UN climate talks extend Kyoto Protocol, promise compensation

A sits near a power plant emitting plumes of smoke in Beijing, China. File photo The Kyoto protocol on climate change had been due to expire later this year

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UN climate talks in Doha have closed with a historic shift in principle but few genuine cuts in greenhouse gases.

The summit established for the first time that rich nations should move towards compensating poor nations for losses due to climate change.

Developing nations hailed it as a breakthrough, but condemned the gulf between the science of climate change and political attempts to tackle it.

The deal, agreed by nearly 200 nations, extends to 2020 the Kyoto Protocol.

It is the only legally-binding plan for combating global warming.

The deal covers Europe and Australia, whose share of world greenhouse gas emissions is less than 15%.

Start Quote

This is a watershed in the talks. There is no turning back from this”

End Quote Saleem ul-Huq IIED think-tank, Bangladesh

But the conference also cleared the way for the Kyoto protocol to be replaced by a new treaty binding all rich and poor nations together by 2015 to tackle climate change.

The final text "encourages" rich nations to mobilise at least $10bn (£6bn) a year up to 2020, when the new global climate agreement is due to kick in.

Final turmoil

There was last-minute drama as the talks were thrown into turmoil by the insistence of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus that they should be allowed extra credit for the emissions cuts they made when their industries collapsed.

After a long delay, the chairman lost patience, re-started the meeting and gavelled through the agenda so fast there was no chance for Russia to object.

A cheer exploded into prolonged applause. Russia bitterly objected at what it said was a clear breach of procedure, but the chairman said he would do no more than reflect the Russian view in the final report.

The big players, the US, EU and China accepted the agreement with varying degrees of reservation. But the representative for the small island states at severe risk from climate change was vociferous.

Climate change glossary
Select a term to learn more:
Action that helps cope with the effects of climate change - for example construction of barriers to protect against rising sea levels, or conversion to crops capable of surviving high temperatures and drought.

"We see the package before us as deeply deficient in mitigation (carbon cuts) and finance. It's likely to lock us on the trajectory to a 3,4,5C rise in global temperatures, even though we agreed to keep the global average temperature rise of 1.5C to ensure survival of all islands," he said.

"There is no new finance (for adapting to climate change and getting clean energy) - only promises that something might materialise in the future. Those who are obstructive need to talk not about how their people will live, but whether our people will live."

The island states accepted the agreement because for them it is better than nothing. Other diplomats will point to the immense complexity of the UN process, which is attempting to move away from the old Kyoto Protocol into a new phase binding rich and poor nations together in the task of tackling climate change.

The proposed new Loss and Damage mechanism is held up as an example of the success of the diplomatic process.

Start Quote

This agreement really opens a can of worms”

End Quote Nick Mabey E3G think-tank, UK

Until now rich nations have agreed finance to help developing countries to get clean energy and adapt to climate change, but they have stopped short of accepting responsibility for damage caused by climate change elsewhere.

But in Doha that broad principle was agreed.

"It is a breakthrough," said Martin Khor of the South Centre - an association of 52 developing nations. "The term Loss and Damage is in the text - this is a huge step in principle. Next comes the fight for cash.

"What helped swing it was [US President Barack] Obama asking Congress for $60bn for the damage caused by [Hurricane] Sandy," he said.

Saleem ul-Huq, from the think-tank IIED in Bangladesh, told me the text should have been firmer, but he said: "This is a watershed in the talks. There is no turning back from this."

Nick Mabey, from the UK think-tank E3G, said: "This agreement really opens a can of worms - it might be applied to countries damming transboundary rivers, for instance. It could be very significant in future."

Greenhouse gases

blue and white part of Earth and the blackness of space
  • The Earth's atmosphere contains 'greenhouse gases', such as water vapour, carbon dioxide and methane
  • When sunlight strikes the Earth's surface some of it is reflected back as infrared radiation
  • Greenhouse gases absorb some of this radiation and trap the heat in the atmosphere - this is known as the greenhouse effect
  • Without the greenhouse effect Earth would be an extremely cold, inhospitable place

Source: BBC Science

No US veto

The US had been adamant that this measure would be blocked, and the EU nearly vetoed it, too.

Todd Stern, the US head of delegation here, was seen for much of the past few days walking in circles near the tea bar on his mobile phone to Washington. He told me: "We don't like this text, but we can live with it."

Andy Atkins, from Friends of the Earth, says the current agreement is an 'empty deal'

The key to US agreement was the positioning of the Loss and Damage mechanism under an existing process promising to mobilise $100bn a year for poor nations to adapt to climate change.

Facing tough budget decisions at home over the "fiscal cliff" it was essential for the US to avoid the impression that it was giving away more cash at this time.

The UK Climate Secretary, Ed Davey, told me: "We haven't agreed to set up a new institution - and there's no blank cheque. But there is clearly an issue if, say, an island state is lost underwater."

Ronny Jumea, from the Seychelles, told rich nations earlier that discussion of compensation would not have been needed if they had cut emissions earlier.

"We're past the mitigation [emissions cuts] and adaptation eras. We're now right into the era of loss and damage. What's next after that? Destruction?" he said.

The US has been blamed on finance and on failure to cut its emissions more aggressively.

The EU has also been under fire for failing to raise its promised cuts from 20%, which it is reaching easily, to 30%. (Scientists say it should be 40%.)

The EU has been held back by Poland, which insists on its right to burn its huge reserves of coal.

'Crushing Russian revolt'

Warsaw was refusing to sign the extension to the Kyoto climate protocol until it had a reassurance from the EU that it would receive flexible treatment on emissions cuts.

