Doha talks to map out Kyoto future


Nearly 200 nations will gather in Doha from Monday for a new round of U.N. climate talks to hammer out the future of the Kyoto Protocol beyond Dec. 31.

What is the Kyoto Protocol?

With 191 member states, the U.N. accord is the only global treaty with binding limits on climate-altering greenhouse gases.

The treaty commits nearly 40 developed “Annex 1” nations, including Japan, that emit around a quarter of the world’s emissions to cut them domestically by an average 5 percent by 2012 from 1990 levels.

This forms part of efforts to limit global warming to 2 degrees compared to preindustrial levels, which scientists say may spare the planet from the worst impacts of climate change.

A compliance assessment has yet to be done, but initial data show the global target is still achievable despite vast emission-cut discrepancies between states.

The protocol’s first leg runs out Dec. 31, and the Doha talks must agree on the modalities of a second commitment period from 2013, a move agreed upon at the last round of U.N. climate talks in South Africa a year ago.

Developing economies are not bound by the Kyoto Protocol under the principle that industrialized countries have been responsible for the overwhelming majority of global warming gases since the Industrial Revolution.

The United States has signed the U.N. pact but refuses to ratify it, while Canada, having vastly exceeded its emission limits, withdrew from the protocol last December — the first country to do so. Annex 1 members Japan, New Zealand and Russia have meanwhile indicated they are not prepared to join a second commitment period.

That mainly leaves member countries of the European Union, as well as Switzerland, Norway and Australia, as participants in the treaty beyond 2013. Combined, these nations emit roughly 15 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.

Many argue the accord’s provisions are no longer fair, given that China, Brazil, India and Indonesia — which have no emission reduction targets — are now among the biggest polluters.

How does the treaty work?

Annex 1 countries can meet their emission-cutting goals by reducing them at home or by purchasing unused allowances from developing nations.

Industrialized economies can also earn carbon credits by funding clean energy projects in poorer states, which they can sell on the carbon market or use to offset their domestic emissions.

Countries that exceed their targets are supposed to make up the difference, in addition to a 30 percent penalty, during the second commitment period.

How long will the accord last?

The key issues in Doha are how long the second commitment period should last, who will back it and what targets to set.

Small island nations facing the most imminent threat from rising sea levels due to global warming are lobbying for a five-year commitment, which they believe would reflect the urgency of their plight.

But EU member states and other countries want to set an eight-year period that would flow over into a new, global climate deal that must enter into force in 2020.