What do we do now: outcomes of UN Climate Change Summit, Doha

The UN Summit on Climate Change has been convened in Doha, Qatar, since 26th November with aims to forge a new strategy to tackle climate change. The Summit was set to finish Saturday 8th December but with frustrations running high (even the EU’s influence was at a reported ‘breaking point’), talks over ran as ministers struggle desperately to secure a future amendment for the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding plan for combating climate change.

The outcomes of the summit, although limited, included the extension of the Kyoto Protocol to 2020 and the ‘encouragement’ for developed wealthy nations to foot the bill for the damaging effects of global warming on the developing world (LEDCs). Within the eight year extension period countries signed into the agreement must lower emissions by 18% of 1990 levels. The efficiency of the Kyoto Protocol (with regard to emissions) was not tackled and present loop holes, which have hindered progress, have been carried forward into this next eight year period. Russia (responsible for 6% of global carbon emissions) has withdrawn its emission commitment so that the remaining countries account for less than 15% of global carbon emissions; EU, Australia and Greenland. Confidence in the UN’s ability to avoid the irreversible effects of a 6 degree rise in global temperatures is low. The formation of a new, more robust, legally binding agreement will be under development in this eight year extension period and will be put into action in 2020.

The acknowledgement that developed countries are responsible for the devastating warming effects on LEDCs has been quoted as a ‘historic shift’. Security surrounding the financial outcomes of this compensation has left much to be desired during the 2013-2015 period. Only a few countries, including UK, pledged finance at Doha; totalling $10 billion (~£6 billion) which is $20 billion of the official target and $50 billion off the figures quoted by NGOs and developing nations. While this is certainly a step in the right direction the response was weak, especially considering the emissions targets constantly being surpassed and the island communities that will be lost with just a 1.5 degree rise (0.7 degree increase from present scenario).

“We have transcended the era of mitigation and adaptation – this is now the new era of loss and damage. To rectify and redress the situation, developed countries have an urgent legal and moral obligation to undertake urgent and dramatic mitigation action.” Stated a consortium of NGOs (WWF, CARE and Action Aid) in a new report entitled Tackling the Limits to Adaptation.

This news comes at the same time as novel research begins to identify another human factor feeding the positive feedback cycle that is climate change. Last summer, May 2011, the freak melting of Greenland’s ice sheet was well documented in the press and this year the extensive melting in the Arctic, and its’ unprecedented pace, was once again highlighted for all to see. New research by Dr Box and colleagues has now identified another key factor, soot and ash. It is a well-established fact that darkening of snow cover reduces its reflective ability (albedo) thus making it more susceptible to melting. Satellite records of the 2011 melting event coincide with the Arctic wildfires. Modelled trajectories of the smoke and sooty aerosols were used in conjunction with satellite data, soot particles were transported to the region. The Dark Snow Project will begin the ground truthing of this phenomenon next summer; results may partly explain the 7% decline in Greenland’s albedo that occurred since 2002. If results from this research can identify the specific role of soot with the rate of climate change it may give more impotence for stricter policies, at the UN and EU level, governing the management of the fossil fuel industry. It may be possible to identify those regions having a reductive effect on polar albedo’s, which may lend a hand in the development of the next climate change agreement for 2020.

Those involved in conservation and ecology are and will continue to be constantly challenged by the effects of a warming climate. In a paper published by the Journal of Applied Ecology Dr Oliver et al., have put forward a decisive framework for the adaptation of conservation practises as a tool for those individuals and groups involved in such activities.