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The 18th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (better known as UNFCCC) kicked off in Doha, Qatar, on Monday for two weeks until the 7th of December. Global attention is set to be firmly focused on Doha as expectations are high and important commitments need to be taken.

As in every editions of the COP, developed countries always remind themselves what brought them to adopt the first international binding agreement, the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 (which then entered into force in 2005): “we must act collectively to reduce the impacts of climate change by defining the way forward to an ambitious climate agreement”, they say.

This year in Doha national governments must deliver on several points: the agenda is mainly centered on the continuation of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Cooperation (ADP), established last year in Durban, at the COP17, with the aim to address climate change in the long term. What the ADP brought on the table of discussions is the creation of a path to finalise a new legal and universal climate agreement by 2015, which will come into effect in 2020, as well as the creation of programmes and activities addressed to increase the level of ambition of climate commitments. Alongside, talks on how to conclude discussions on climate change issues currently discussed at the UNFCCC ad-hoc Working Groups on the Kyoto Protocol and on Long-Term Cooperative Action will be initiated.
In more technical terms, measures such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF); the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation in developing countries); adaptation, mitigation and technology transfer will be also key priorities in the agenda of this year COP18.

However, the gear up of Western countries, especially the European Union who has always promoted itself as the driving force in the climate justice negotiations, have once again failed the expectations.

The meeting of the EU environment Ministers on October 25th disappointed most of environmental NGOs: same inadequate targetswere decided, expressing lack of ambition in the international climate negotiations. “Stuck for years repeating the same old targets, and with no new money to commit, the EU will be showing up in Doha pretty much empty-handed, with nothing new to put on the negotiating table” affirmed Ulriikka Aarnio, European Senior Policy Officer in Climate Action Network Europe (CAN-E).

As predictably expected, major unresolved issues lie in the rules that currently allow the carry-over of 13 billion surplus emission allowances, or “hot air,” in the Kyoto Protocol. Indeed, what a meaningful second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol would be is to require higher targets and elimination of this surplus*. Generally most EU countries are willing to cancel and limit the surplus, but acommon EU position has been blocked for years by some Member States who are holding onto a cache of permits because of the collapse of their industry following the end of the Soviet Union. Among those MS, Poland is at the forefront of this ‘political campaign’ to prevent the EU to move towards a low carbon economy, arguably using not clear lawful measures.

Additionally, the recent ECOFIN meeting on November 13th failed to provide a clear answer to what Europe will do to ensure that climate finance does not fall off a cliff once Fast Start Finance is fulfilled in December 2012. Developing countries, Least Developed Countries and Alliance of Small Island States rightly expect more on climate finance to deal with climate impacts, and develop a low carbon economy.

In short, all ingredients are there to make Doha another possible big fiasco.

Since December 2009, climate talks moved down and the current global economic crisis is not making the situation any better as governments are fairly not including climate change in their list of priorities.

But climate does not wait governments to reach common binding agreements: major disasters such as the last hurricane in the US, droughts across West Africa and floods in Pakistan, as well as other massive environmental crisis that the media do not talk about, like the rising of sea levels that threatens Pacific Cateret Islands and the repeated brutal storms in Bangladesh among many others, are important signals that cannot be ignored.

The new report released by the World Bank this month shows the major possible threats that a warmer World of 4°C would arise: environmental new risks and inability to anticipate and plan for future adaptation needs, as highlighted by the President of the World Bank, Yong Kim.

Let’s hope that this COP18 will remind developed countries of their promises and most affected population to have their say and express their concerns. Let’s hope for a fair, ambitious and binding agreement.

Written by Giulia Bondi

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