Doha COP18 daily update Erwin Jackson's Daily Update

Dec 09, 2012 - 9:00am

This blog will be updated regularly with Erwin's insights and commentary from Doha. 

8 December 

The Doha Climate Summit concluded with an agreement to streamline negotiations towards a new legally binding agreement by 2015. This locks both major parties into their promises of up to 25 per cent emission reductions by 2020. In 2013, this will be a key test for both parties policy readiness to achieve stronger targets.

See our full press release here


7 December 

Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates have pledged to reduce carbon emissions in an effort to diversify their economies. A more detailed commitment will be made in the future and the emission reductions will be undertaken without international financial support. While they still have work to on defining the exact commitment, this announcement symbolises two key points:

  1. The potential for positive reinforcement between international and domestic processes: It is highly unlikely that these Gulf States would have committed to reduce emissions without a UN climate summit taking place in the region. This is analogous to the Copenhagen climate summit which saw all major emitters committing to reduce emissions. Following these commitments countries have been implementing policies to meet them – e.g. Australia’s carbon laws, China’s Five Year Plan, South Korea’s emission trading scheme and South Africa’s carbon tax.
  2. A signal the world is changing: Even major oil producing countries are recognising the need to diversify their economies. This is small step but it is in a positive direction.

6 December 

Among the grueling hours, side conversations and endless meetings you sometimes get some good news at the climate talks. Today the Dominican Republic, the tiny Caribbean developing country of 10 million people, pledged to unconditionally reduce emissions by 25 per cent below 2010 levels by 2020. This will be enshrined in domestic law. The per capita GDP of the Dominican Republic is around $8,900 compared to Australia’s $38,800 or Qatar’s $98,000.

In the negotiations , people are now conceding the process is likely to go well into Saturday. With ministers facilitating discussions, fairly clear options and compromises are within reach under Kyoto talks, on finance and on mechanisms to increase ambition. Driven by the trusted Indian and Norwegian co-chairs , the short-term process for the development of the new legally binding agreement is also coming together.

However, the Saudi Arabian chair of the negotiations launched in Bali continues to produce options that don’t bridge the gap between the views of different countries. This is not a developing vs developed country dilemma , as many progressive developing countries also share concerns about the divisions this is creating. With no resolution of this track of the negotiations it is difficult to move forward more broadly.

This is not being helped by the Qatari President’s failure to appoint ministers to address the road blocks in this track of the talks. Inevitably this will happen. But the delay in political facilitation is an acute frustration for many.

An agreement is in sight and possible. Just don’t expect that until ministers are fully engaged in to making the agreement that can put us on a clear path to the new agreement in 2015. Until that happens, we will continue, as one delegate put it,  to “keep wandering around the desert” .


5 December 

Some positive moves have emerging during the last day or so of the Doha climate summit. A number of European countries have pledged climate finance commitments to help poor nations cope with climate impacts and invest in clean energy. The UK has budgeted $2.7 billion over the next two years, Germany will increase its climate finance to $2.2 billion in 2013, France announced it will contribute $2.5 billion annually for 2013 and 2014, and Sweden announced $360 million for next year. 

On the broad package, ministerial engagement will be critical in the days and nights ahead with many issues yet to be resolved. The ministers from Norway and Brazil are undertaking consultations on the Kyoto Protocol amendments and South Africa, Switzerland and the Maldives are engaging on financing decisions. Australia is working with Gambia to resolve disagreements between countries on reporting guidelines. 

The halls of the Doha climate summit are largely empty. Officials are bunkered down in meeting rooms and will work through the night. Some will now be wondering when they will see a bed again before Saturday.  

4 December 

Ministers are starting to walk the corridors of the Doha climate summit. High level meetings are occurring as governments attempt to resolve critical blocks in the talks. At this point in UN meetings, the process can look a mess but chatter is starting around the shape of the final deal.

Three key questions need to be resolved if the talks are going to conclude and streamline the negotiations towards the new 2015 legal agreement.

Under Kyoto, progress is being made on defining the legal procedures to operationalise the new commitment period under the Protocol. Compromises are being sought that address the future use of carbon credits from the first commitment period that ends this year. Whether governments who do not have new commitments under Kyoto have access to Protocol’s carbon markets to meet targets they have submitted under the Climate Convention is furthest from resolution.

How to scale up finance to world’s poorest nations to help them cope with an increasingly hostile climate and put them on a low emission path also remains contentious. The initial commitment to finance made by developed nations is coming to end and poorer nations want some guarantees that climate finance will be scaled up to meet the US$100 billion in public and private finance committed for 2020. The UN Secretary General commented that achieving this commitment is critical to the credibility of the UN process.

