New Internationalist

UN climate talks: if not now, when?

As the ‘COP 18’ UN climate negotiation conference kicks off in Doha on Monday 26 November, we must strive for a global agreement that will avoid catastrophe – as fast as possible.

This is a key event for negotiators. Expiring deals, such as the Kyoto Protocol need to be tied up, and new processes must be set in motion. It’s not as if there’s a shortage of evidence for why we need to act. Along with the upsurge in floods and natural disasters there are scores of studies that demonstrate what is at stake.

Earlier this month, the World Bank released the report Turn Down the Heat. It says the world is on track for a 4 degree Celsius temperature rise, which will bring cataclysmic changes such as extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks and sea-level rise affecting hundreds of millions of people; a 4 degree warmer world can, and must be, avoided at all costs. In the Royal Society report Beyond ‘dangerous climate change’: emission scenarios for a new world, authors Kevin Anderson and Alice Bow argue that an increase of 4 degrees Celsius in global temperatures is incompatible with an organized global community and is likely to be ‘beyond adaptation’. This is already well-understood by scientists across the world. The message is unequivocal. If we don’t dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, we may see the collapse of human civilization.

Governments have committed in theory to limit the global temperature increase to below 2 degrees Celsius. But even if that were still possible – Anderson and Bow say there is now ‘little to no chance’ of this happening  – this rise will still have an enormous impact on vulnerable communities and ecosystems. So far the world has only warmed 0.8 degrees Celsius, and we are already witnessing severe weather phenomena, such as hurricane Sandy, the largest Atlantic hurricane on record, which tore through the Caribbean and United States last month.The Arab World will be a key constituent to win over in the fight for action on climate change. The region is vulnerable to climate impacts, hosts the biggest reserves of fossil fuels and is also incredibly rich in solar energy. Yet the issue of global warming is low on the region’s political agenda. In fact, the Arab region is the least active region on climate change on all levels, government, business, and civil society.

The presence of the global climate change community in Doha is an opportunity to change the region’s role in the climate change debate, especially civil society. Just a month ago, the Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM) was established with the support of the global NGO climate movement, and will play a leadership role among international youth during COP18 in Doha. These young people are trying to push climate change on to the political agenda. On 10 November, they organized a regional day of action, conducting climate change related activities in 13 different Arab countries.

Qatar itself still has a way to go to prove that climate change is a top political priority now and into the future. A good start would be pledging a meaningful and ambitious target for greenhouse gas emission reduction by 2020 to the international community at the opening of COP18. A bold step like this one would help increase confidence among the country delegations that the COP18 Presidency is taking climate change seriously, which in turn will help increase the likelihood of a strong outcome.Both the negotiations under the Kyoto Protocol and under the Bali Action Plan that were started in 2007 must be concluded in Doha over the next two weeks. At the same time, a concrete work programme for the coming three years must be agreed, under the Durban Platforms, which aim to reach a new legally binding instrument in 2015.

All of these critical issues are on the table for Doha. The key debates will be around closing the gap between the action required to stay below a 2 degrees rise and the current action on the table. This ‘ambition gap’ must be closed before 2020 if we want to avoid catastrophic impacts on our children.

Wael Hmaidan is the Director of Climate Action Network International (CAN).

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