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Climate

Opinion: Doha - Milestone or millstone?

Much ado about nothing: Doha failed to fulfill the expectations and lead to a breakthrough. DW environment and climate correspondent Irene Quaile says it proves the ineffectiveness of UN climate negotiations.

The same procedure as every year: Some 20,000 people fly around the world. For two weeks, delegates negotiate and debate. Countries already suffering from the effects of climate change make appeals, while industrialized countries pursue their own interests. The biggest greenhouse gas polluters try to block decisions and environmental organizations call for action.

It's almost become a ritual for negotiations to drag on beyond their deadline. Climate ministers are able to demonstrate to the world media that they are rolling up their sleeves and staying up all night – in short, that they are doing everything to save the world from climate change.

In reality, it is no longer possible to achieve that with this event.

When the two big greenhouse gas polluters, China and the United States, are unwilling to accept binding emission targets, then two weeks of all-nighters won't change this position. When the US is paralyzed because of its budgetary crisis at home, then climate negotiators won't be able to pull a rabbit out of the hat. When the European Union is unable to commit its member Poland to a joint emissions target of 30 percent prior to the meeting and the fight drags on in Doha, then Europe is unable to take on a leading role at the annual mega conference.

Kyoto extension: mile stone or lowest common denominator?

The extension of the Kyoto Protocol until 2020 is widely seen by the participants as the summit's success. But the emission targets are weak and the Kyoto signatories are responsible for only 15 percent of global emissions.

Is that to be the basis for a new global climate agreement? In order to achieve a two-percent reduction, emissions have to be reduced by 85 to 90 percent by 2050. Instead, emissions are increasing.

Just in time for the summit's opening ceremony, the World Bank warned of a four degree temperature increase. Extreme weather events, droughts and floods will occur more frequently. The polar ice is melting. Sea levels are rising.

Those countries that are already most affected by climate change went away empty-handed.

From 2020, 100 billion dollars are supposed to be allocated annually for measures to protect the climate. How exactly this sum will be made available, remains unclear.

Annual mega events obsolete?

The decisions on how to save the climate have to be taken elsewhere: In national governments and parliaments, where short-term political and economic interests take precedence over global climate protection. Climate protection has to be put on the agendas of the G8 or G20, which decide on world affairs. Sustainable development is not achievable without the protection of the environment.

Developing countries cling to the UN negotiations, because they don't have a voice elsewhere. But what's the point of a voice in an ineffective forum that at the most reaches only lukewarm compromises?

Responsibility for global climate protection cannot be passed on to chief negotiators. Climate protection has to be made an integral part of daily politics. The shift from fossil fuels, the rapid development of renewable energies, a price tag for CO2 emissions and the allocation of funds to help developing countries survive the climate sins committed by industrial countries in the past – all of these measures have to be advanced elsewhere.

With due respect for the negotiators' hard work and good will, the UN climate conference runs the risk of turning into an annual alibi event, which diverts attention from the necessity of fast and sustainable action. This type of resource intensive mega event cannot save the global climate – and raises false hopes or even disillusionment in ordinary citizens. It's time for political and economic leaders to take action – and for consumers and voters to play a role.

DW.DE