Finally, the question of ambition cuts across both the Kyoto discussions and the commitments made in Durban to scale up action before 2020. Governments are discussing mechanisms that allow countries with Kyoto commitments to increase their legally binding obligations in 2014 and a high level process to put political pressure on other governments to do the same is being examined. We can also use this process to put pressure on governments back at home to scale up their domestic actions and drive additional investment in low pollution technology.

An agreement that puts us on a path to a new legal instrument covering all major emitters is possible. Agreeing Kyoto amendments, building confidence in finance and securing a political process to drive greater action are critical keys to unlock this door.  

3 December  

This text also appeared on 4 December in Crikey

Narratives are central to politics and it is no different at the Doha climate summit. Many times it is not what you say but how you say it. Sleep deprived delegates need simple messages that can bridge the gap that may exist between countries.

Positive narratives can build momentum, breakdown misunderstandings and move negotiations forward. Some old and tired narratives can also be destructive. The most commonly stated is that these conferences are battles between the developed and the developing world. Increasingly, delegates are voicing frustration with some media, NGOs and governments who perpetrate this out-dated myth.

Costa Rica highlighted last week that this process should celebrate developing country leadership and these countries should not be hiding behind the lack of leadership by some developed nations. Recent analysis concluded that the actions China has taken since 2005 amount the single largest policy driven emission reduction in the history of the planet. This process needs to deepen and expand these kinds of commitments not throw up rhetorical barriers to action.

Gambia is not China and Bangladesh is not Brazil. Since Copenhagen, developing countries have been increasing operating outside the block of G77/China. The EU’s past collaboration with the Alliance of Small Island States in Durban is but one example.

All nations, the media and NGOs need to hold each to account and leadership is sorely needed across government negotiating blocks. Yes, different countries have different responsibilities but perpetrating the blame game of the 1990s will not help us achieve our goals. More positive reinforcement of actions, clear accountabilities and incentives to act can.    

2 December  

This text also appeared on 3 December in ClimateSpectator. 

The Doha Climate Summit is an implementation meeting. Agree a second round of credible Kyoto targets, conclude the political negotiations that started in Bali and set some parameters around the talks towards the new legally binding agreement in 2015. Ministers are now arriving and they will have much to do to resolve outstanding conflicts in all of the negotiating streams.

Under Kyoto talks, a number of disagreements are going to require Ministerial leadership. For example, New Zealand and Japan (with support from Australia) argue that all countries should have access to Kyoto’s carbon markets regardless of whether they have new Kyoto targets or not. This is inconsistent with the spirit of Kyoto’s rules and is being resisted by many countries.

Access to carbon markets should, in theory, be an important lever to encourage countries to participate in international agreements because of the economic benefits they bring. Casting this away in Doha should be avoided.

Under the Bali action plan discussions progress has been slower and many issues remain outstanding. How to scale up international climate finance to help the world’s poorest countries cope with the demands of climate change is a key political issue that cuts across these negotiations. In Copenhagen, developed countries agreed to assist poor nations with US$100 billion in public and private climate finance by 2020. Since Copenhagen much as been delivered but developing nations are seeking assurances that finance will be scaled up towards the 2020 goal.

In Durban, the European Union (EU) and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), which includes many of Australia’s Pacific neighbours, helped broker the final deal that led to the meetings significant outcomes. However, this coordination has been lacking in Doha as AOSIS continues to push on red lines that the EU can’t cross and developed nations are not delivering on some of AOSIS’ key asks. This includes, for example, the limited access to the Kyoto markets mentioned above.

This is just a snap shot of some the differences that now confront Ministers. This is the time for progressive countries to work with allies to find ambitious but practical compromises. Ministers are arriving and a good outcome is possible. Principled pragmatism is the recipe for success from now in Doha.

1 December  

The Doha climate talks are heading towards the pointy end of the first week. Ministers start to arrive on Sunday and they need to be given a limited number of clear options to resolve at a political level. Tension is mounting.

All three major negotiating tracks are progressing. New negotiating texts on amendments to the Kyoto Protocol and on talks stemming from the Bali Action Plan are expected later tomorrow afternoon. This will be followed by a text under the work stream that is focused on the new 2015 agreement on Monday.

Delegates are increasingly discussing the "Russian factor". While Russia will not have a target under the Kyoto Protocol in the period to 2020, it is seeking to carry over around six billion tonnes of emission credits (or AAUs) into the new agreement under which it would be covered. This is roughly the equivalent to more than ten years of Australia's total national emissions.

Most countries are seeking to limit the amount of these kinds of credits that can be used in the future as they were generated not by reducing emissions but by overgenerous targets (Australia also has an AAU surplus of roughly 90 million tonnes). Limiting the use of these kinds of credits in the future would be an important decision in Doha as it would significantly increase the climate integrity of the global architecture.

