The Doha Gateway: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair

Where we are, where we should be and the consequences. Climate Action Tracker’s graphic on our future choices.

And so. Another set of climate talks done, this year dusted with Doha sand and labeled the “Doha Gateway”.  I’m not sure what they’re a gateway to,  certainly no immediate improvement to the climate. The final hours were bizarre, to say the least.  We began the day on Saturday with a text much improved from the day before, but with some major issues outstanding.  Ministers wrangled behind closed doors for most of the day, changing bits of text here and there.

We were preparing for Russia who, with Kazakhstan, Belarus and the Ukraine, were set to continue the talks way into Saturday night.   They were holding out in the informals, furious about the discussions on hot air.

Hot air

The “Russian factor” is one those of us who’ve been involved for a few years are all too familiar with. Just when you think there’s general agreement, in come the Russians who manage to drag the talks on for hours.

“Hot air” has been major problem with the Kyoto Protocol for years.  Somehow, the Russians managed to get the Kyoto negotiators to agree to a baseline of 1990, before the collapse of the former Soviet Union, which meant millions of tonnes of carbon credits ended up in the hands of Eastern European countries, bringing them a handy income, and other countries an easy and cheap option to do nothing at home and buy cheap hot air.  Russia has 6Gt of hot air – that’s how much it’s been cheating the atmosphere.

In Durban and Doha, New Zealand has sided with this team against the wish of the rest of the world to make sure that this “hot air” didn’t get carried over into Kyoto’s second commitment period (CP2).

A report released last week by Climate Analytics showed that if this hot air was allowed, governments could meet their pledges, buy hot air and continue emitting on a business as usual pathway to 2026.  The Ukraine argued that they needed their hot air credits as their economy was growing, but the report showed that they would have to have an amazing 11.6% annual growth in GDP to do so. I don’t think anyone expects Ukraine to have such a boom economy.

In practice there are few who can benefit from their hot air surplus carried over from CP1 to CP2 are not many: Australia, Norway and the Ukraine.  New Zealand would have had some too, from our Kyoto forests, but we’re not in CP2 so we can’t use them anyway. At the end of the day, while the carry-over from CP1 to CP2 was allowed, many governments signed a political declaration as part of the agreement that they wouldn’t buy this hot air anyway. Even Japan signed it – but of course NZ didn’t.

The killer for Russia and New Zealand were the “elegibility” rules, where it was decided that governments outside Kyoto would not be allowed access to the carbon markets it set up. The New Zealand delegation was at the heart of the earlier draft of the text seen on Friday morning that had every government and its dog allowed access to Kyoto’s Flexible Mechanisms.

But overnight on Friday night that the Ministers put a stop to that, so NZ was left out in the cold.  While we could, on the face of it, continue to trade hot air to meet our “target”, we run the risk that the credits may well not be eligible for emissions under the post 2020 global agreement as the rules for that haven’t yet been settled.

When the final plenary began, to everyone’s surprise, the somewhat flambouyant Qatari Minister Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah gaveled it all through.  Watch the beginning of the webcast – it was quite something.  He ignored the Russian flag being pounded on their table and simply declared the Doha Gateway agreed.  It was the first bold move this former OPEC president had made throughout the entire talks – if he’d bashed heads together a bit earlier we could have achieved a lot more.

Russia was furious, and the US made reservations, but they were simply told that all of it would be noted in the report.  There are precedents for such action, such as with Bolivia in Cancun. In 1992 the chair ignored the Saudis and gaveled the UNFCCC itself through when the Saudi flag was still clearly up.

Ratching up emissions cuts

Another vaguely positive outcome for the Kyoto Protocol CP2 agreement was the review by April next year of the adequacy of commitments under the IPCC’s 25-40% recommendation.  This leaves open the option of Europe finally agreeing to go to 30%, something it can easily do.

