DOHA // United Nations talks on a new climate pact resumed yesterday in oil and gas-rich Qatar, where negotiators from nearly 200 countries will discuss fighting global warming and helping poor nations adapt to it.
The two-decade-old talks have not fulfilled their main purpose: reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists believe are warming the planet.
Attempts to create a new climate treaty failed in Copenhagen three years ago but countries agreed last year to try again, giving themselves a deadline of 2015 to adopt a new treaty.
The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997, is the most important climate agreement reached in the UN process so far. It expires this year, so negotiators in Doha will try to extend it as a stopgap measure until a wider deal can be reached. The big issue is how to spread the burden of emissions cuts between rich and poor countries. That's unlikely to be decided here, where negotiators will focus on extending the Kyoto Protocol, an emissions deal for industrialised countries, and trying to raise billions of dollars to help developing countries adapt to a shifting climate.
The United States defended its track record on fighting climate change yesterday at the talks, saying it was making "enormous" efforts to slow global warming and help the poor nations most affected by it. Other countries have accused Washington of hampering the climate talks ever since the George W Bush administration abandoned the Kyoto Protocol.
"Those who don't follow what the US is doing may not be informed of the scale and extent of the effort, but it's enormous," Jonathan Pershing, the US delegate at the talks, said.
He noted that the administration of current US president, Barack Obama, had taken a series of steps, including sharply increasing fuel efficiency standards for cars and lorries and made good on promises of climate financing for poor countries. A climate bill that would have capped emissions has stalled in the US Senate.
The UN process is often criticised, even ridiculed, both by climate activists who claim the talks are too slow, and by those who challenge the scientific near-consensus that the global temperature rise is at least partly caused by human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil.
Environmentalists found that the choice of Qatar as host of the two-week conference ironic. The emirate owes its wealth to large resources of gas and oil and emits more greenhouse gases per capita than any other nation. "We should not concentrate on the per capita [emissions], we should concentrate on the amount from each country," said the former Qatari oil minister, Abdullah Al Attiyah.
The concentration of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide has jumped 20 per cent since 2000, according to a UN report released last week. The report also showed that there is a growing gap between what governments are doing to curb emissions and what needs to be done to protect the world from potentially dangerous levels of warming.
The goal of the UN talks is to keep the global temperature rise under 2°C, compared to pre-industrial times. But efforts taken so far to rein in emissions, reduce deforestation and promote clean technology are not getting the job done. A recent projection by the World Bank showed that temperatures are expected to increase by up to 4°C by 2100.
Dangerous warming effects could include flooding of coastal cities and island nations, disruptions to agriculture and drinking water, the spread of diseases and the extinction of species.
Another problem is that only the European Union and a handful of other countries - that together are behind less than 15 per cent of global emissions - are willing to put down emissions targets for a second commitment period of Kyoto.