Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development

Snapshots From Doha and Elsewhere

December 6, 2012

“We were standing there,” Mrs. Clinton said, “when Nicolas Sarkozy,” then France’s president, “looked up into the cold Danish sky with exasperation and declared, ‘After this, I want to die.’ I think that’s how we all felt, to some extent.”

She told the story with a laugh, but her larger point was that while countries should continue to support the United Nations process, they should also seek other ways of dealing with climate change. So this year she started a project called the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to address so-called short-lived climate pollutants, which have an inordinately powerful impact on the climate but dissipate far more quickly than the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. These fast-acting pollutants include black carbon or soot from diesel exhaust and the burning of dung or firewood for heat or cooking. Also included are methane gas and hydrofluorocarbons, largely found in refrigerants.

On Thursday in Doha, officials from countries participating in that initiative announced that six new countries had joined the group, which is under the umbrella of the United Nations Environment Program, bringing membership to 25 countries. The group says concerted action on fast-acting pollutants could slow global temperature rise by nearly one degree Fahrenheit by 2050 and reduce pollution-related deaths by as many as 2.4 million annually.

The United Nations climate negotiations, which have been going on for nearly 20 years, have produced many promises and much paperwork but relatively little action.

Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, has worked on these issues for decades. “There is much discouragement and outright despair at the U.N. process,” he said Thursday. “We need something like this coalition that reminds us all that we can solve a major part of the problem quickly and fairly simply.”

* * * *

Few would compare a United Nations climate change conference to a garden party, but a pair of skeptical skunks showed up on Thursday in the persons of Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, and Christopher Monckton, the Viscount Monckton of Benchley. The two make a habit of descending on climate summits and trying to debunk both the science and the politics of global warming. Mostly they generate eye-rolling and wry blog posts.

Mr. Inhofe, the most outspoken climate change skeptic in Congress, appeared by video link to declare global warming a hoax and the United Nations talks a farce.

“It’s time to put an end to these lavish, absurd global warming parties,” he said.

Lord Monckton appeared in person, but not until after he had tried riding a camel and had been thrown off. His message, as it has been at several recent conferences, is that the threat of global warming is overblown and that it will cost far more to try to prevent the heating of the planet than simply to adapt to any changes climate change might bring.

Friday, 7:26 a.m. Eastern time| Updated Lord Monckton was ejected from the conference late Thursday after he posed as a delegate to gain entrance to the meeting hall and took the seat of the representative from Myanmar. Before he was identified as an imposter, he was allowed to speak and said — against most scientific evidence — that there had been no global temperature rise since the beginning of the United Nations climate negotiations. He was quickly escorted from the room and banned from the meeting.

A United Nations spokeswoman said that Lord Monckton was registered with a nongovernmental organization, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, and that his posing as a delegate “was considered a clear violation of his status as a representative of that organization.”

* * * *

Qatar, the host country for these talks, sits atop the largest natural gas field in the world and is a major producer and exporter of natural gas and oil. As a result, it is one of the richest countries in the world and one of the highest per-capita greenhouse gas emitters. Qatari officials are taking some small steps to try to reduce energy consumption and emissions by adopting renewable energy sources.

The emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, addressing delegates here on Tuesday, noted that the cavernous (and overcooled) new conference center in which the negotiations were being held was 12 percent solar powered. He said his sun-soaked desert country has a goal of generating 2 percent of its energy from solar panels by 2020. Qatar’s proportion of electricity generated from renewable sources was 0.0 percent in 2010, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency.

The 2 percent target is not much, but it’s a start, said Adnan Z. Amin, director general of the renewable energy agency, which is based in nearby Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, another Persian Gulf petro-state.

He said oil-rich countries could benefit from exporting their oil and gas resources rather than using them to subsidize cheap domestic energy. “The economics are obvious, but in any change, especially a fundamental change, the journey of 1,000 miles begins with first step,” he said. “There are obvious political interests in these countries that will continue to favor oil and gas, and navigating to new energy economy is not an easy thing to do.”

Fahad bin Mohammed al-Attiya, chairman of Qatar’s National Food Security Program and one of the organizers of the United Nations conference here, said the 2 percent figure did not include a major project to build solar-powered water desalination plants. “I think we are doing what we can, given the circumstances,” Mr. al-Attiya said.

He said the country was building a large polysilicon factory and hoped to develop a homegrown solar panel manufacturing capability. But he said adoption of solar power throughout the Middle East was hampered by high humidity and dust from blowing sand.

“It’s not the matter of will,” he said. “It’s a matter of getting these projects in pipeline and adapting these technologies. We’re going from nothing to megascale projects in solar.”

Read the original article here.