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COP18: UN climate change talks open in Qatar

The 18th United Nations climate change conference opened today in the Qatari capital, Doha.

Cop18 climate change talks doha qatar 26 11 2012Enlarge
A general view shows the opening ceremony of the 18th United Nations (UN) climate change conference in Doha on November 26, 2012. Nearly 200 world nations launched a new round of talks in Doha to review commitments to cutting climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions. (KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images)

COP18, the 18th United Nations conference on climate change, opened today in Doha, with a call from host nation Qatar to make it a "turning point" in international negotiations.

The conference president, Qatari Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah, called the meeting a "golden opportunity" to work on a new deal to cut the world's carbon emissions, Al Jazeera reported.

Some 17,000 delegates from nearly 200 countries will attend the two-week conference.

They are faced with the task of negotiating successors to two major components of the fight against climate change: the funding given by wealthier nations to help poorer countries tackle global warming; and the Kyoto Protocol, currently the only treaty that legally binds industrialized nations to limit their carbon emissions.

Both are set to expire at the end of this year.

Despite pleas from scientists, campaigners and developing countries, few observers are optimistic that COP18 will result in a "meaningful" extension of the Kyoto pact, according to Reuters.

More from GlobalPost: Challenges face UN climate summit in Qatar

The US never ratified the protocol while Russia, Canada and Japan pulled out of it, leaving Australia and European Union leading the charge for a new commitment period – who between them account for less than 15 percent of the world's emissions.

Furthermore, the euro-zone debt crisis threatens to undermine Europe's earlier efforts to legislate against CO2, the Irish Times notes, with several members states arguing that such commitments are unaffordable with national defecits as they are.

Australia said today that it would sign up for a new Kyoto Protocol, or "Kyoto 2," but would only aim to cut its emissions by 0.5 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. The Australian Green Party said the target was so low as to be an "obvious insult" to the rest of the delegates in Doha, the Brisbane Times reported.

The US has already stated that it doesn't plan to raise its goal of cutting emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, which corresponds to a cut of 3-4 percent below 1990 levels.

Qatar, meanwhile, has not yet made any commitment to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions, which are among the highest per capita in the world. The Gulf state is heavily dependent on its oil and gas reserves for its fuel and its wealth.

"Environmental sustainability is a key pillar of our national vision," Al Jazeera quoted COP18 president Attiyah as saying.

More from GlobalPost: Why the reality of climate change can no longer be ignored

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/science/global-warming/121126/cop18-un-climate-change-talks-open-doha-qatar