Latest Climate Talks Wrap Up In Doha

The United Nations climate talks were seen as a stepping stone toward a new climate treaty. Instead, the countries attending have agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol through 2020.

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Diplomats have been trying for more than 20 years to come up with a treaty that would help rein in global warming. So far there is not much to show for that effort. The latest round of talks wrapped up over the weekend, in Doha. As NPR's Richard Harris explains, the meeting succeeded in the sense that it preserved some very modest forward momentum.

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Nobody ever expected a big deal in Doha. Its main purpose was to start laying the groundwork for a treaty that won't actually come into force until the year 2020. And that meant, in part, tying up loose ends like the Kyoto Protocol. That treaty by now influences only about 10 percent of the emissions related to climate change. The deal will keep it on life support until 2020. Christiana Figures, the climate conference's executive secretary, says that's progress, albeit slight.

CHRISTIANA FIGURES: The current pledges are clearly not enough. There is an ever-increasing gap between the action of countries and what the science tells us.

HARRIS: Carbon dioxide is building up rapidly in the atmosphere. Emissions need to fall sharply in the coming decades to keep the world from overheating. The huge challenge underlying these talks is to find a way to make sure countries all do their fair share and move fast enough to make a difference.

FIGURES: An agreement that is expected to do both of these is going to be a very complex agreement.

HARRIS: Negotiators in Doha started talking about how they will take on that dual challenge in the coming years. One issue is how to help the world's most vulnerable nations recover from typhoons, floods, droughts and other disasters related to climate change. Alden Meyer, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that idea is controversial.

ALDEN MEYER: Countries like the U.S. are afraid that it could open up a limitless liability, exposure for these consequences. And, of course, it's tricky to know when are you dealing with a weather event that's attributable to climate change, as opposed to just sort of natural variabilities.

FIGURES: That concept, called loss and damage, is mentioned in one of the final documents at Doha, in essence an agreement to talk about the issue more.

MEYER: The real crunch will come next year, one year from now, at the next meeting of these parties in Warsaw when they have to decide how to actually set up something to help these countries cope with the impacts.

HARRIS: Many nations are unhappy that these talks are negotiating a treaty that won't take effect until 2020. By then, many billions of tons of carbon dioxide will have accumulated in the atmosphere. The pressure is on to take stronger steps in the short to medium term. And Meyer says there was some progress on that front.

MEYER: And they agreed here to launch a program to look at every way they can think of to try to reduce emissions in the medium to short term.

HARRIS: An agreement to talk, not to act. So, no surprise that the meeting ended with a lot of disappointment. Conference President Abdullah Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah said he was disappointed, too.

ABDULLAH BIN HAMAD AL-ATTIYAH: When you have over 193 or 4 countries, it's impossible to make everyone smile.

HARRIS: And that also makes it difficult to move forward with any kind of speed.

Richard Harris, NPR News.

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