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Trying to reach an easy goal through a complex maze

By Wu Wencong | China Daily | Updated: 2012-12-04 08:01

The climate change talks in Doha have passed the halfway mark. Delegates from different countries are busy writing their first week's progress reports for their ministers, who will come during the second week. Unfortunately, there isn't much for them to round up, despite a whole week of tedious negotiations.

The meeting's verbosity has almost become one of its hallmarks. In its history, it has never ended on the date planned.

When Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said at the opening session of the conference on Nov 26 that she hoped this year's negotiations could "end not on Saturday, not on Sunday, but actually make history by finishing on Friday", I didn't quite understand why the whole room burst into laughter.

But when, five days later, a plenary session scheduled to begin at 4 pm finally finished at 2:30 am, I wasn't feeling astonished at all.

Although any international conference involving 194 participating parties may not turn out to be very efficient, the climate change conference remains unique, probably because it is where environmental issues are given a political face.

Artur Runge-Metzger, the European Union's lead climate negotiator, said member states are fully capable of raising their mitigation targets to 30 percent by 2020 compared to the 1990 level, but in Doha they are only offering a 20 percent target because they want to see similar commitments from other major economies.

Japan and Canada, and a list of other developed countries, have decided not to join the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding agreement that requires industrialized nations to cut their emissions at certain percentages relative to 1990 levels.

The US, on the contrary, never joined the protocol. And now other countries and NGOs are criticizing it for avoiding negotiations on common accounting rules.

Politics, money, technology, development and equity are all deeply entangled, and together they form a complicated maze. In reality, the goal of keeping rising temperatures under control seems close at hand, but is actually out of reach. It took two years, from 1995 to 1997, for the Kyoto Protocol to be reached, with fewer than 40 countries legally bound to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

Last year in Durban, South Africa, the "Durban Decision" - which launched a process of preparing for the post-2020 period that would include all countries and be legally binding - was reached.

Parties agreed that a protocol, legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force should be completed no later than 2015 and be implemented from 2020. Two years remain. But this time 194 countries are involved, not fewer than 40.

It is a pity that carbon emissions know no national borders, because the bargaining among countries could be much more meaningful. The fact is that this is the best we have for now.

Although efficiency is diluted somewhat due to tedious procedures and the massive number of participants, it is a pretty fair platform. Delegates from countries many people haven't even heard of have a chance to speak for themselves, and ordinary people from the poorest countries, which are the most seriously influenced by climate change, can shout to the world about their right to live and be compensated on an Earth owned by all but polluted by some.

The goal is simple, but the maze leading to it is a labyrinth. Hopefully, there is a way out, because no one dares to say that the goal can be sacrificed.

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