UN climate change conference ends in chill of inaction

After marathon negotiations, little was accomplished at the UN’s 18th conference on climate change in Doha, Qatar, except for an agreement -- officially dubbed the “Doha Climate Gateway” -- that would extend the Kyoto Protocol until 2020.

Delegates from 194 countries met for a two-week round of talks at the United Nation’s 18th conference on climate change in Doha, Qatar, ending on Dec. 8 without much result.

The Kyoto Protocol expires this year, and environmentalists were hoping for a new and improved international agreement. However, after marathon negotiations over the weekend, little was accomplished except for an agreement -- officially dubbed the “Doha Climate Gateway” -- that would extend the Kyoto Protocol until 2020. The agreement only will include the EU, Australia, Norway, Switzerland and a few other countries. Japan, Russia, Canada and New Zealand are not taking part; the United States never ratified the Protocol.

One of the major flaws of the Kyoto Protocol was its exclusion of developing countries from emission reduction requirements. China was classed then as a developing country but it is now the world's largest emitter and soon will overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy. China has made clear its determination to hang on to its developing country status and that the countries classed as developed in ’97 must continue to bear most of the burden for emissions cuts. India, another large emitter, also is considered a developing country under Kyoto.

In separate negotiations, set up to include the Unites States, it was agreed to allow unified discussions to begin on a global climate treaty that would require both developed and developing countries to cut their emissions. The treaty is supposed to be signed in ’15, at a conference in Paris, and come into effect in ’20.

The other major topic of discussion was pledges of monetary compensation from developed countries to developing countries for alleged damages incurred due to climate change. Industrialized countries promised to put $100 billion a year into a Green Climate Fund by ’20. To bridge the gap till then, developing nations asked for $60 billion in total by ’15. Britain, Germany and a few other countries promised to contribute $6 billion but this pledge is not binding. This is the first time developing countries have received such assurances, and the first time the phrase "loss and damage from climate change" has been enshrined in an international legal document.

The United States had strongly opposed the initial "loss and damage" proposals, which would have set up a new international institution to collect and disperse funds to vulnerable countries. US negotiators also made certain that neither the word "compensation" nor any other term connoting legal liability was used to avoid opening the floodgates to litigation – instead, the money will be judged as aid.

Key questions remain unanswered, including whether funds devoted to "loss and damage" will come from existing humanitarian aid and disaster relief budgets. The United States is one of the world's largest donors of humanitarian aid and disaster relief, from both public and private sources. It will be difficult to ascertain damage inflicted by climate change from other natural disasters.

Another question is how the funds will be disbursed. Developing countries wanted a new institution, like a bank, but the United States is set against that, preferring to use existing international institutions. These issues will have to be further negotiated at next year's climate conference in Warsaw.

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