Global Politics

Doha Climate Talks: More Hot Air?

Slow-paced international climate negotiations have resumed this week in Qatar amid a rising wave of bad news on climate change. Host Lisa Mullins talks about the talks and the rest of the week's climate news with The World's environment editor Peter Thomson.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the audio to hear it.)

LISA MULLINS: 2012 is on target to be one of the ten warmest years on record.

That's the word from the U-N's World Meteorological Organization.

That estimate comes as we close out a year that saw record heat waves across the US and Europe, and record ice melt in the Arctic.

It continues a trend of unusually hot years going back more than a decade.

And it's led the organization's chief to declare that "climate change is taking place before our eyes."

The report comes just as the latest annual global climate summit gets underway in Doha, Qatar.

The World's environment editor Peter Thomson joins us now, and I know that you want to talk about this meeting in Doha, but there are other issues in the news, some of them fairly troubling, I should say. Please bring us up to date.

PETER THOMSON: Yeah, let's see, where to begin on climate related news…

One new report is telling us that global carbon dioxide emissions hit another new record last year. CO2 of course is the most important greenhouse gas. Overall emissions are rising about 3% a year these days and that's about three times as fast as they were growing in the 1990s.

Then there's sea levels. Another new report has just found that on average, sea levels are rising about 60% faster than the UN predicted just five years ago.

Back on temperatures for a minute, that report from the World Meteorological Organization shows that global average temperatures over the last decade or so are up nearly half a degree Celsius over the benchmark that scientists use, which is the average of the 30 years between 1961-1990. You might remember that the world's governments agreed back in 2009 to cap global warming at 2 degrees Celsius, that's about three and a half degrees Fahrenheit, in order to avoid really calamitous warming. Well, as we reported here on The World last week, a new World Bank report projects that without really big changes we're headed for a rise of at least 4 degrees Celsius by 2100. That's more than seven degrees Fahrenheit.

Finally, there was a loud warning this week from a number of fronts on the growing threat of methane seeping out of the permafrost and under the sea beds of the Arctic and subarctic as that region warms up very quickly. Methane is an extremely powerful greenhouse gas, and we're actually going to hear more about that on the program tomorrow.

Anyway, so overall, things on the climate front are not looking good!

MULLINS: Which means negotiators in Doha, Qatar for the world climate summit this year have their hands full. What are they going to do?

THOMSON: Well, hopefully they'll do more than tread water, which is what many people say they've been doing the last few years. The whole UN climate process has pretty much been on life support since that big meeting in Copenhagen three years ago.

You probably remember there were huge expectations for a strong new global agreement on capping emissions back then. Instead the summit managed just a last-minute sort of face-saving agreement of basic principles. Then last year in Durban, South Africa, countries at least committed to draw up a new treaty which would then go into effect in 2020. Some saw that as showing sort of a new resolve, others say it was just continuing to kick the can down the road.

But in any case, this year's conference is focused mostly on starting to put some flesh on the bones of those skeletal agreements from the last few years. So we might end up with some progress on, for instance, how to pay for a fund to help the poorest countries deal with climate change, perhaps on how all countries can reliably monitor and report their carbon emissions, so everybody can know reliably what everybody else is doing. But generally, it's probably going to be really incremental stuff.

MULLINS: Peter, I know that one of the big stumbling blocks has been the schism between developed and developing countries over who should do how much to cut greenhouse pollution. Is that still the case?

THOMSON: Ah yeah, pretty much just as much as ever. The two biggest players of course are the U.S. and China. The U.S. is the biggest historical polluter, China the biggest current polluter. They've been inching ever so slowly closer over the last few years but nothing close to what would bring about a breakthrough, and certainly nothing close to what scientists are telling us we have to do to tackle this quickly escalating crisis.

MULLINS: OK, thanks very much. The World's environment editor Peter Thomson.

THOMSON: Thanks, Lisa.

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