Day one in Doha

Originally published by New Matilda 

Australia experienced a mixed reception at Day One of the United Nations climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar yesterday. Yesterday morning, Senator Ludwig announced to the Senate that Australia would commit to limit its emissions to 99.5% of 1990 emissions under the second commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol. In effect, this is consistent with Australia’s existing pledge to reduce emissions unconditionally to 5% below 2000 levels by 2020.

However, in light of the recently released World Bank report ‘Turn Down the Heat’ which indicates that we are far from on track to keeping global temperature increase within the safe 1.5C-2C  threshold; and amidst calls from developing countries, environmental groups and humanitarian organisations for Australia to contribute more to reduce global emissions – the Government’s announcement fell somewhat flat.

In Minister for Climate Change Greg Combet’s absence from the talks in Doha, Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency Mark Dreyfus delivered Australia’s address in yesterday’s Opening Plenary. Despite a shaky start with a malfunctioning microphone, Minister Dreyfus was able to launch into a speech promoting collaboration, ambition and commitment.

He said, “Doha can be a defining moment, a coming of age, here in Doha we can say to the world we had a road map and now we have real measures… to deliver action on climate change.

“We are committed to acting together on a common platform because this is what the climate needs.”

He even went so far as to say “We reached a deal in Durban and we should deliver in Doha.”

One could be forgiven for feeling a little dubious about the authenticity of Minister Dreyfus’ depiction of Australia’s ambition in light of yesterday’s bare minimum announcement. However, the second commitment period reduction target of 5% by 2020 is stronger than Australia’s commitment under the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol which in fact allowed Australia to increase its emissions by 8%.

Whilst the Doha negotiations have not generated the same public furor as the negotiations in Copenhagen, or even Durban last year; their success will be instrumental to the implementation of a legally binding treaty to cut carbon emissions by 2015. The plan, agreed upon in Durban last year, will for the first time capture all major emitters.

In this sense, the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period is effectively an interim measure until the 2015 treaty is implemented. It is however essential to maintain momentum and encourage trust between developing and developed nations as the 2015 treaty is negotiated over the next three years. Australia has been strongly criticized by environmental groups domestically and internationally for its perceived lack of ambition and deference to other countries to reduce their emissions first.

Yesterday; America, Canada, Russia, Japan and New Zealand all received the first ‘Fossil of the Day’ of this year’s climate conference. Fossil of the Day is a leader board of underperformers in the climate negotiations. All five winners failed to sign on to the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.

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