Followers of the UN climate talks are always curious about the city they will find themselves in come December, when the annual Conference of the Parties or COP takes place. And for many, Doha - capital of gas and oil rich Qatar - was a particularly curious choice.
It is the source of all this wealth that most troubles observers here; because this is a region whose prosperity, and indeed very identify, seems inextricably entangled with fossil fuels. Moreover, Qatar illustrates better than almost any nation in the world, the conundrum facing the UNFCCC as it tries to find a solution to the climate crisis; that is, how to engage all the major economies in the world in cutting pollution.
It was the promise of a new approach that underpinned last year’s agreement in Durban, to sign up to a new, comprehensive legally binding climate deal by 2015 – a deal which for the first time would include all the world’s big economies. But the transition to this new logic is proving painful. And this brings us to the problem with COP 18.
European negotiators tell me they can’t understand why it is proving to be such a fractious and slow-moving conference. Their mantra is ‘this COP isn’t complicated’. They cannot understand why unpicking the problems that have arisen during the first week is like re-fitting a bicycle chain in boxing gloves.
This COP is difficult because many developing countries feel that the transition to the new world is taking place without developed countries delivering on the last twenty years of promises to cut pollution and provide finance. They feel that the developed world has played a cynical waiting game, doing very little to tack their own emissions, and then demanding of countries that have recently pulled themselves out of poverty, that they pick up the tab.
Seen from one perspective is it hard to refute the legitimacy of this accusation; of all the developed countries, Europe has made the most consistent efforts to cut emissions; and yet its carbon pollution target for 2020 (20% below 1990 levels) is still short of the bottom of the range of 25-40% recommended by science. Others, including the US, Australia and Canada, have even worse records and show little sign of upping their game. For countries facing possible extinction from the impacts of climate change, including small island states, this sustained failure to act is a source of bitter resentment.
But it is also true that the fate of these countries will be sealed, unless the countries responsible for the bulk of emissions today and tomorrow – including the US, and the emerging economies – are prepared to take action. So the question is now, how can the genuine grievances being felt in Doha be acknowledged and addressed properly, whilst still moving towards a new paradigm in 2015?
The task is not impossible, but neither is it trivial. Europe, as one of the proponents of the Durban deal, must show that it means what it says on cutting carbon, by agreeing to provisions for ‘ratchetting up’ its own 2020 climate target in the next few years, and helping cut out key loopholes from the Kyoto Protocol. It must also do everything it can to deliver a wider programme of emergency actions to cut emissions in the next, crucial decade. There must also be a much stronger show of commitment by to delivering the $100 billion a year climate finance package promised at Copenhagen.
Unlock these issues, along with a real commitment to fairness, and there can still be a good outcome in Doha. Not, of course, an outcome adequate for the climate; that will only happen when Governments in Berlin, Washington, Bejing and London put the security of their citizens ahead of the vested interests of the fossil fuel industry. But here in Doha, we could still emerge into a new negotiating environment, where everyone has a stake in taking on the responsibilities and benefitting from the opportunities of building a new, clean energy economy. That’s something worth fighting for, and it would be a curious legacy for gas-rich Qatar.
Ruth Davis, Chief Policy Advisor Greenpeace UK