Doha was my first time at a UN climate conference and not sure of what to expect, I was immediately reminded of what was at stake when 'super typhoon' Bopha crashed into the Philippines – a type of storm we may see more of if we do not succeed in limiting global warming.
In its wake, the Philippines lead negotiator Naderev “Yeb” Saño made an emotional appeal to leaders from all over the world to stop dragging their feet and to open their eyes to the "stark reality" that we must all face.
But when the UN climate talks finally ended, politicians in Doha showed how completely out of touch they were with the reality of climate change, failing to increase the speed and scale of international efforts to cut carbon pollution.
I had arrived in Doha on Sunday, December 2, just as the UNFCCC talks were entering their second week. Some of the language seemed foreign to me and some of it obscure, but if we were to survive the climate crisis, five things were clear:
Governments had to: 1) deliver a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol starting January 1, 2013; 2) increase mitigation commitments; 3) adopt a roadmap that leads to a legally binding global climate deal no later than 2015; 4) fill up the empty pot of the Green Climate Fund and 5) set up a framework to protect our forests.
Anything less would potentially lead to catastrophic climate change.
While governments did manage to agree on a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding pact for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, most of its major loopholes remained intact making it of limited value in curbing carbon emissions.
Climate finance also remained insufficient with only US$10 billion on the table. Nothing was done to scale up funding for vulnerable countries towards the previously agreed target of US$100 billion per year.
A lot of countries are to blame. But the United States stands as the biggest, baddest blocker of all. Never mind if it is still reeling from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy. Never mind if recent polls show that the majority of Americans support climate policy.
In spite of President Obama’s post-election climate promises, the US delegation in Doha blocked every measure on mitigation ambition and finance.
The behaviour of the US is in stark contrast to developing countries in Southeast Asia that are least responsible for causing climate change, yet are the most vulnerable to its impacts.
Vietnam aims to reduce the amount of its greenhouse gas emissions by 8-10% compared with 2010 levels in the period 2012-2020, while Malaysia is honouring its commitment made in Copenhagen to voluntarily cut carbon emissions by 40% by 2020 compared with 2005 levels.
Even the city state of Singapore pledged voluntary emissions cuts of 7-11% below business-as-usual by 2020 and may commit to further reductions with a global agreement.
Unfortunately, despite voluntary reductions in GHG emissions, massive deforestation continues and more coal plants are being built in the Asia region.
This is where climate finance, technology transfer and capacity building in the negotiations could help developing countries transition to low-carbon economies, while also addressing poverty alleviation and other social development goals.
In Doha, governments delivered the barest minimum of a work plan to take forward the discussions on a deal which includes a timeline for developing a negotiating text and the adoption of an agreement in 2015. There is but a tiny glimmer of hope.
As the climate talks wound up in the late hours of Saturday evening and ministers were on flights going out of Doha, the death toll in Bopha-hit Philippines had already exceeded 500, many more still missing and the damage bill was estimated at US$146 million.
And when the final gavel signalled the end of the climate talks, the Greenpeace ship M/Y Esperanza had already left the port of Manila to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Mindanao.
In solidarity with the thousands of affected families and communities, the Esperanza’s planned expedition on oceans protection was cancelled so that the ship clould ferry much-needed supplies to communities. Esperanza means hope in English.
And in these times of crises, hope is all we can count on. Hope that one day we will get the climate deal the world so desperately needs.