People are concerned because Russia has a history of being unpredictable in the negotiations. Many times delegates have thought the deal has been done and the Russians have intervened and pushed the talks many hours into the night. How hard they and their supporters in countries like Poland will push for clear access to these credits for use in the future is unknown. At the very least this uncertainty is unnerving and at its worst destabilizing.


29 November 

Ambition. It's a word used often in the climate talks. News over recent days that the permafrost around the world’s North may melt and release billions of additional tonnes of greenhouse emissions into the air has focused global media on the challenges confronting governments in Doha. 

How to increase climate ambition will be a key element of the Doha outcome. Last year countries agreed that while significant, action around the world remains below what is required to avoid dangerous climate change. While no new significant new pledges to reduce emissions are expected here, discussions started today to discuss how countries can work together to increase the global efforts being made to close the gap between the actions being taken and what is required.

Delegates discuss how to increase short term emission reduction ambition

Increasing the targets and actions countries are taking is the obvious answer. To build political momentum towards such an outcome the Alliance of Small Island States have suggested a high-level political meeting in 2014 where countries need to come with more ambitious commitments (coincidently, the same year Australia can increase its target through the domestic emission trading scheme).

Other options include how we progress and accelerate the process of phasing out the US$520 billion of annual subsidies to coal, oil and gas? Are there additional actions that can be taken to reduce the climate impacts of short lived climate pollutants such as some hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs are a replacement for ozone depleting gases such as CFCs and HCFCs) and methane.

The question of ambition will not be resolved in Doha. For this to happen at future meetings, the realities of science and benefits of clean energy need to hit home in national capitals. Until that happens, countries will continue to come to these talks with inadequate policies to drive clean energy and low pollution development under their belts. 

28 November 

This text also appeared on 29 November in ClimateSpectator

The irony of Australia saying that it will be difficult to meet is proposed Kyoto target because companies are building lots of coal and gas projects has not been lost on delegates. From a climate change point of view, this is clearly an argument that is on a hiding to nowhere. The entire point of these talks is to provide incentives for countries to do the opposite.
At times, Australia bases its entire justification for its target on projections that suggest that emissions in 2020 would be 22 per cent above where they would have been if the nation had not committed to, as a minimum, reduce emissions by 5 per cent below 2000 levels. Using projected emissions – which no one here really believes anyway – is unnecessary and puts the Government in a defensive position.
Let us look for example at the 22 per cent below business as usual (BAU) figure. South Korea committed to reduce emissions by 30 per cent reductions below BAU by 2020. Much poorer South Africa has committed to a 34 per cent below BAU and Brazil a 36-39 per cent reduction? I could go on. (For details on national targets and actions, see our Global Climate Action Map)

Perhaps a better approach by Australia would be to focus on the fact that from 2015 the nation will have a hard pollution limit on major emitting industries and this will allow Australia to meet any 2020 commitment it makes when it finalises its 2020 targets in 2014.

If Australia moves to a stronger and more equitable target, the emission cap under the domestic scheme can just be strengthened to reflect this new commitment.

The figure below illustrates this point. It compares Australia’s proposed Kyoto target with what Australia’s domestic policies will achieve by default. (If the Parliament disallows the Governments proposed domestic emission limit in 2014 a ‘default’ cap is triggered.This achieves at least a 12 million tonne per year reduction.)

The figure also includes the effect of Australia’s Kyoto bonus generated from overachieving its first Kyoto target and the benefits Australia can receive from reducing emissions from managed forests. This bonus inflates the total amount of emissions the Government can release to 2020. Yesterday, the Government said it would use the bonus to offset the projected increase in emissions over the next few years of the next commitment period and until the emission limit kicks in from 2015.

Figure 1: Australia’s 2013-2020 Kyoto target and Australia’s current policy settings.

Note: This graph does not use the most recent AR4 global warming potentials to be used in the Kyoto second commitment period as Australia’s emission projections do not currently include these values. As such, Australia Kyoto targets and Kyoto bonus has been adjusted to reflect pre-AR4 values.   

While Australia should have used this bonus to increase its global ambition, it is important to note that the existence of this bonus is unlikely to materially affect domestic emission reductions. This largely will be determined by the level of the carbon price and other policies like the Renewable Energy Target. The Kyoto bonus is – based on current forecasts – unlikely to materially impact these incentives. It is more likely to impact the total amount of emission units Australia imports from the European Union and elsewhere to meet its national target.

