With that in mind, I thought it is worth reviewing just what is up for debate in Doha. The summit, as I see it, is being dominated by three key issues:
1. Renewing the Kyoto Protocol
That's right, Kyoto is still around. Those involved - the European countries,
The big stumbling block is accounting for the "hot air" permits. A number of eastern European countries in which greenhouse gas emissions dropped precipitously after the breakup of the Soviet Union, have been able to sell emission credits to countries who have not met their Kyoto targets. It looks as though several countries will have extra emissions credits once the first commitment period comes to an official end this year. Naturally, they'd like to carry the credits over to the second commitment period. Doing so, however, would compromise the new targets being discussed; with few big emitters participating in round two, the remaining non-eastern European countries would be able to meet the otherwise ambitious reduction targets with small actual changes in emissions.
2. Slow march to a universal emissions agreement
3. Financial and technical assistance to the developing world
Over the last three summits, the developed countries agreed to mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 to help the developing world address climate change, a subject I've discussed at length here and in other forums. One conduit for the money is the new "Green Climate Fund" (GCF), being managed by the World Bank, which is just setting up offices in Korea.
In Doha, all the country representatives will consider the report of the initial GCF board and decide on the relationship between the COP process and the GCF. It's the ugly machinery of policy. It's not glamourous, but it is important. The project documents talk about developing a "Results Management Framework". Before rolling your eyes, give this some thought. The framework will include how to do monitoring and evaluation, allocating funds based on results and developing performance measures. This stuff matters. For example, the verdict is still out on the plan to raise "fast-track financing" of $30 billion over the 2010-2 period; most major developed nations provided funds, but depending on what you count as "new" and "additional" funding, it does not add up to $30 billion, and in many cases, the money was only provided as a loan. That experience shows just how important ironing out the logistics of these programs matter: it might not garner headlines, but the grunt work on rules and regulations is critical to making sure funds are provided and used effectively.
In the end, is it all about the money?
All the management frameworks in the world won't help if the developed world does not "mobilize" - aid, matching grants, private investments, etc. - the money. The currently empty GCF is just part of the package. Though is only supposed to be one conduit of the $100 billion per year by 2020, the it is increasingly assumed to be the most important one (at least symbolically, as it is all we hear about). Yet the developed countries seriously disagree on how, when, and how much, to capitalize the GCF.
Right now, the documented recommendations for raising new funds (outside of private investments) include carbon pricing, taxing financial transactions, redirecting fossil fuel subsidies and emissions trading regimes for shipping and aviation. It is hard to see the world coming to an agreement on any of these, at least in the near term; you could argue that we're more likely to agree on an emissions reduction plan, which would have no mechanism for those reductions, that a global transaction fee going to address climate change.
Canada, which gets tarred in the media for lack of action on emissions policy, could actually end up as the inspiration leader to opponents of climate financing. After the last UN summit in Durban, Canadian Environment Minister Kent said the government would refuse to supply any money to the Green Climate Fund until all major emitters accept legally binding reduction targets. There is, as of yet, no evidence the stance has changed.
In other words, Canada is more or less arguing to hold adaptation hostage because we can't agree on mitigation. That's why experts are not joking when they say that the world might be better off if the Canadian government did not send any representatives to Doha.