The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was established 20 years ago at the Earth Summit in Rio. The Earth Summit was an extraordinary and genuinely groundbreaking event. It, arguably, ushered in the present age of international initiatives on sustainability. Philip Shabecoff, in his excellent history of the environmental movement, A Fierce Green Fire, wrote “….the human community was ready to alter the collision course it was on with the physical world that sustains it and might at last meet the challenge of creating an ecologically rational, prosperous, and just global economy…”
The 18th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP18) began this week in Doha. We are not expecting any really big developments to come out of this year’s annual conference, but the parties are going to expand and advance the work that has been slowly, but steadily grinding forward in the last few years since the tumultuous meetings in Copenhagen in 2009. (For more on some of the surprising successes at Copenhagen, see this. For a look at last year’s meeting, COP17 in Durban, see this from me at the time.)
Jeff Tollefson at Nature reports on What’s at stake in Doha climate talks. In short, we should see an interim agreement to extend the terms of the Kyoto Protocol which is expiring at the end of the month. We also hope to see a clearer definition of what a new treaty will look like. As you no doubt know, the two biggest economies in the world, China and the US, are the top two emitters of greenhouse gases. Neither is committed to quantifiable reductions through any agreement. They have however, like others, made commitments in principal. For an excellent summary of these, see this from the Dutch and their partner, Ecofys. The US, for its part, has been reducing its energy-related CO2 output, largely as a consequence of fuel switching from coal to natural gas.
Stay tuned on the Doha talks. For now, here’s an update from UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres.