The 18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is supposed to have wrapped by now. Apparently, the negotiations are going to go into the weekend. The "climate cliff" phrase in the headline was coined by Bill Hare, the former Greenpeace climate change spokesperson, who put together a couple of weeks back, the World Bank's widely reported study, "Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4C World Must be Avoided," that warned that the world is catastrophically on track to warm by 4.0 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit). The always objective Hare told The Guardian:
"We have a climate cliff … We're facing a carbon tsunami, actually, where huge amounts of carbon are now being emitted at a faster rate than ever. And it's that carbon tsunami that's likely to overwhelm the planet with warming, sea-level rise and acidifying the oceans."
As usual, the chief sticking point at the conference is how much money the rich countries are supposed to give the poor countries as climate change compensation. Back in 2009, at the failed Copenhagen climate change conference the Obama administration cobbled together a vague promise that the rich countries would give away $100 billion annually in climate compensation by 2020. At Doha, the kleptocrats who run poor countries want the rich countries to promise that the aid will be in the form of grants delivered directly to their coffers—loans and private investments will not be counted.
Also still hanging fire at the conference is whether or not the world's only climate treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, will be continued. Already, Russia, Canada, and Japan have dropped out of it. The betting is that the European Union will let some weak version of it survive in order to avoid diplomat embarassment (and protect the jobs of bureaucrats that administer it). As background, the price for an allowance to emit ton of carbon dioxide has fallen from 20€ in 2008 to under 7€ today on the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme market.
Finally, at earlier conferences, negotiators agreed to negotiate some kind of "legally-binding" global climate change treaty that would encompass the emissions of fast developing countries like China and india by 2015 that would go into effect by 2020. Apparently, the Chinese are still trying to get out of that obligation.
Will update as (and if) news happens.