The United Nations Conference on Climate Change began Monday in Doha, Qatar. Delegates from nearly 200 countries hope to forge a new agreement on curbing industrial emissions that extends the Kyoto Protocol, the global climate change treaty due to expire this year.
Conference president, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Hama Al-Attiyah, reminded delegates in the cavernous Doha National Convention Center that the agenda for the two-week meeting is ambitious and challenging.
"We must achieve a second commitment period under the Kyoto protocol," he said. "We must achieve progress in what we undertook in Durban."
In Durban negotiators agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 climate change treaty that expires next month. The protocol identified increased atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases, such as industrial CO2 emissions, as a major factor in climate change, and it set emission- reduction goals for industrialized countries.
However, delegates exempted emerging economies like China, India and Brazil, which are now among the world’s largest emitters.
This year in Doha, climate experts hope negotiators can come up with a more equitable formula for curbing carbon emissions.
Jennifer Morgan directs the climate and energy program for World Resources Institute, a Washington-based think tank. She says striking a deal in Doha will depend heavily on the positions taken by the United States, which signed, but failed to ratify the Kyoto treaty. Morgan notes that President Barack Obama has pledged to pursue a new international climate agreement, though not one that threatens the U.S. economic recovery.
“I think that with the re-election of President Obama, there is a high expectation here from countries that they will hear a new voice from the U.S., that it will be more progressive and try and move things forward more aggressively than it has done in the past,” she said.
More than 17,000 delegates and representatives from non-governmental organizations, business and academia are expected to attend the U.N. climate meeting, which for the first time is being held in a Persian Gulf state.
Executive Secretary of the Conference Christina Figueres told delegates to seize the opportunity.
“On this historic occasion the Gulf region has an unequalled world stage to showcase the contributions made to reduce the Gulf’s food and water vulnerabilities, to put regional energy growth on a more sustainable path and to build a safer, stronger and resilient energy future for all countries,” he said.
Climate expert Jennifer Morgan says petroleum-rich Qatar would be wise to take up that challenge and reduce its carbon footprint. The host nation leads the world in per-capita greenhouse gas emissions.
“Right now there are no pledges from this part of the world towards reducing emissions, [or] building up renewable energy. And that’s a big gap," she said. "You have much poorer countries around the world already acting and pledging, and I think that is going to be one of the big things that people are looking to see, if there are any progressive actors in the region here.”
Morgan says she’s worried that without leadership from the largest carbon-emitters, the Doha talks will stall.
“You need those big players to come out and take on those actors that don’t want to move very fast," she said. "Right now it’s in a bit of a hovering mode with very few countries really willing to take very clear action. And it will stay in a hovering mode.”
Meanwhile, the planet continues to warm. A U.N. report out last week finds that based on current reduction pledges, the world is on course for a 3- to 5-degree Celsius warming over the next century, which scientists say could cause a steady rise in sea levels and trigger more frequent and severe floods, droughts, and storms.
The U.N. climate meeting continues through December 7.