Negotiators from 194 countries have gathered in one of the world's top per-capita emitters, Qatar, for a two-week conference on climate change. The goal is the same as previous summits, and it appears just as forlorn.
Delegations begin the conference in Qatar's capital Doha still seeking a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, a plan devised in 1997 for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. That's set to expire at the end of this year.
"The Doha talks herald a new stage of global concurrence on environmental strategies," the president of the two-week conference, Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah (photo above) told reporters.
"Since Qatar was picked to host the conference, we have launched a round of global environment talks aimed at setting the stage in Doha for rallying different parties to achieve a strong political commitment at the highest possible level," he said.
Grim outlook, warns World Bank
Last week, a World Bank report, compiled by climate researchers in Germany, warned that unrestrained global fossil fuel usage would lift average temperatures by four degrees Celsius by the end of this century.
Hundreds of millions of coastal inhabitants would be affected by sea level rises of up to one meter (3.2 feet), the World Bank said.
Emissions of carbon dioxide reached a record 34 billion tons last year. In 1990 - the Kyoto benchmark year - emissions amounted to 21 billion tons.
Quantity over quantity?
One of the main sticking points in past talks has been the question of which countries should be expected to make reductions, by how much, and based on what criteria.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, emerging countries like China and India have different targets for bulk emissions than their more developed counterparts, such as the US. It was a signatory to Kyoto, but never ratified the 1997 agreement.
China and India say the current structure is fair because it focuses more on per-capita emissions than bulk emissions.
In total, with its population around four times larger than the US, China emits more greenhouse gases and has become the largest polluter on the planet. When calculated on a per-person basis, China ranks 52nd on the world emitter list, well behind the US in tenth.
Conference host Qatar is in third position in that per-capita emissions league table, though the Qatar National Convention Center where the talks are being held is solar powered.
Time running out
A fund to halt deforestation and aid to help mitigate climate change impacts - especially for low-lying island countries at risk from sea level rises – will also be up for discussion.
Environmental groups have urged politicians to make progress in Qatar, saying that time is running short.
"The climate talks so far have not produced anything like the results that the science tells us that we need," said Samantha Smith, the leader of global climate and energy work within the World Wildlife Fund conservation group.
msh/ipj (AP, dpa, Reuters)