100 billion a year in public and private finance by 2020.
The least developed countries had also demanded that donor governments set a firm target of providing $60 billion in climate finance in the next three years. They got far less.
The conference agreement, dubbed the "Doha Climate Gateway", merely urges more developed countries to announce climate finance pledges "when their financial circumstances permit". In addition, it "encourages" rich nations "to further increase their efforts to provide resources of at least the average annual level of the fast-start finance period for 2013-2015" - or at least $10 billion per year. And it asks countries to set out next year how they plan to reach the $100 billion goal.
Both the United States and Japan refused to say in Doha how much they were prepared to put on the table from the end of 2012, with Washington stressing its 2013 budget has yet to be fixed.
Tim Gore, climate change policy advisor for Oxfam, said Doha had done nothing to guarantee that public climate finance will go up next year rather than down. "Developing countries have come here in good faith and have been forced to accept vague words and no numbers," he said. "It's a betrayal."
'LOSS AND DAMAGE' LIFELINE
On the bright side, negotiators for the group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) were happy that they managed to secure agreement to push forward a work programme on losses and damage caused by the adverse impacts of climate change. At one point, the United States proposed this issue should be hived off into other UNFCCC work streams, including adaptation, fearing the U.S. could be held liable for the consequences of its high greenhouse gas emissions.
Such a move would have effectively killed any U.N.-backed effort to find ways of compensating and rehabilitating countries and communities that cannot cope with or adapt to the droughts, floods, storms and rising seas exacerbated by global warming.
But after long and fierce discussions, the talks agreed to continue working on ways to manage these climate risks and assist vulnerable countries in dealing with the aftermath of disasters they may be unable to avoid.
Developing countries had wanted Doha to approve the creation of an "international mechanism" to address loss and damage, which could include a global insurance facility and other financial and non-financial instruments.
In the end, they had to compromise, settling for a decision that next year's climate conference, at the end of 2013, will "establish...institutional arrangements, such as an international mechanism...to address loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change".
While the agreement on loss and damage has been welcomed by many as an important breakthrough, Harjeet Singh, international coordinator for climate adaptation at ActionAid International, said there is a long way to go before it produces concrete results.
"Much more work is required in the coming year to finalise the institutional arrangements, and we expect all parties will conduct this work with the interests of the poor and vulnerable in mind," he said.
Despite the positive development on loss and damage, many climate activists blamed a handful of industrialised countries - mainly the United States, Russia, Canada, Poland and Japan - for blocking many of the actions that could have brought about real progress in global efforts to tackle climate change.
There was particular disappointment that Washington had not been willing to offer more in the wake of the devastation caused in the United States by Hurricane Sandy a few weeks ago.
"(The U.S.) blocked progress at every turn – on increasing commitments to reduce climate pollution, on providing funds to help poor countries deal with climate change, and more. Perhaps the biggest loser in Doha will be President Obama’s legacy," said Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth U.S.
Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy programme at the World Resources Institute, said all eyes will now be on the U.S. administration to see what further action it takes to lower emissions at home.
Environment and development groups also highlighted the need for stepped-up efforts beyond the UN negotiating sessions – the latest held in a cavernous, high-tech conference centre in the desert state of Qatar, which has the world’s highest per capita emissions of climate-changing gases.
Tasneem Essop, head of WWF's delegation to the talks, said communities around the world are standing up for clean energy and confronting dirty power projects fuelled by coal, demanding that changes be made. And the pressure on political leaders won't let up, she added.
"Social movements and civil society joined hands to take a stand against the lack of ambition and urgency in the climate negotiations (in Doha). We will continue to work to ensure that governments are going to meet the 2015 deadline for a fair, ambitious and binding agreement (to tackle climate change)," she said.