Qatar was host to a talking shop on climate change under the aegis of the United Nations (November 26-December 7). Doha, the capital of Qatar, already has the dubious distinction of launching the World Trade Organisation in 2001 with great fanfare, whose deliberations are now in a state of animated suspension.

Apart from that, ironically, Qatar, with the world’s highest per capita carbon emissions, is the largest polluter. Qatar, if anything, does not know of any “fuel poverty”, with the world’s third -biggest natural gas reserves. It makes most of its money – GDP is $170 billion a year — from selling fossil fuels.

Even pouring a glass of drinking water in Doha may involve ‘milligrams of melting ice in the Arctic’ since water comes from desalination plants. The per capita emissions of India, Uganda and even the US seem to pale in comparison.

It appears the former Qatari oil minister wanted to change the rules of the game by suggesting that pollution ranking should be based on total emissions and not emissions per capita. However, for climate conferences this is blasphemy.

Quibbles galore

Doha talks were a continuation of efforts aimed at limiting the level of warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 F), compared with temperatures before the industrial revolution. So the main focus was to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases that a vast majority of climate scientists say are to blame for the rising temperatures.

Meanwhile, scientists have warned that on current form, the world will be in for between 4 and 6 degrees centigrade of warming.

This year, the negotiations “celebrated” their 20th birthday, but after all that talking there was still no treaty in sight stipulating cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The best governments are now hoping for is to draw up an agreement in the next three years that would not come into force until 2020.

This year also marks the end of the first commitment period of the 1997 Kyoto protocol, which was never ratified by the US, contains no obligations for developing countries and has been abandoned by others.

As is customary in such high-level, UN-sponsored conferences, the main preoccupation was with ‘adjusting the placement of a comma’, and producing texts ‘thick with square brackets, denoting all the terms that have not yet been settled’.

Another agenda?

For Qatar, holding the UN summit on climate was a dry run for the mega event of the football World Cup in 2022. It was hoping against hope that the delegates spare a glance for other things in a climatically bad year when superstorm Sandy brought destruction, drought in various parts pushed up the food prices, the monsoon in India was delayed, floods ravaged parts of Europe, and satellite pictures showed melting across almost the entire Greenland ice sheet, and the Arctic sea ice shrank to its lowest recorded extent.

Compared with the urgent warnings from scientists – that we are on the brink of a “climate disaster” and only urgent drastic emissions cuts will save the planet from a world of extreme weather – the less-than-snail's pace of these negotiations, forget the grandstanding and pronouncements of a breakthrough, is both comical and frightening.

(The author is a retired bureaucrat.)

(This article was published on December 7, 2012)
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