Carbon greenhouse gas. Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

GOVERNMENT ministers from some of the nations gathered in Qatar to thrash out a new, legally binding global pact on how to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases would hold roundtable discussions on Wednesday, European Union climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said on Monday.

Some ministers and heads of state have already descended on the tiny Arab Emirate, which is hosting this year’s United Nations climate change talks, and president Abdullah bin Hamad Al-Attiyah said on Monday he would start pre-roundtable talks with those already in Doha.

Ms Hedegaard said one of the topics she would raise was the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies, which grew 30% last year to about $115bn. She said talks in a variety of forums had not settled the matter.

Fossil fuels emit vast quantities of greenhouse gases.

US special climate change envoy Todd Stern said the issue of fossil fuel subsidies was important, and ironing out the kinks in the discussion on phasing them out was "very difficult" because of the vested interests involved.

The US oil lobby has often been blamed for the US’s lackadaisical showing in the UN climate change talks, and for its inability to ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The protocol is the world’s only and first-ever global deal on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which the US signed in 1998.

"Every time we spend $1 subsidising renewable (energy sources), we spend $6 on subsidising fossil fuels," Ms Hedegaard said.

Mr Stern said the climate change agreement concluded in Durban marked a sea change, bringing into view the end of the Kyoto Protocol. The US never ratified it and has said it is no longer useful in a world that has changed so much since the protocol’s negotiation.

"What is important about (the UN climate change talks agreement secured in Durban last year) is that it is applicable to all. That is a different approach to the Kyoto Protocol; also it is (an agreement fitting) for the world of the 2020s," Mr Stern said in his first media briefing since arriving in Doha.

In Durban, the almost 200 nations that are party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed they would negotiate a new, legally binding agreement, which would include space for emissions reduction commitments from all, instead of the protocol’s commitments for industrialised countries only.

The same nations are in Doha to determine a path towards that agreement, to be agreed by 2015, and to decide what will happen in the interim.

Mr Stern said the world needed an agreement that differentiated between countries, but not in the way the Kyoto Protocol did. The protocol distinguished between developed and developing countries, excusing the developing world from making legally binding commitments.

"We do need differentiation, but on practical, real world (circumstances), not on an ideology that draws a line down one side of the world," Mr Stern said.

Already, several developing world countries, including South Africa, have made voluntary emissions reduction pledges, but China and India have come in for criticism for not ramping up their pledges at this year’s talks.

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ strategy and policy director, Alden Meyer, said civil society wanted the negotiations to culminate in "ambition, equity (between nations) and finance" for the developing world’s adaptation to the effects of climate change, and its mitigation of them.

Talks on how to get from the close of the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period at the end of this year to the start of a new emissions reduction regime in 2015 was, however, "making good progress", Mr Meyer said.

"That’s the (negotiating) track that’s on track," he said.

• Sue Blaine is attending the talks on a scholarship from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change