If there is one word that sums up the achievements of the recent UN climate talks in Doha, it is “modest”. It is little wonder that we are seeing that word time and again in media coverage of the event.
Let’s start with the good news. The most important outcome is the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, the legally-binding global agreement under which some countries had agreed to reduce their carbon emissions.
The uncertainty around the Kyoto Protocol placed a question mark over the future of carbon trading and market-based mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
The countries still signed up for the second commitment period of the Protocol account for only 15 percent of global emissions, which is disappointing. But, on the bright side, a continuation of Kyoto provides ongoing policy direction to businesses based in those countries. It also leaves the infrastructure for carbon trading and market-based mechanisms in place.
This is important because I believe the world is inching towards a global carbon market. Australia’s trading system is due to link with the EU’s in 2015 and there is talk of further links to come potentially involving China, Korea and others.
By saving Kyoto, negotiators have avoided putting a massive crater in the road to a global carbon market.
The fact that the Kyoto Protocol will now run until 2020 means that it is due to complete at the same time that the new global deal on emissions reduction – agreed in Durban last year – is due to take effect.
We still have no real idea of what form that deal will take. The wording is fuzzy. It could be a “protocol”, “another legal instrument” or “an agreed outcome with legal force”. Doha did nothing to improve clarity around this but it did at least set out a timetable for working towards the new deal which is supposed to be agreed by the end of 2015.
The signals to business are that we are still heading, slowly, towards some sort of global agreement on climate action. Significantly, this will involve all countries including the high-emitting emerging economies such as China and India that were not part of the Kyoto Protocol.
It is important that Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, has announced that he will organize high-level talks in 2014. Doha has shown very clearly that we need the engagement and commitment of heads of state if we are to reach global agreement.
However, it is very worrying that there was no increase at Doha in the level of ambitions to reduce greenhouse gases from the industrialized countries. It means that the global aim of limiting average temperature rise to 2°C is now all but impossible.