10 Dec 2012

Doha: from a platform to a gateway

In true UNFCCC fashion, it was left until well after the scheduled close of the climate change conference in Doha to fashion an agreement to progress international efforts and negotiations to address climate change. This time, COP18 has continued the relatively positive progress of Durban and avoided a repeat of the crisis in Copenhagen.

In many respects, the Conference of the Parties No. 18 to the UNFCCC (COP18) and Meeting of the Parties No. 8 to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP8) held in Doha, Qatar, was a critical juncture for the success or otherwise of international climate change negotiations.

Firstly, the mandate for the Ad Hoc Working Group for Long Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) was ending. Secondly, the first commitment period under the only legally binding agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, was expiring with no sign that a second period was going to emerge. Thirdly, elements of the Bali Road Map established at COP14 in 2007, required conclusion, principally in relation to delivering on commitments to finance for developing countries.

In addition, there was a perceived need to ensure that the Ad Hoc Working Group for Enhanced Action, established at COP17 in Durban in 2011 as part of the Durban Platform (ADP), showed measurable progress in order to realise the ambition of a new legally binding agreement by 2015 for emissions reductions by all countries, not just developed countries.

As is usual, negotiations at the conference were slow, with criticism and frustrations quickly emerging. Finance, and commitment from developed nations to provide it, emerged as the big issue. Negotiations became more frantic and lasted later into the night as the scheduled deadline for the conference drew near.

Late on the evening of Saturday 8 December, some 24 hours after the conference was scheduled to close, there was announced the "Doha Climate Gateway". The key elements of the Gateway included:

Amending the Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol was amended to extend into a second commitment period starting from 1 January 2013, and running for eight years until 2020, at about the time the proposed new legally binding agreement being negotiated under the ADP will come into force. All developed countries that have accepted targets in the second commitment period will continue to have access to those mechanisms. While those countries only account for 14% of international emissions, the extension of the Kyoto Protocol preserves the institutions, the market mechanisms (such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Joint Implementation and emissions trading), as well as valuable accounting rules and methodologies created under it.

Countries that are taking on further commitments under the Kyoto Protocol have agreed to review their emission reduction commitments at the latest by 2014, with a view to increasing their respective levels of ambition. Australia, the EU, Japan, Lichtenstein, Norway, Monaco and Switzerland have declared that they will not carry over any surplus emissions trading credits (Assigned Amounts) into the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. 

An agreed timetable to negotiate the 2015 global climate change agreement

This will involve a significant number of meetings and workshops to be held in 2013 to prepare the new agreement and to explore further ways to raise ambition. Further, in order to avoid a repeat of previous COP experiences, it was agreed that elements of a negotiating text are to be available no later than the end of 2014, so that a draft negotiating text is available before May 2015, well in advance of COP21 that year. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also announced he would convene a meeting of world leaders in 2014 to ensure the 2015 deadline is met. 

Financial and technological infrastructure agreement

Agreement was reached on the implementation of new infrastructure to channel technology and finance to developing nations. Most importantly, the conference: 

  • endorsed the selection of the Republic of Korea as the location of the Green Climate Fund and the work plan of the Standing Committee on Finance. The Green Climate Fund is expected to launch activities in 2014; and 
  • confirmed a UNEP-led consortium as host of the Climate Technology Centre (CTC), for an initial term of five years, and agreed the constitution of the CTC advisory board. 

A renewed commitment to long-term climate finance

Developed countries have reiterated their commitment to deliver on promises to continue long-term climate finance support to developing nations, with a view to mobilizing US$100 billion both for adaptation and mitigation by 2020. The Doha agreement also encourages developed countries to increase efforts to provide finance between 2013-15. This is to ensure there is no gap in continued finance support while efforts are otherwise scaled up.

Germany, the UK, France, Denmark, Sweden and the EU Commission announced concrete finance pledges in Doha for the period up to 2015, totalling approximately US$6 billion. 

New market mechanisms

A work programme has been agreed to further elaborate the new market-based mechanism included as part of the Durban Platform. Additionally, a work programme to develop a framework for recognizing mechanisms established outside the UNFCCC process, such as nationally-administered or bilateral offset programmes (such as Japan's bilateral offset program), and to consider their role in helping countries to meet their mitigation targets, was also been agreed.

To address concerns that the UNFCCC process had lost the necessary sense of urgency to respond the dangers of climate change, a number of other measures were agreed at Doha, including:

  • a review of the long-term temperature goal. This will start in 2013 and conclude by 2015, and is intended to be a reality check on the advance of the climate change threat and the possible need to take further action; 
  • establishing institutional arrangements to address loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change in particularly vulnerable countries;
  • ways to implement National Adaptation Plans for least developed countries, including linking funding and other support; 
  • establishing a registry to record developing country mitigation actions that seek recognition or financial support; and
  • a new work programme to build capacity through climate change education and training, create public awareness and enable the public to participate in climate change decision-making. This is seen as important to create support for a new climate change regime after 2020.

Although the outcome from Doha has been described as modest, COP18 has successfully resolved a number of critical elements of the UNFCCC's process. The work of the AWG-LCA and AWG-KP is now concluded, which means that future negotiations will be streamlined under the single ADP process established at Durban.

Connie Hedegaard, the European Commissioner for Climate Action, described the agreement at Doha as having "crossed a bridge" between the old regime and the ambition of 2015. While the work required to finalise a new legally binding agreement by 2015 cannot be under-estimated, the achievement of COP18 in amending and extending the Kyoto Protocol, is likely to prove to be of significant benefit to the work of the ADP by providing a degree of confidence around institutional arrangements, market based mechanisms, accounting rules and methodologies that will provide some of the architecture for that future agreement.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.