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Expert Comment: The global politics of addressing climate change and the Doha Climate Change Conference

Wind farm Thursday 6 December 2012

As the Doha Climate Change Conference continues, Steven Axon (Department of Geography) looks at the global countdown to address climate change. 

The countdown to address climate change really has begun. According to a group of leading environmentalists, there is now less than 50 months to address climate change, avoid global catastrophe and still ensure there are some small island developing states remaining on the map of the world. The gauntlet has been thrown down. But is the challenge accepted?

Debates surrounding addressing climate change focus on how the issue could be tackled. Looking at the state of global politics and previous global climate summits (such as Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban), one may not be too optimistic. Climate change is a divisive subject, particularly in the US, Canada, Australia, Brazil, China and India who argue that the issue is not a priority or an imminent threat. Combined, these countries release over 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions. To effectively address climate change, these countries will need to take action.

On the other hand, one may see green shoots of optimism. Following re-election, President Obama has argued that addressing climate change (at least in the short term) will be a priority in his second term of office. Additionally, the UK’s new Energy Bill is welcome news and sets the UK on a clear pathway towards decarbonisation.

Taking place in Doha, Qatar from 26th November to 7th December is the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP18) to the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change). With the Kyoto Protocol running out at the end of this year, significant progress needs to be made for a new global agreement on addressing climate change.

Major international conferences on climate change are not without criticisms. For Doha, there are 3 major barriers to a global agreement. Firstly, developing nations accuse richer countries of not being ambitious enough in terms of carbon reductions. This lack of meaningful engagement by politicians, ministers, Presidents and governments translates into limited or no meaningful action on climate change. Secondly, there is a lack of clarity where money will come from in order for poorer countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change will come from. Finally, countries such as the US, Canada, Japan and Russia argue that they will not take on new carbon targets under an extension of the Kyoto Protocol. These barriers will affect the outcomes of the conference as to whether they are realistic or not to address climate change.

The Doha climate change conference builds on previous international conferences and agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol, the Bali Roadmap and the Cancun Agreement. The conference will discuss four key themes: mitigation, adaptation, technology and finance. Efforts to reach a deal by the end of the week will undoubtedly result in numerous conflicts between developed and developing nations with different opinions on how climate change should be addressed (if at all).

Recent research in Nature Climate Change by Peters et al. (2012) suggest that the goal of keeping global warming within 2ºC is beyond reach and that countries should prepare for temperatures increases of 3ºC and 6ºC. These findings reinforce the need for appropriate action must be taken in order to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of a warmer world.

Appropriate dialogue, understanding and collaboration are required for this conference to be successful. The policymakers, climate change secretaries and global leaders attending the Doha conference this week have an historic opportunity to transform dialogue into significant progress on addressing climate change. Here’s hoping it’s not just a load of hot air! 

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