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Doha delivers a dead deal on climate change

Doha was not supposed to throw up any surprises, and it didn't. The Kyoto Protocol, for all practical purposes, is dead. The only binding global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions was to expire this year anyway. It's just that the UN climate change conference in Doha has given it an unceremonious burial before it could fulfill most of its promises.



On paper, the climate talks, which ended last Saturday, may have extended a plan to combat global warming until 2020. But in reality the deal will not be able to slow rising temperatures or prevent floods, droughts, heat waves and rising sea levels.

The extended Kyoto Protocol is expected to compel about 35 industrialised nations to reduce GHG emissions. But the 15-year-old protocol has been weakened by the withdrawal of Russia, Japan and Canada. The fact that the US never ratified the protocol means its remaining backers, led by the European Union and Australia, now account for only 15 per cent of world GHG emissions. So we can see how much emission would be reduced.

The developed world [perhaps with the exception of the EU] had always been reluctant to accept binding emission cuts, but until now it at least appeared to take measures to fight climate change and help poorer countries do the same. But Doha, for all its drawbacks, has helped pull the veil of pretension off many a developed country's face.

There was never any doubt about the intentions of the US. Those who were fooled by US President Barack Obama's victory speech in Chicago on November 7 into thinking he would lead the US, historically the greatest GHG emitter, into the battle against climate change failed to read the not so fine print.

The sentence in Obama's victory speech that left many an environmentalist jumping with joy was: "We want our children to live in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened up by inequality, that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet." Indeed, the president was talking about protecting children from climate change, but then he was referring to American children, not children in the rest of the world.

There are too many powerful forces at play behind the scenes not only in the US, but also all the countries that have embraced the free-market economy. Profit is the language that the market understands, and market is the philosophy that most governments today follow.

It is this philosophy, seeped in profit and endless greed, which has prevented the developed countries providing the promised US$100 billion to the poorest countries to adapt to and fight climate change. The "new deal" struck in Doha indicates only $10 billion will be available every year, which is only half of what the developed countries had promised to give between 2013 and 2015.

All these make what the organisers are calling a "Doha Climate Gateway" nothing but a dead end as far as the future of the world as we know it is concerned.

It was not surprising to see Japan, Canada and Russia "opt out" of the extended Kyoto Protocol. Japan, with its overemphasis on nuclear energy and industrial production, Canada with its newfound shale gas reserves and huge logging industry, and Russia with its massive oil and gas production, are the last countries to heed the warnings of climate change.

In these days of markets and profits, it's not surprising for former US president George W Bush and his successor Obama to sanction trillions of dollars to bail out banks, and insurance and auto companies. It's not surprising either to see Obama ask the US Congress to sanction $60.4 billion to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. But it would be really surprising to see the US contribute significantly to the $100-billion fund for the victims of climate change in the poorest countries. The bailouts were to make profits and the "Sandy fund" would be to help Americans. The climate fund is for neither, hence the "denial".

We have to forget that during the Copenhagen climate talks in 2009, Obama promised developed countries would pay $100 billion to developing countries to fight global warming. We also have to forget that rich countries have not paid their contributions to the $30-billion Fast Start Fund from 2010 to 2012.

The Doha climate talks, like so many international talks, could have been usurped by the developed countries had China not stood firm with other developing nations. But even then the developed world saw to it that Filipino chief negotiator Naderev Sano's impassioned plea fell on deaf ears. The meaning of Sano's words was not lost on anyone, but then he was not talking money. Sano said: "I appeal to the whole world, I appeal to leaders from all over the world, to open our eyes to the stark reality that we face. The outcome of our work is not about what our political masters want. It is about what is demanded of us by 7 billion people. I ask of all of us here, if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?"

Perhaps world leaders, especially in the developed world, would listen to the call of the planet if climate change was a money-making business.


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