Of course Kyoto, as Tim Groser argues, doesn’t cover many countries at all, and certainly a small chunk of global emissions.   The global deal is on track to be agreed by 2015, but won’t come into effect until 2020. All the hot air from Groser about working on a global deal essentially means we’re off the hook until 2020, apart from our meagre pledge that remains “conditional” on a global deal.  As I’ve said before, the best thing Groser could have done to help that global deal get through was to sign up to Kyoto’s CP2 to show good faith.

 Finance, loss and damage

The most disappointing part of the Doha was the decision to simply keep talking on the major issue of Finance.  Governments agreed in 2009 to, by 2020, contribute a total of $100bn a year to help the developing world develop clean energy and adapt to climate change, but the money is still not forthcoming.  Indeed at the beginning of Doha there wasn’t enough money to pay the secretariat for another year.

The trade-off here was the inclusion of the “loss and damage” terminology in the final text, where the US had been fighting to keep it off the table.  While again, like the finance section, the agreement is to simply keep talking about what to do on Loss and Damage, this was a blow to the US.

To sum up, nothing was done in Doha that will immediately stop the relentless rise of global emissions.  There were some agreements to agree sometime in the future.   The meeting was never going to achieve much, but to get Kyoto’s CP2 done, and blocking the “cheaters” like NZ and Russia out of carbon trading without an emissions target was the biggest win.

For us, no doubt John Key and his pals will be happy with the fact that there’s little to change our somewhat dubious status of having the sixth fastest growing emissions in the OECD.

Our government’s “drill it mine it frack it” policy can continue unabated, our foresters can continue to replace plantations with dairy and we don’t really face any pesky global rules that will make us increase our targets before 2020.  How our ETS will look after 2015 remains to be seen, as we won’t be able to trade our way through it.

As I left Doha, contemplating the 3-4degC world the next generations will face unless more action is taken, I was reminded of Percy Bysse Shelley’s famous “Ozymandius” which somehow seems apt:

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

13 thoughts on “The Doha Gateway: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair”

  1. An alternative to the pisappointing politics of the desert of darkness some light relief can be found with more on the science at the AGU conference. A selection of presentations is found at RealClimate and some more in the comments.
    AGU highlights
    I’ve watched them all but see the comments for other views, specially Ray Pierrehumbert whose AGU presentation on predictions had a lot more in it than I expected, starting way back with Fourier.


  2. I’m again disappointed at the lack of progress at a COP, and remember fondly the meetings in the early 2000’s where nations were successfully agreeing on rules and targets. I guess economic optimism is the main difference between then and now, and the increased certainty of the need for reducing emissions.

    On “john key and his pals” it is worth reminding ourselves that they are in their offices because of the public voting in two elections. It is the wishes of voters that lead to our negotiators having to take the positions they did in Doha. I hope people realise the difficulty our delegates have – often they are working in incredibly hard and long meetings for policy positions they do not have any personal agreement with. Which might explain the high turnover rate of our leading negotiators.

    1. “often they are working in incredibly hard and long meetings for policy positions they do not have any personal agreement with.”

      I wonder, though.

      The Helen Clark govt negotiating team were not much different, to be honest, arguing for as many loopholes under LULUCF as the present govt. NZ got as many “fossil of the day” awards under Clark as they have under this Government.

      I was having this conversation with a colleague, veteran of the talks, and we agreed that the NZ delegation at UNFCCC has been awful for a very long time, regardless of who was in power.

    2. Economic optimism certainly makes a difference but economies based on consumerism burst that bubble all too easily. When Obama became caught up in the banking collapse and we learned such phrases as “too big to fail’ I thought at the time, “there goes any action on climate change whatever his brave words on emissions.” That’s not the whole truth of course.

      I doubt though that the wishes of the voters have had any relevance or guidance with respect to climate change. Minorities make opinion, advertising creates demand, the desires of the corporations appear to have the biggest influence on what is done. I have the impression that Fontera is not really an ethical co-operative but a ‘bottom line’ corporation partial to disinformation on climate change. Now why is Fontera for one example riding herd on climate change and on trade talks. They are not the people to trade Pharmac for access to the US dairy market to raise one suspicion. Cindy has commented that Fonterra has been a source of difficulty at Doha. Some examples would help but why might that be?