What this figure shows is that under current policy settings Australia is on track to meet its proposed Kyoto commitment without any additional policy intervention. In fact, if emissions remain depressed due to ongoing low electricity demand, Australia may even over achieve its proposed target (illustrated by the dash line, Policy – recent). This is consistent with the behaviour of other countries at these meetings where many commit to less than they feel their domestic policies will achieve to avoid international embarrassment around failing to meet a promised target.

Australia has been through a bitter political battle and implemented a set of flexible limits on pollution that can achieve any international commitment we commit to at least cost. Use of projections to justify a position is counterproductive and not really credible in the negotiations. Better to focus on what Australia can and will achieve over the coming years in driving clean energy and low carbon investment. Perhaps we could even celebrate the chance to reduce our economic dependence on fossil fuels.

27 November

This text appeared in Crikey as part of a longer article on Doha, 28 November. 

The formalities and basic positioning statements are out of the way. Delegates are getting down to work. As they do you can understand why at times outside observers get baffled by the UN climate process. Lawyers debate the finer details of international law using arcane language like “provisional application.” Emission accounting experts interrogate the numbers around “LULUCF,” “AAUs” and “ARD.” You can sometimes have an entire conversation at a climate meeting in language which would be incomprehensible to another English speaker. 

But in the end these conversations matter. The decisions around such terms can impact the actions countries take when they get back home. They are also fundamental to the functioning of the global carbon trading market. Therefore, officials debate and over the coming days finally find compromises on technical issues before Ministers arrive to take forward the outstanding political questions that remain. 

Today we saw a classic example of this process. Australia was put on the spot and questioned over its proposed Kyoto target. A number of countries had concerns and lined up to ask why Australia was not using its Kyoto bonus to strengthen ambition. What impact do the assumptions around carbon captured in our forests and landscapes have on pollution from the burning of coal, oil and gas? Under what conditions would Australia move to the higher end of the 2020 target range? 

With the answers to these questions in hand, the number crunches will again get to work before their Governments make a final judgement on Australia’s ambition and whether it helps or hinders the outcomes their countries want to achieve from this conference.       


26 November

This text first appeared on 27 November in ClimateSpectator.

The Doha Climate Summit got underway today with delegates arriving at the Qatar’s colossal convention centre to attempt to stream line talks towards a new agreement covering all major emitters by 2015. 

So far the meeting lacks the air of tension that has permeated the talks of the past. Certainty, delegates carry concerns and some trepidation around certain issues and many are already tired after days of preparatory meetings. However, the lack of high level political drama around the talks appears to be allowing delegates to focus on the detail of what they need to achieve over the next couple of weeks.

It is also clear that Australia's preparedness to  take on a new Kyoto target has been met with genuine relief (and in some cases surprise) from a range of delegates from progressive countries. Questions are now focused on what Australia’s proposed preliminary Kyoto target means (see figure below). Australian officials will certainly be in the hot seat tomorrow as they explain the assumptions around the commitment, how its ambition can be increased and what it means for Australia’s final target decision on 2020 targets in 2014. This is when, after the report of the independent Climate Change Authority, that the Parliament must consider the emission limit to be placed on our largest polluting companies. 

The Government’s inclusion of full bipartisan supported target range of up to 25 per cent emission reductions by 2020 in an international treaty gives the Climate Change Authority a clear mandate to consider stronger targets than proposed today. 

Figure 1: Australia has proposed that its provisional Kyoto Protocol target will be 99.5 per cent on 1990 levels. This compares to a target of 108 per cent for the first target period from 2008 to 2012. Australia has also included its full bipartisan supported target range of up to 25 per cent reductions on 2000 levels by 2020 in the Protocol submission. Australia’s final 2020 target will be determined in 2014 after a review of the independent Climate Change Authority, at a time of international scrutiny of targets by other countries and after the Federal Election. More information on possible Australian Kyoto targets is available here.

23 November

This text first appeared on 23 November in ClimateSpectator.

Erwin Jackson, Deputy CEO of The Climate Institute, has attended the annual UN climate talks for nearly a decade.
He is heading to Doha in a couple of days and took some time to record his thoughts on what could be expected from this year’s talks.
In the video, he refers to a recent policy brief on Doha, which can be found here. The Climate Institute has today also released a media brief on how Australia’s second Kyoto commitment target should be set. It can be found here.


Erwin Jackson

Erwin is Deputy CEO of The Climate Institute. With nearly 20 years practical experience in climate change policy and research, Erwin has developed and led many national and international programs aimed at reducing greenhouse pollution. This work has been undertaken in Australia, Europe, North and South America, the Pacific and Antarctica. He has represented non-governmental groups and advised government and business in national, regional and international fora, including being a non-governmental expert reviewer of the reports of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Erwin has written, researched and produced many publications on climate change and energy policy including a number of review papers in scientific journals such as the Medical Journal of Australia.
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