Reflections on COP 18, Doha

by Rashmi Mistry, Oxfam

In the deserts of Doha we saw a drought of climate action with developed countries coming to COP18 with no intention of agreeing to what developing countries needed from a deal. They offered no new emissions cuts, only keeping open the possibility of cutting them later, and – with only a couple of exceptions – no guarantees of new scaled-up finance in the next years. They also refused to commit to a new international mechanism to address loss and damage from climate impacts to which it is not possible to adapt.

After the fanfare of COP17 in Durban and the launch of yet another track of negotiations that will bring all countries under an international agreement called the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), Doha was expected to be a “transitional” COP. This was the one where the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol would be sealed and processes would be agreed with small but progressive steps towards averting the climate crisis.

The new Kyoto deal only covers 18% of global emissions and there was no sign in the Doha outcome of the level of emission cuts needed to keep temperature increases below 1.5C. So, when we are hurtling towards a 5 degree world, threatening to push millions more people into poverty and hunger, adaptation is ever more urgent. Rich countries, being historically responsible for most of the green house gases causing climate change, promised $100bn per year by 2020 to support developing countries adapt and develop along a low carbon pathway. The Fast Start Finance period, which was supposed to deliver $30bn by 2012, ended at the end of December, making COP18 the last chance for developed countries to commit to scale up climate finance from the new year.

But we came out of Doha with no commitments within the COP to increase finance beyond 2012 – just an announcements from individual countries. In fact Oxfam’s research suggests total climate finance could drop this year. The Africa Group, Oxfam and a number of NGOs asked for a mere $60billion (or double Fast Start Finance levels) to be committed to begin the vital work of adaptation and low carbon development, but we got pushed back with lamentations of austerity measures and fiscal squeezes in the north. Yet at the very same time in the United States, President Obama raised $60 billion to put New York back on its feet after hurricane Sandy, to the dismay of developing countries, not least the Philippines who during COP18 experience another onset of extreme flooding killing over 30 people.

“There’s nothing for us here, we have no voice” was the sad reflection from an African finance negotiator as he left the Doha conference room to catch his flight, exhausted and deflated after days of round the clock negotiations that once again ran into overtime and were seemingly stalled in the final plenary.
Despite holding out for a commitment on scaled up finance, emission cuts and a mechanism for addressing loss and damage, in the extended hours of the negotiations, when most African Ministers and negotiators had left it was clear that they had been pushed into accepting an outcome that had only had weak references to any of these. As we left Doha, the emotional call of the Philippines lead negotiator that was chanted by activists around the corridors of COP18 will echo on: “If not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?”