Defining success at Doha climate talks

Published: November 29, 2012

The writer is the lead negotiator for the Pakistan delegation to the UN Climate talks and is currently working at at Pakistan’s Permanent Mission to the UN

As the next fortnightly UN led high-level talks on climate change go into strides in Doha, two contradictory trends are obvious: unequivocal scientific evidence confirming that global warming is now proceeding at a breakneck speed and the climate talks meant to alter this dangerous trajectory are trailing miles behind. Unchecked, the door to staying below a two-degree temperature increase could shut permanently and as soon as 2015.

A possible reality of living in a world with a four-degree Celsius temperature increase should hit us hard. This scenario is no longer distant or unrealistic. It could happen in our lifetime, given the abysmally low emission reduction efforts from the developed world. Despite scientific evidence, acceding parties to the Kyoto Protocol wish to lock-in lesser emission reduction (12-18 per cent) than what science requires (25-40 per cent) over a longer period; eight years versus what the Protocol says: five years.

No wonder small island nations states are clamouring that the resulting sea level rise from melting ice and glaciers would eliminate many of them from the face of this earth; the 2010 heatwave in Russia is attributed to killing nearly 55,000 people and costing $15 billion in damages. Floods in Pakistan would occur more frequently and unpredictably. Hurricanes and storms in the US would be more intense than Sandy. Recurring cyclone and flooding in the Philippine Archipelago would force people to migrate elsewhere and ice sheets melting in the Arctic would release tens of billions of trapped carbon dioxide.

The ensuing unstoppable warming would actually commit the world to six degrees Celsius or more, says the World Bank’s recently-commissioned report. The definition of success at the Doha climate talks, therefore, cannot be registering low-level pledges by the developed world, which already exist under their national laws. These emission reduction pledges are bound to be fulfilled, notwithstanding inscription in Kyoto Protocol. Success at Doha is about constructing a long-term pathway to avert the perilous four to six per cent temperature increase, saving the small islands from extinction, reducing the possibility of a dangerous nine-degree Celsius temperature increase in the Mediterranean and the Middle East during July, sustaining food security in Africa where 15 per cent of its cropland would be threatened with drought and building resilience against impending water stresses in South Asia housing more than two billion people.

There is no mystery as to what would constitute such a pathway: higher emission reduction pledges from the developed world in the range of 40-50 per cent by 2020 and certainty in delivery of commitments to the promised $100 billion by 2020 in finance to the developing world, including pledges to the tune of $10-15 billion into the Green Climate Fund, which still remains empty three years after its creation and is weakening trust between parties.

Unfortunately, it is no secret that we are far from a political equilibrium in setting these goals, let alone achieving them. It is scary to note the limitation in our understanding of the impact of current 0.8 per cent mean global temperature increase with the sudden disappearance of the Greenland’s ice sheet in four days in July this year — a picture which some thought resulted from an error in satellite monitoring. The only conclusion one can draw from such intense events is our inability to fathom the extent and depth of climatic changes we will face in a two-degree Celsius, let alone a higher temperature increase.

Climate change will not wait for political realisation in Pakistan where policymakers are still grappling with the enormity of the threat that the country faces. There is an urgent need to integrate climate change impacts in our economic and planning frameworks. Just imagine if a storm like Sandy were to hit a developing country like Pakistan. Millions of lives would be lost.

Ordinarily, the Doha climate talks could be a one-off event whose success would not matter in the 20-year-old quest for a regime against the ever-growing threat of climate change. However, the window of opportunity is so small now that every misstep or lack of action could put the world in uncharted territory. History will judge the Qatari leadership at the 18th Conference of the Parties on very harsh terms.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 29th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Falcon
    Nov 29, 2012 - 6:10AM

    All the climate talk is for poor countries. It does not matter what the carbon print of developed world is, but what does matter to them is that a poor energy starved country like ours does not pursue coal exploration & gasification because apparently that is the worst thing that could happen to the environment.


  • Otter
    Nov 29, 2012 - 4:59PM

    ‘the sudden disappearance of the Greenland’s ice sheet in four days in July this year’

    I’m sorry? When did a 9000-foot thickness of ice, enough water to raise the oceans by 7 meters, melt away? This past summer?

