16 January 2013

WLPGA attends COP 18 in Doha

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) 18 Meeting   26 November – 7 December 2012. Summary and recommendations for the LPG industry by Michael Kelly, Deputy MD, WLPGA


The 18th annual meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 18) under the UNFCCC was held from 26 November to 7 December in 2012 Doha, Qatar, the first time a UNFCCC negotiation was held in the Middle East. The conference drew over 9,000 participants, including 4,400 government officials, 4,000 representatives of UN bodies and agencies, intergovernmental organisations and civil society organisations, and 700 members of the media. This was a significant drop from the nearly 13,000 participants that attended the COP 17 negotiations that were held in Durban in 2011.

From the beginning this meeting was being billed as a ‘transitional’ negotiation and aspirations for any big agreements were modest. Incremental progress would be deemed success despite new science regarding the accelerated melt of the snow cap over the summer of 2012 as well as the litany of difficult weather throughout the year and a subsequent hardening of science and global public opinion.

The agreement which was reached and is being referred to informally as the ‘Doha Deal’ will act as a bridge between the old climate regime of the Kyoto Protocol and the new one which is supposed to be signed in Paris in 2015 and come into effect in 2020. It is significant that signing of this treaty is scheduled to take place after the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report (AR 5) which is set to be released in 2014 and is expected to have irrefutable scientific evidence of climate change and hence increase public support and political will for action. The last IPCCC report AR 4 was released in 2007.

The ‘Doha Deal’ essentially continues the main elements of the Kyoto Protocol for eight years past its original end date of 2012 and preserves the framework of agreed upon law, rules on accounting for emissions and structures for negotiation. This is not insignificant. The expectation is that the replacement treaty launched in 2015 will end the outdated distinction between ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries and require commitments on all nations that are proportionate to levels of development. This is especially true as some ‘developing’ economies per capita emissions surpass ‘developed’ countries, a trend which is expected to continue.


Qatar as a meeting venue was a controversial choice among stakeholders since the selection was announced in 2010 for a number of reasons including:

  • Qatar has among the highest carbon footprint per capita on the planet with little or no indication that this will change any time soon.
  • Many of the representatives from labour unions and workers rights groups repeatedly pointed out that Qatar employs a virtual army of expatriate workers in construction and the service industry many of whom have little or no legal rights and often are mistreated or forced to work in inhumane conditions as essentially endentured servants. There was strong outcry that by holding a major event here the United Nations was a de facto endorsment of this system.
  • Womens’ groups also strongly bemoaned the lack of equal rights for women in Qatar.
  • COP negotiations regularly attract large numbers of noisy protesters for various causes, given that Qatar remains a firmly controled autocracy there was worry that the more rambunctious NGOs and protesters would face punishment for voicing their concerns. This did not occur partially because the number of delegates was relatively low.
  • There were concerns about the necessary infrastructure to handle a meeting the size of COP which regularly attracts over 20,000 delegates again which was not the case in Doha. However, there was much general complaining about the logisitics of the negotiation. The huge, cavernous convention center was a far distance from most hotels and while there was a bus service available for delegates, it was inconsistent, slow and tended to get snarled in Doha’s traffic. Taxis are not plentiful therefore, many delegates ended up having to use hotel cars and/or hire private drivers at very high prices. There was also the fact that many of the unofficial side events, off site meetings and evening functions that are an important part of any negotiation of this size, took place in remote areas that required long waiting times for transportation. While this is true to a certain extent of any COP, in Doha the problem was particularly acute and these simple logistics do have an impact, however subtle, on the overall demeanour of the negotiations.

Other issues which influenced the negotiation:

  • The never ending financial crisies in Europe and Japan meant that Europe in particular which has historically led in the climate change arena had a very muted presence during the negotiations.
  • Slowing economies in India, China and Brazil as well as a historic reluctance in India and China to put environmental concerns ahead of development meant that they were also not as engaged in the negotiations as had been hoped. China has also just transitioned to new leadership and seemed especially reluctant to stake out new positions.
  • The knock-on effects of the Arab Spring including the deeping conflict in Syria and the continuing unrest in Eygpt conceivably impacted the negotiating stance and involvement of these and other affected states.
  • Saudi Arabia, a country that has traditionally asserted itself diplomatically in the climate change negotiations, was also very quiet and speculation among more seasoned hands was that they had decided to defer to their regional partners (rivals?) in Qatar.
  • There was hope that the re-election of President Obama coupled with the series of US natural disasters and an apparent shift in domestic public opinion would push the US towards signalling that it is open for a deal to be hammered out over the course of Obama's second mandate. That hope was rather quickly put to rest. The Americans have been much more flexible than in the past and there seems to be a genuine willingness to cooperate with other countries and groups but there was no indication that they have radically changed their positions. The US is also benefitting from a notable drop in overall carbon emissions due to a glut of natural gas from shale fields replacing more carbon intensive energy sources. This is expected to accelerate in the near future and is providing the US with political cover in the context of these discussions.
  • The US posture may also have been impacted by the UN vote to recognise Palestine as an observer which occurred during the negotiations. This was celebrated by the majority of the delegates and parties but was seen as a direct affront to Israel and to a lesser extent the US. The announcement received an ovation in plenary session, a diplomatic rarity indeed, and may have colored the overall stance of the US in the negotiation.
  • Another issue that roiled the negotiations and was brought up repeatedly by process veterans was that many developing countries seemingly took advantage of the COP to send delegations to solicit funds from various Qatari state development agencies. The Qatari government has been very astute in doling out aid monies around the world to secure influence. Subsequently there were many delegates that had minimal experience in climate change or the UNFCCC process.

Impact on the LPG industry:

It’s safe to say that the immediate impact on the LPG industry will be minimal. Two areas that could have implications for the industry, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and the Global Climate Fund (GCF) made little progress. CDM continued to be criticized for a lack of overall transparency and accountability in its operations as well as for the extremely complex methodologies used for granting funding which makes applying expensive, onerous and impractical in most cases. There was little progress on streamlining the application procedure or reforming the system. GCF which has the goal of mobilising 100 billion US Dollars by 2020 for adaptation in hard hit developing countries was equally listless. Negotiators agreed to consider progress made on the structure of the fund next year in COP 19 which will be held, unhappily enough, in Warsaw.

WLPGA recommendations:

Ultimately little changed in Doha despite new science and anecdotal evidence that something is happening to the global climate. Given geo-political realities it seems that there will be little movement on this issue until the financial crises impacting the world’s largest economies begins to stabilize. Until then, there is little political will or appetite for great change and the “Doha Deal” is an incremental step forward in what promises to be a long slog towards a new agreement in 2020.

Therefore unless something dramatic happens, WLPGA recommends that the industry maintain a posture of continued monitoring of these negotiations as was agreed during the last formal meeting of the Climate Change Working Group (CCWG) which was held, ironically enough, during the 2011 WLPGA Forum in Doha.