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What Doha did




No progress today, but a slightly better chance of progress tomorrow


NONE of the 10,000 diplomats, activists, lobbyists and hangers-on returning home from the UN climate conference in the Qatari capital of Doha at the weekend can have expected a hero's welcome. The meeting brought no new agreement to limit the greenhouse-gas emissions that are set to warm the world still more, and no deal on new funds to help poor countries adapt. Yet the delegates left with some achievements that could, in time, come to matter.

Since 2007 the annual negotiations by the parties to the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change have run on two "tracks". One has been devoted to the Kyoto protocol, which limits the emissions of the rich countries that have ratified it, but nobody else's. The other tries to set up long-term mechanisms to combat climate change. Last year's conference in Durban added a third track, which aims to strike a new climate deal in 2015.

Doha's achievement was to sort out this mess. The rich countries still signed up to Kyoto (Japan, Canada, Russia and some others have, in effect, left it) accepted ultra-modest new emissions targets for the period to 2020, which is when the new deal to be agreed in 2015 is meant to take effect. This leaves nothing more to negotiate under the Kyoto protocol. The catch-all second track was closed down. Just one lot of talks will now lead up to the 2015 conference in France.

Doha also formally brought "loss and damage" caused by climate change into the negotiations. This still lacks legal teeth, and rich countries will not accept it as the basis for compensation claims. But it does at least recognise suffering, along with the costs of mitigation and adaptation, as subjects for discussion.

Achieving the stated goal of keeping climate change below 2°C by cutting carbon dioxide alone would require emissions to fall steeply for decades, starting within a couple of years. Few countries will countenance this, and since international deals are founded on national action, the 2015 agreement will not deliver what many hope for. But by co-ordinating policies, technology transfer and finance, and providing verification for countries' commitments, it could achieve more than Kyoto has-a small enough claim, but more than nothing. Doha's contribution to this was removing procedural obstacles; the hard work remains to be done.


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