December 03, 2012

Doha, COP 18, and The Other Fiscal Cliff

There is alot happening right now in Doha, Qatar that will affect how the global community will deal with efforts to slow climate change and assist vulnerable communities in dealing with the impacts already being felt. Oxfam is in Doha. This post provides a brief background on the COP 18 process, the major efforts of Oxfam at the conference, and offers some suggestions as to where we go from here.


Ever since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, when 194 countries (including the U.S.) signed on to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), the parties to that Convention have been meeting annually to work on implementing the treaty and achieving the goal of significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The UNFCC did not contain binding targets for greenhouse gas releases, but in 1997 the Kyoto Protocol did set such binding targets and was signed by a significant number of countries, but not the U.S. Although President Clinton signed the Protocol, Congress refused to ratify it. Since then, no president has attempted to gain ratification.

This year’s Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting in Doha is the 18th such meeting. Most analysts agree that there are four key issues with which the parties must deal: 

            (1) The creation of a new legally binding set of goals and targets to be adopted by 2015 and Implemented in 2020. This goal is sometimes called the Durban Platform because it was adopted by the parties at COP 17 in Durban, South Africa.

            (2) The implementation of a Green Climate Fund (GCF) in which the developed countries such as the U.S.  have committed to create a fund totalling $100 billion per year by 2020.. The purpose of this fund is to help poor countries reduce their emissions and to adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change already occurring. The developed countries made this commitment in 2009 at the Copenhagen COP.

            (3) An accounting of the “Fast Start Finance” commitment made by the developed countries to make a “down payment” on the GCF  of $30 billion by the end of 2012. This commitment was also made at COP 15 at Copenhagen in 2009.

            (4) The establishment of an extension of the Kyoto Protocol as a bridge to the 2015 start of the Durban Platform binding targerts. The commitments under the Kyoto Protocol end in 2013.

Oxfam’s Focus 

At the beginning of the Doha conference, Oxfam International released a media advisory entitled “The Climate ‘Fiscal Cliff’: An Evaluation of Fast Start Finance and Lessons for the Future.” The report points out a number of significant problems that developed during the “Fast Start” finance period, including, among others:

-         While the Copenhagen commitment was for “new money” specifically aimed at climate change, it appears that as much as two thirds of the funds committed had already been authorized or committed to other programs. This risks the depletion of funding for traditional assistance in areas such as health or education.

-         While the commitment was for a “balanced allocation between mitigation and adaptation,” the actual funding appears to heavily favor mitigation, with only 20 per cent going to adaptation. While funding to reduce releases is vital for the long run, such funding does little to help poor and vulnerable communities that are already experiencing significant climate impact such as droughts or floods.

Oxfam’s report also highlights the fact that while the “Fast Start” funding is scheduled to end in 2012, no new money has been pledged for the Green Climate Fund, which contained the commitment to build to $100 billion per year by 2020. Thus the term “climate fiscal cliff” refers to the possibility that funding will dry up beginning in 2013 at a time when the impacts of climate change around the world, especially on poorer communities, are intensifying. As the report puts it, “At the very moment that finance must be scaled up to meet the $100 billion per year Copenhagen promise, rich countries look set to scale down.”

What Comes Next?

COP 18 is scheduled to conclude on Friday, December 7. Typically, all major decisions to be made by the parties are jammed into the final hours of the Conference. The key issues to watch out for are related to the extension of the Kyoto Protocol, the report of progress made to developing the targets to be adopted in 2015 under the Durban Platform, and funding commitments from rich countries such as the US to the Green Climate Fund.

What we can all do is to educate ourselves on the critical significance of these international actions to combat climate change and to provide aid to vulnerable communities in desperate need of resources to adapt to changes already occurring. Unfortunately, the mainstream media is not paying much attention to what is happening in Doha. If you are interested in doing more, you can read the full Oxfam Report on funding at and follow Oxfam on Twitter, particularly @OxfamCorpsMN. Tweets and links there will provide plenty of details and updates to what is happening at Doha. When the Conference closes on December 7, there is likely to be a splash of media attention focused on what was and was not accomplished by the Conference. This will be a great time to send in letters to the editor supporting the positions that Oxfam has taken and alerting people to the key outcomes.

Brett S (, @smithb55419