    Does anyone else notice something wrong with that assertion? Did anyone notice their cities are now underwater?

    I suspect the writer may have meant the top 3-4 inches of ice- perhaps enough to raise oceans by a tiny fraction of a millimeter.

    Can we please have Accurate statements about what happened with Greenland?


  • Bob D
    Nov 30, 2012 - 2:16AM

    “It is scary to note the limitation in our understanding of the impact of current 0.8 per cent mean global temperature increase with the sudden disappearance of the Greenland’s ice sheet in four days in July this year”
    Who writes this stuff? “0.8 per cent mean global temperature increase”? Surely 0.8°C, not per cent?
    And as a commenter above has noted, surely the “sudden disappearance of the Greenland’s ice sheet in four days in July this year” is a truly remarkable event, since the ice is 3 kilometers thick. Why weren’t we told? And how did it magically re-appear afterwards?


  • R. Shearer
    Nov 30, 2012 - 3:03AM

    Is was a so very fast rise in sea level of 7 meters that no one noticed when it refroze unequivically fast.


  • John Trigge
    Nov 30, 2012 - 3:06AM

    “It is scary to note the limitation in
    our understanding of the impact of
    current 0.8 per cent mean global
    temperature increase with the sudden
    disappearance of the Greenland’s ice
    sheet in four days in July this year

    It is scary to note the limitation in the writer’s understanding of real-world data.

    I’m sure he meant 0.8C (degrees, not percent) and, as noted in a previous reply, I’m sure we would have noticed Greenland losing ALL of its ice.

    Errors such as this are mere scare-mongering to advance a pro-AGW stance and are never retracted, corrected nor apologised for, even though many people who read and believe them are being frightened unnecessarily.


  • Dec 1, 2012 - 2:05AM

    It is really important that people reading this article take some time to question the claims made here. I don’t like pollution any more than anybody else but these claims are alarmist rubbish.


  • Jose Veragio
    Dec 1, 2012 - 10:13PM

    World Leaders realise they’ve been rumbled, on the myth of impending human caused Catastrophic Climate Change.

    Which World Leaders will be attending Doha, to address this bloated bureaucrats convention ?

    None with any credibility worth hanging onto.

    It’s left to the loony tunes to talk amongst themselves.


  • Rereke Whakaaro
    Dec 1, 2012 - 11:32PM

    It is the height of arrogance for people to assume that all changes in nature is caused by man.

    What part of “Natural Variation” do they not understand? How do you clearly separate “man-made variation” from “natural variation”? You can’t, because mans ability to influence the raw power of nature is infinitesimal. The sky is not falling, get over it.


  • Waz
    Dec 2, 2012 - 4:29PM

    This article collapes in the first sentevce, with the factually incorrect statement; “….evidence confirming that global warming is now proceeding at a breakneck speed…”.
    Observed Data has proven, beyond any reasonable doubt, the hypothetical models, such as contained in succesiveIPCC reports, is simply wrong. Simple CO2 (& equivalents) concentration has escalated, yes.
    The hypothetical, near-linear rise in temperature, multiplied by 2 – 4 times by other “forcings”, that this article (& the IPCC) implies as a result, plainly, and beyond question, has not occurred. Ignoring observed, unadjusted data, and banging on about demonstrably failed hypotheses, is not science – let alone rational.


  • Meera Ghani
    Dec 9, 2012 - 2:35PM

    Sad to see so many climate sceptics……..millions of people are being affected yet people still keep denying what the science tells us. Please read some of the reports linked in this article. Don’t go by whatever you read on blogs. Sustaining a lifestyle that depends on oil isn’t worth the millions dying because of that havoc climate change has already caused. Its not just about mitigating and adapting. Its also about the loss and damage that has already occurred. Its not just the IPCC, it your cherished World Bank thats producing reports that you consider “alarmist”. Do read ‘Turning down the heat’ linked here.

    And kudos to the person who caught the 0.8 per cent. Its should’ve been degrees.

    It would also be worth reading this:


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