The UN climate conference in Qatar ended with a deal to extend the Kyoto Protocol until 2020. The agreement, signed by 200 nations, for the first time adopted the principle that rich nations should compensate poor nations for losses from climate change.
To me the agreement achieves little. The Kyoto protocol was never signed by major polluters such as the US and other countries such as Canada and New Zealand have dropped out. Few countries will sign on to the extended Kyoto agreement. Only the European Union and a few other countries will be part of the agreement. The EU's chief negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger admitted that the extension will not make much of a difference in reducing global warming: “I think we cover at most 14 percent of global emissions." Most of the big polluting countries will still be outside any legally binding deal to combat global warming.
While the agreement encourages rich nations to raise at least $10 billion a year between 2015 and 2020 this is not binding. At the last minute, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus demanded extra credit for emissions cuts made when their communist era industries collapsed and in the process greatly reduced pollution. Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, a former head of the oil cartel OPEC, chaired the meetings. The chair had been criticized by many throughout the meetings for his relaxed laid-back style. However, he lost patience with the Russians and rushed through the agenda at break-net speed not giving the Russians and others time to object. Environmentalists ended up cheering al-Attiyah for his ruthlessness as chair, as he managed to ram the agreement through finally. The chair promised to reflect the Russian view in the final report.
The representative of small island nations was quite critical of the report in spite of the incorporation of the principle of Loss and Damage reparations in the final text. The representative said: "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. There is no new finance (for adapting to climate change and getting clean energy) - only promises that something might materialize 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 final agreement as better than nothing. The new principle of compensation for loss and damage from climate change was claimed by many to be a breakthrough. The US had fought against the principle. This is the first admission by rich developed countries of any responsibility for damage from climate change caused by them. Martin Khor, representing an association of 52 developing nations, said: "It is a breakthrough. The term Loss and Damage is in the text - this is a huge step in principle. Next comes the fight for cash." Given that many developed countries face their own financial problems, it may be politically difficult to provide money in compensation for environmental damage caused by these countries. It may be even more difficult to provide sufficient evidence to prove such damage and to assess the compensation owed. Perhaps, there will be a sudden increase in the number of climate change skeptics in developed countries.
Some observers thought that the US might veto the text, especially as the chief US negotiator, Todd Stern, vehemently opposed it. However, he ended up saying: "We don't like this text, but we can live with it." At the insistence of the US, the Loss and Damage mechanism was placed under an existing process that promised to raise $100 billion a year for poor nations to adapt to climate change. There is nothing legally binding in that which would force the US to provide any funds for Loss and Damage.