12 Dec 2012
Not much was expected of the UN's 18th conference on climate change in Doha, Qatar, and not much was delivered. Despite Cassandra-like warnings from such diverse sources as the World Bank, the UN Environment Programme and even PricewaterhouseCoopers that we are now heading inexorably for a drastically warmer world, there was a marked lack of willingness to translate this looming reality into urgent action aimed at stabilising the rise in average surface temperatures at 2 degrees Celsius.
Indeed, it would appear that some of the richer countries - notably the US - are so transfixed by budgetary crises and ill-informed, even hysterical, political opposition at home that they cannot go beyond mere platitudes in dealing with the most serious environmental crisis facing humanity.
The renewal for a further seven years of the Kyoto Protocol will only help to a relatively small extent because Canada, Japan, Russia and New Zealand have all declined to participate (the US and China are not part of it) , so the new regime will cover less than 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. But for developing countries in Africa and small island states facing an existential threat from rising sea levels, "Kyoto 2" was a red-line issue.
By pressing ahead with it, the EU - together with Australia, Norway, Switzerland and others among this "coalition of the willing" - not only showed that they had the courage to take on further commitments to reduce emissions, but also injected a degree of trust into the multilateral process, building confidence among developing countries; this is vital if the "Doha Climate Gateway" is to lead to an all-embracing international agreement in 2015.
Significant financial aid to help poorer countries cope with the consequences of climate change is also desperately needed. Last Friday, President Barack Obama asked the US Congress to provide $60.4 billion (€46.1 billion) in federal aid to New York, New Jersey and other states hit by Superstorm Sandy in late October. On Saturday, Philippines President Benigno Aquino declared a "state of national calamity" in the wake of Typhoon Bopha, but it is likely that his government will be able to provide no more than a fraction of the aid being sought by Obama. No wonder the Philippines delegate in Doha placed such emphasis on the need to know how the world's richer countries are going to "ramp up" climate finance for their poorer counterparts to the target figure of $100 billion a year in 2020.
Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan, who was actively involved in the Doha talks, has fallen behind on the timetable he laid out last January for progressing towards enacting climate change legislation in Ireland. After hearing all he heard in Qatar, he now needs to get on with it.