      Nevertheless I take your point about high turnover of negotiators. It is usually a sign of conflict and disatisfaction.


    3. On “john key and his pals” it is worth reminding ourselves that they are in their offices because of the public voting in two elections.

      Are you serious? The only mention of climate change during TV coverage of the last election was Paddy Gower interviewing me on the streets of Wellington. The voting public of NZ most certainly did not vote for this government on the basis of what it intended to do about climate change.

    4. what ctg says AND, the actual, “mandate” if that is the word for it is the “bought” seat of Epsom with an incumbent who represents less that 1% of the population. The Maori Parties manifesto was (after the Green party manifesto perhaps the most staunch in the need to reduce GHG emissions) – that they now co-exist with NAct is more to do with other matters perhaps.

  3. Good point Cindy about the NZ UNFCCC negotiators and successive National and Labour Governments.

    It seems that they have all approached the Kyoto Protocol on the basis that NZ would achieve compliance without reducing either net or gross emissions. Instead they lobbied/negotiated for LULUCF rules that specifically suited NZ. In particular the forestry removal units (RMUs) that NZ will accrue under Article 3.3 for afforestation, reforestation and deforestation for 2008-2012.

    For example look at this quote from this 1997 Simon Upton speech

    …in any budget period (e.g. 2008-2012), New Zealand is actually sequestering carbon, that is a desirable thing and we should get credit for it. If – and I emphasise if – sequestration is treated in the way New Zealand has long been advocating, then the major contribution we expect to make to removing carbon from the atmosphere in future years will earn us ‘credits’.

    So NZ had long been advocating for the gross-net Kyoto accounting.
    Or look at page 48 paragraph 226 of Depledge, J. 2000 Tracing the Origins of the Kyoto Protocol: An Article-by-Article Textual History

    “New Zealand was the only Party which made an early, more comprehensive proposal on the treatment of sinks, suggesting that sequestration of greenhouse gases from certain listed categories should be added to a Party’s emission ‘budget’.”

    1. Yep, NZ has been going for a “get out of jail free/use all the sinks you can make up and forget about actually cutting emissions” approach since Day 1, I think. Last year in Durban we were siding with Russia, Ukraine et al over Hot Air because we wanted to carry over our precious Kyoto forests credits into CP2.

  4. I had thought so, but I am glad to hear your confirmation (from observations) of that.
    So, from Durban to now, in 12 months, NZ has turned 180 degrees in its negotiating approach to the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period. Some principles we apply! But I’m not surprised.

    To me, Groser and National can be compared to tax lawyers, who have succeeded once in concocting an outrageous tax evasion scheme that complies with the letter of the tax law but not the intent. They develop a sense of entitlement that they should be able to repeat their evasion. So they say “twice please, or no deal”.

    In respect of complying with the first commitment period, Groser seems to have two policy bottom-lines. First is to completely shield the economy (emitters) from any material carbon price. Ah enter the NZETS! Second is to make a profit from CP1. Ah! Afforestation and reforestation. Gross-baseline Net target CO2 accounting. Design two types of carbon credits for the same forest CO2 – Kyoto compliant forestry RMUs (under Article 3.3), keep off balance sheet for the CP1 true-up. NZUs (world famous in NZ only), buy-off those recalcitrant foresters. Voila!

    For CP2, the advisors must have finally got it through to Groser that Simon Terry, Geoff Bertram, Christina Hood, WWF and Auntie Tina Cobbly (and all the other “economic traitors”) were 100% right in saying that NZ could not ‘screw the scrum’ of the second Kyoto period like NZ had the first.

