A family walks along the beach in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region, in northeastern Nicaragua.
Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS
The Planet’s Thermostat Moves to Doha
By Stephen Leahy
Qatar, a major oil-producing country, is hosting the
latest round of UN climate talks, where the world’s
countries will need to negotiate measurable targets
to keep global warming under control.
DOHA, Nov 26 (Tierramérica).- The upcoming United Nations climate talks may have
a renewed sense of urgency with a new World Bank
report warning that the planet is on a dangerous
path to four degrees Celsius of global warming by
“Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4ºC Warmer World Must
be Avoided”, released on Nov. 19, was prepared for
the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for
Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics.
But the 18th meeting of the Conference of the
Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention
on Climate Change (COP 18) that begins Nov. 26 in
Doha, Qatar has become extremely complex.
There is agreement amongst the 194 nations that
are parties to the Convention on the need to set a
target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,
mainly from burning fossil fuels, to keep the
increase in global temperatures below two degrees,
to avoid catastrophic climate change.
That target is easy enough to understand, but
exactly how this can be achieved has been the
subject of intense and complex negotiations for
many years, said Jennifer Morgan, director of the
Climate and Energy Program of the World Resources
Institute, a Washington-based NGO.
Last year at COP 17 in Durban it took extra days
of negotiations for countries to finally agree to
launch a new round of negotiations to create a
legally binding international agreement.
That agreement will require carbon emission
reductions for all nations by 2015 to meet the
two-degree target. It is intended to be ratified
and enter into force by 2020.
"No one knows what this new agreement will look
like,” Morgan told Tierramérica in a press
conference. “Are countries going to show up in
Doha with the will to create a solid work plan?"
2015 is only three years off. The 1997 Kyoto
Protocol, which requires some industrialized
countries to reduce their emissions, was
negotiated in less than three years. However, it
took another eight years to be ratified by enough
countries to enter into force, and some key
nations like the United States backed out of the
One of the major issues in Doha will be
"ambition", said Morgan. Ambition refers to how
big the emission cuts that nations are prepared to
agree to will be.
Climate science clearly shows that to stay below
two degrees of warming, global greenhouse gas
emissions must begin to decline by 2020.
To do this, industrialized nations must trim their
emissions output by 25 to 40 percent below their
1990 emission levels.
The United States has pledged to make a three
percent reduction compared to 1990 levels. The
United Kingdom is aiming for a 34 percent
reduction and has already reached 18 percent.
"We hope the US will bring a new strategy,
including greater ambition, to Doha," said Morgan.
Most countries' current reduction pledges are
nowhere near what is needed, said Bill Hare,
director of Climate Analytics, a non-profit
climate science advisory group based in Berlin.
Countries have to find ways to trim another 9 to
11 billion tons of CO2 by 2020 or forget two
degrees Celsius, Hare told Tierramérica.
This "emissions gap" between the reductions
pledged and those needed to keep the climate under
control is growing larger, based on new data to be
released this week by the United Nations
Environment Programme (UNEP) and Hare's group.
"The gap keeps getting bigger… making it ever more
difficult and costly to stay below two degrees,"
Deforestation is the second largest source of
climate-heating carbon emissions after fossil
To provide a financial incentive for developing
countries to reduce deforestation, a controversial
program called REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from
Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is also
being negotiated at COP 18.
Forests are far more valuable than places to store
carbon, according to the first comprehensive
scientific assessment of REDD+ and potential
impacts on biodiversity and local peoples'
Conserving biodiversity and sustaining livelihoods
are essential if REDD+ is going to work, says the
new study, "Understanding Relationships Between
Biodiversity, Carbon, Forests and People: The Key
to Achieving REDD+ Objectives. A Global Assessment
Coordinated by the world’s largest network of
forest scientists, the International Union of
Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO), the report
will be formally presented during the meeting in
"The world’s rapidly dwindling forests are not
just carbon warehouses," John Parrotta, report co-
author and scientist with the United States Forest
Service, told Tierramérica. "Forests provide a
wide range of environmental goods and services
that people need."
Those goods and services include cleaning water,
preventing flooding, and providing food and
habitat for humans and many other creatures like
bees that perform valuable services like
Deforestation currently gobbles up an area the
size of Greece (13 million hectares) every year,
and is driven mostly by conversion to agriculture
and by the wood products industries. REDD+ is an
attempt to reverse this by creating a financial
value for the carbon stored in forests.
Trees take heat-trapping carbon out of the
atmosphere as they grow and store it for as long
as the trees live. Instead of cutting down trees
and selling the wood, the carbon trapped in the
living trees can be sold as “carbon credits” on an
A steel, cement, or coal-fired power company in
the United States or a European country can then
buy those credits instead of reducing its carbon
emissions. The current price is around 10 dollars
per ton, but this fluctuates.
Like any market, the carbon market demands
verification of how much carbon is in a forest and
how much carbon will remain there over 40, 60 or
80 years. This is both very technical and very
expensive to do.
Purchasers of carbon credits also want contractual
agreements with forest owners to guarantee the
carbon stays in the forest, which may prevent
local people from using the forest to grow food,
fix a roof or even hunt for generations.
While REDD+ could protect forests and be an annual
revenue source for local people, doing it right is
very complex and there is much work left to do,
said Parrotta. "It is hard to see how there will
be much progress at Doha."