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Doha alliance falls

Anne Allmeling / cdDecember 5, 2012

A coalition comprised of the EU, small island states and developing countries had high hopes for climate talks in Doha. They have given way to disappointment and distrust.

Organizers of the Doha climate conference speak into microphones before a blue background (Photo:Osama Faisal/AP/dapd)
Image: AP

She hasn't given up just yet. But Regine Günther from WWF Germany considers it unlikely that the European Union (EU) will toughen its stance on climate change. At the moment the EU's goal is to reduce greenhouse gases by 20 percent by 2020. At the UN Climate Change Conference underway in Doha (November 27 to December 7) a few of the more ambitious European countries would like to raise that number to 30.

Regine Günther (Photo: DW/Anne Allmeling)
Günther is the director of climate protection at WWF GermanyImage: DW/Anne Allmeling

Such a move would send an important signal to the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and to developing countries. It would also hand Europe a leadership role when it comes to protecting the climate. "Unfortunately it doesn't look like that'll be the case," Günther said.

With the Doha conference nearing its end, climate experts have yet to reach a public, binding agreement. Even representatives of NGOs, who typically to interact with delegation members on a daily basis, are keeping their conjectures to themselves. No one wants to do accidental damage to an alliance by making the wrong announcement. Nor has there been word as to whether development funds have been promised to African countries.

"Alliance of ambition"

The so-called "Alliance of Ambition" is composed of the EU, small island states and developing countries. It has also caused something of a stir over the last year. The group's shared commitment last year at the climate change conference in the South African city of Durban helped bring other countries into the fold - and just in time. The alliance paved the way for an extension of the Kyoto protocol at the conference in Doha.

Yet what was once an ambitious goal - to develop an effective climate defense, an idea the EU has been propagating for years - now appears to be unraveling. Due to Polish intransigence, Europeans cannot agree upon stricter climate regulations. For the group of small island countries and developing countries, the news is disappointing. They had assumed that, when it came to climate related issues, the EU was on their side - or at least on the side of those countries affected most by climate change.

A long, thin, tree-topped island cuts a line through the blue Pacific ocean
Small island states are particularly vulnerable to climate changeImage: AP

That's also why the small island states and the least developed countries have distanced themselves from the "Group of 77," or G-77. Traditionally China has been the group's mouthpiece. Over the years, China has repeatedly hindered attempts at stricter emissions regulations. By forming coalitions that exclude China, they effectively shorten its shadow.

Bali Action Plan

 A look at the past may also shed light on future negotiations. A merging of interests similar to the "Alliance of Ambition" took place in 2007. At that time the EU and developing countries combined forces to produce what was called the "Bali Action Plan." The agreement was unique. For the very first time, a document that was signed by all members of the conference defined in concrete terms what a future climate agreement should look like. Such exact terms were something the US had tried to obstruct. But at the end of the day the Americans found themselves isolated - and ultimately admitted defeat.

Alliances, however, also work the other way around - as when states refuse to enact climate protection measures. The central agreement of the 2009 Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change, for example, was never adopted. The world's largest CO2 emitters, the US and China, simply declined to sign it. Together with the EU, these countries are responsible for more than 60% of the world's emissions.

An aerial conveyor belt dumps black coal into a yellow truck. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Polish coal: Poland is the largest producer of coal in the European UnionImage: Getty Images

Developing and developed countries worked against each other

"At least two of the three big players have to move substantially forward," Christoph Bals, policy director of the NGO Germanwatch, told Deutsche Welle. In the past, industrialized and developing countries often worked against each other. Once these differences had been overcome, countries were able to push forward with negotiations.

The most important prerequisite is trust, said Emmanuel Dlamini of Swasiland, chief negotiator for the African group. "When you trust someone you'll compromise much earlier," he said. Least developed countries doubt whether the EU, with its relatively unambitious goals, is truly on their side.

Hope for commitment

"An alliance that only brings short-term success isn't attractive for the small island states and developing countries," said Regine Günther of WWF. If the "Alliance of Ambition" were to dissolve at the climate conference in Doha, then climate experts could only hope that another coalition might take its place – one, that is, that could keep its promises.