We are here at the 18th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Or in short, COP18 to the UNFCCC if you follow those things on Twitter. This is my first COP. I am 26 and it is hard to believe that the "18" in COP18 means that we have been doing this for most of my life, for eighteen years now. While I have followed the COPs from the outside for a while, experiencing the process firsthand from the inside one cannot help but feel angry.
It’s an absurd situation. I am writing this from Doha in Qatar. It’s hard to miss the irony of holding such an event in a country that makes even the most destructive and polluting industries look like environmental role models. Qatar has by far the highest per capita emissions of any country in the world. And when I say by far, I mean that per person Qatar emits more than the US, Canada and Russia combined. Or roughly 30 times as much as a person in India. You get the idea.
Qatar has been busy trying to place itself on the map by hosting global events such as this conference or the 2022 Football World Cup. Many came here hoping that the government would seize this opportunity to announce ambitious emissions reduction targets and position itself as an environmental leader in the region. Many have been disappointed. While Qatar’s ruler tries everything to present his country as modern at this conference, the biggest news regarding Qatar this week was putting a poet in jail for life because he criticized the government.
2012 has seen its fair share of climate catastrophes, from having droughts and floods in the same country at the same time, devastating hurricanes or historic lows of Arctic ice. The weeks prior to the conference have seen an impressive number of reports warning that we are on track to miss the two degrees threshold and will see devastating climate change in this century. Those reports weren’t written by pessimistic alarmists but by the World Bank, the CIA, the United Nations, PriceWaterhouseCoopers and others. The message is clear. We need bold and immediate action.
However, following the negotiations from the inside you get the idea that parties are discussing what to write on grandma’s Christmas card. Countries are fighting over commas and single words in texts that show a lack of urgency and ambition that is just overwhelming. Tracking the negotiations on forests it is hard to believe that the countries at the table are actually aware that deforestation accounts for about 15% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. That is roughly the same as all emissions from global transportation combined! But rather than focusing on moving forward and coming up with solutions, certain countries are again and again reintroducing things that have either been decided years ago or that just block any further progress.
For years Greenpeace has been working tirelessly to get a good deal on REDD, the scheme that is being discussed at these conferences to save the world’s remaining rainforests. We urgently need a decision that protects the forests, biodiversity and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities. Unfortunately in Doha parties seem to be more interested in revisiting the past while around the world forests continue to be cut down as countries fight about whether a particular paragraph will use a "shall" or a "should".