Russia, Belarus and Ukraine then further delayed the endgame of the conference with an argument over so-called "hot air" - the pollution permits they were given to allow their heavy industries to thrive.

Those industries collapsed but Poland and Russia insist that - as they suffered economic pain during the collapse - they should be allowed to use up the pollution permits as their economies grow again.

In effect, they want to be able to increase their emissions as other nations are obliged to cut theirs.

The nature of the Russian objection was unclear, but an EU negotiator told me he believed the Russians were making a point of principle and did not expect further action.

The major task of this two-week conference has been untangling of the diplomatic spaghetti from climate agreements that have grown piecemeal over the past 15 years.

It is widely agreed that a useful house-keeping job was done to help the UN move towards the next phase, which aims at a globally-encompassing agreement.

Preliminary discussions were held on this, and it was quickly evident that making a global agreement fair to all parties will be monumentally difficult.

The talks were chaired by Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, a former head of the oil cartel Opec.

He was widely criticised for his laid-back style earlier in the week but at the last there was the unlikely spectacle of environmentalists cheering the ruthlessness of the chair in crushing the Russian revolt.

Climate change diplomacy makes strange bedfellows.

Follow Roger on Twitter @RHarrabin


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  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    The horse is dead and stench is overpowering, it's time to bury it.

    I want a new crisis, this one is stale.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    Russia's actions unclear clue its black sticky polluting and they have loads of it anyone more clear

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    176. beesaman
    It seems to be a disease on HYS; there is the assumption that everybody's opinions have political motivations behind them.

    His beliefs on Global Warming have nothing to do with whether he has liberal political views.

    Oh, and some Icelandic dude was exiled, stumped across a large lump of land, and called it Greenland to try and attract other settlers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    175. paulmerhaba
    167. Kingfisherphil
    The best solution to reducing consumption of resources is simple, population reduction,
    You volunteering, for the population reduction bit?
    60 years ago, in my early 20s, I decided that I did not like what the world was turning into,
    I refused to create a child to live in it.

    Glad I didn't, its got worse

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Wettest summer? No! Just more stupid people living in stupid places, like flood plains or on the coast. Less ice?

    Thats the point as the earth warms up the seas will heat and se will get more rain, oh yer Co2 Lags temperature but it cause cause it, just look at thecauses of snowball earth

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    All those lovely Airmiles to enjoy for future flights,

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    5 Minutes ago
    We are a flee on a camels hump. Why do we pretend otherwise?

    Yes we are flees on a camels hump.
    Well, in that case global warming won't matter - we'll be ok in the desert. Except there's the ancient curse 'May the fleas of a 1000 camels infest your private...' etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    167 Kingfisherphil

    For once we agree. A reduction in population is, in my opinion, a good way forward. Looking at the global map, the high density hotspots are China, India and Europe. I'm not sure if you're from Europe, but if you are, I hope you're willing to join in with the 'stop people breeding' solution.


  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    Wettest summer? No! Just more stupid people living in stupid places, like flood plains or on the coast. Less ice? Since when? We've only got data since 1979, but then why is it called Greenland not Whiteland? CO2 lags warming it does not cause it, that big yellow thing in the sky does that!
    Hey but the global warming scam is a great way for left wingers to redistribute our wealth to their friends!

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    167. Kingfisherphil
    The best solution to reducing consumption of resources is simple, population reduction, try selling that to the third world, ok Wallis you may say racist but very true, even Grommit would confirm that !
    You volunteering, for the population reduction bit?

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Overseas aid by another name?

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    We are a flee on a camels hump. Why do we pretend otherwise?

    Yes we are flees on a camels hump. But the camel keeps eating even though its full. And its us flees that have to deal with the aftermath. I.E. Two humps = Two Jags.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.


    Yes they do, but you're talking of enforcing the way you want to live on others.

    If you want to be a slave to the never ending economy of money, that is your choice.

    Insisting others are lazy just because they live in a way that you don't is wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    If you burn 300 million years of oil in a hundred years and you think there wont be an effect. Burn you bbq in your house does the atmosphere change in your house?

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    @Kingfisherphil It is economic growth and greed driven by the west that at least in part drives the population explosion in the third world. Try convincing all us 'developed' nations that all our products are going to get more expensive because there are less people on pitiful wages to make everything we consume

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Humanity will have to accept soon that the world is a finite size and people need to look after it. However, there are many selfish individuals who think their personal wishes/freedoms are more important than the collective good. They need to be taken on and quickly. At present the future looks bleak. The West must fix the problem it created.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    Kyoto is a snow job to divert those who care about the future of us into fruitless argument. The UN should be discussing how to deal with depletion, population, pollution and honest governance in the interest of all the World.
    Growth and exploitation are not planned to end. See this wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trans-Pacific_Strategic_Economic_Partnership Not news on the BBC unfortunately.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    The best solution to reducing consumption of resources is simple, population reduction, try selling that to the third world, ok Wallis you may say racist but very true, even Grommit would confirm that !

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    At the end of the day people are never going to agree on a forum like this. For me, it comes down to whose opinion do you give more weight to - a guy down the pub who claims he 'knows' man-made global warming is all a conspiracy, or a research scientist who's been studying these complex systems for years.

    I know who I'd pick every time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    146. Drunken Hobo

    He is correct to some degree in that Climate Change is part of a natural cycle; it's nothing something that can be debated. The Earth has not had a constant climate.

    The difference now is that changes in the climate are happening at a much faster rate than they have during similar periods in the Earth's history.


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