The new global instrument to tackle climate change, agreed at the Durban conference in 2011, is not due to come into effect until 2020. So Doha needed to secure a second, post-2012 commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol and decide on how long it would last.
The EU wanted it to run for eight years up to 2020 while a number of other countries favored five years.
The EU won the day, meaning that the Kyoto Protocol will now last until the new global agreement is due to come into force. However, there is widespread concern that the countries obliged to cut their emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, including the EU and Australia, account for only 15 percent of global emissions. Russia, Japan, New Zealand and Canada have withdrawn. The US never ratified the Protocol while large emerging markets emitters such as India and China are not required to make cuts under its terms.
The US and the countries that have withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol believe that any new climate deal must require emerging economies to reduce their emissions as well as developed countries. Developing countries, however, continue to insist on the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” – the argument that industrialized countries should take the most responsibility for cutting emissions because it is their historic emissions that have contributed most to climate change so far.
Although it has been agreed that the Kyoto Protocol will continue until 2020, the fact that so few countries are taking part makes it unlikely that the EU will raise its target of cutting emissions by 20 percent by 2020 to 30 percent. It had said it would do so if other countries showed sufficient commitment. There is a provision in the agreement for countries to tighten their emissions targets in 2014, but many developing countries think that by the time any review is instigated it may already be too late to keep temperature rises below 2°C.
For business, the most important impact of an ongoing Kyoto Protocol is that it means the continuation of carbon markets, which allows them to invest in carbon reduction at the lowest cost. Indeed, it was agreed in Doha that discussions will start on an expansion of market-based mechanisms (MBMs), although what form and scope new MBMs might have is not clear. However, companies from countries not in the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol will not be able to buy carbon allowances from Clean Development Mechanism projects.
The extension to the Kyoto Protocol was agreed despite objections from Russia and other Eastern European countries which face the loss of a market for their so-called “hot air permits”. These are carbon allowances that were given to the former Soviet Union states when their economies collapsed in the 1990s but which imply no meaningful emissions reductions. The EU, Switzerland, Norway, Japan and Australia have all said that they will not buy these permits, known as AAUs (assigned amount units).
Even though an agreement on the Kyoto Protocol was rushed through by the Qatari hosts at the last minute, developing countries were disappointed that a small group of richer countries such as Russia and Poland were able to hold the proceedings to ransom. Furthermore, Belarus has hinted that it may withdraw from Kyoto, along with Kazakhstan and Ukraine.