    NZ’s net emissions trend would sky-rocket when it hit the ‘wall of wood’ before 2020 when the Kyoto forests have to be harvested.
    So if NZ can’t make a profit from CP2, and therefore NZ might have to stop having an ETS that shields the emitters from any carbon price, then from Groser’s perspective (or that of his advisors), it must be logical to refuse to sign up for a second period.

  5. “Governments agreed in 2009 to, by 2020, contribute a total of $100bn a year to help the developing world develop clean energy and adapt to climate change, but the money is still not forthcoming…

    The trade-off here was the inclusion of the “loss and damage” terminology in the final text, where the US had been fighting to keep it off the table.”>/blockquote>

    So we have two things: Aid from ‘developed’ states to ‘developing’ states for mitigating and adapting to climate change, and loss and damage to hurricanes, droughts, heatwaves, floods, sea level rise, acidification, crop failure, pest migration , you name it – Samoa’s “inland tsunami!” as I heard it described this morning – aid for Samoa immediately forthcoming.

    I’ve commented before that the pledges of financial aid in mitigation are never going to be honoured because each country, however rich, has all it can do to find the finance it considers it needs for use on its own territories. I have something more to say on this, taken from my years associated with yachting, everyone will know of examples elsewhere. During my life I’ve characterised certain things with phrases some of which I’ll employ here.

    I have known a number of yachtsmen who took on apparently impossible projects, and completed them. Usually these involved building a dream boat. One with about $400 in the bank decided to build s 24 metre steel cruising yacht. When it was launched he had a million dollar boat (in those days) and still only $400 in the bank. This is not an isolated example. In every instance, had each one consulted an accountant the accountant would have shown conclusively why the project could not possibly be financed. I characterise this with “The Taj Mahal would never have been built …”

    That these yachties succeeded I characterise with the phrase “the universe moves over” (to accommodate decision).

    Now to illustrate this with a specific case. A friend who was a property developer had a dream. He wanted to compete in a solo round-the-world race yacht race. He had been saving toward it, $40,000 so far – a million required at least, no sponsor in sight. He asked me what I thought about his chances. I answered, “At present all your income is swallowed up in your current lifestyle. While that remains the case you will never come near finding enough money. To realise your dream you must convert it to decision. Your resources and much else beside will flow behind this decision, ‘the universe will move over’, You will find the resources you need.”

    He valued his current lifestyle too much, the dream died.

    Attachment to lifestyle is the obstacle to addressing climate change, rather than dreams and visions, wherever we look there are dark clouds looming. Yet there are people who have been visioning a clean energy, environmentally responsible world. I think of the Australian study to the effect that the country could convert to clean energy in just 10 years and be hugely better off than business as usual. The universe would move over, A sustainable economic flow would get underway once decision is made and action initiated.

    What if each country and group decided to reduce emissions as an immediate imperative rather than argue about who goes first and who blame? An enabling flow would result. Specific needs would become apparent and people who could contribute would do so. Just as aspirational targets are made on the never never so do aid funds provide more opportunity to fraudsters than to people in trouble who do not know what to do, or do something inappropriate, because no one has actually done it.

    An example of response to need comes from the Pacific Islands generally. No island can stand on its own in the face of a severe hurricane. Everyone knows that. From way back it has been the expectation and obligation that those who have escaped the hurricane will provide the aid those hit by the storm need. So it is in the present day. Some neighbours trimmed their hedge after the Samoan Tsunami so they could transfer a shipping container from the road to the lawn. Their collection project for Samoan relief wound down a while back. I expect I will see containers appear there again. In the face of need everyone understands, people simply do what they can.

    So will this be the case if the meeting of the need is evoked by decision of the nations? It has yet to happen.

    Here’s a wee puzzle.
    I have come upon the following attributed to Winston churchill. Perhaps I know what he really meant, but with respect to climate change, if I can interpret the first two statements to refer to candles and fossil fuels, what would be the third?

    In the past we had the light which flickered, in the present we have the light that flames, in the future there will be a light that shines o’er all the land and sea.”


Leave a Reply