12/07/2012 01:48 pm ET Updated Feb 06, 2013

The Metaphors of Doha

Wrangling. Futile. Gathering gloom. Discord. More talks about talks. Unresolved disputes. Divide. Struggle. Feuding. Theatre of the absurd. Increasingly alarmed.

The world's media has been plumbing the depths of the thesaurus to report on the growing despondence in and around the UN climate talks in Doha, testing the limits of their vocabulary as the world's leaders test the planet's patience.

The excruciating talks are another chapter in the unfolding tragedy of our time: failure to take action against climate change. It's a slow, inexorable march towards catastrophic global warming that is almost too painful to bear.

World leaders can still change the course of history if they want, but time is running out. Fast.

And neither China, the United States, the European Union nor India, the world's top greenhouse gas emitters, have announced plans to limit emissions at Doha.

Instead, we've heard stories of "bickering" over "sluggish" efforts to tackle climate change and "bad blood" around some of the "thorniest issues" such as the payment of climate finance.

Described as a "clash" by the Associated Press that threatens the talks, the world's poorest nations were demanding rich countries provide details of a promised surge in climate finance to $100 billion a year by 2020.

And on extension into 2013 of the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding pact for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, talks remained "deadlocked," Reuters reported heading into the final day. BBC later added the talks were "lurching" to a close.

This is absurdity, even if we do get a compromise deal out of Doha. We're on a runaway speed train. How many missed stations does our climate change express need to rush past before skidding off the rails? It's time to act, not argue.

This year, 2012, will be remembered as a year of drought, floods, heatwaves, a record melt of Arctic sea ice and catastrophic storms such as Hurricane Sandy.

And yet delegates from almost 200 countries have been trying to hammer out "modest" goals. No agreements have been made on curbing emissions.

Three years since the landmark Copenhagen talks in 2009 ended in failure, the world has reached a "make-or-break" point, but French newspaper Le Monde referred to "a missing heart" at the Doha talks.

More positive, the Washington Post argues that "the road to a climate change deal goes through Doha" because even small-scale agreements can build trust.

But much of the coverage has been negative, reflecting the divide. India is alleged to be "back sliding" on commitments. Activists "accuse" Arab states, the U.S. defends its climate action pledges. And the clock just keeps ticking.

The U.N. Environment Programme has already warned we risk overshooting a target to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius and are on target instead for a rise in temperatures of between 3 and 5 degrees. This would mean more floods, droughts and rising sea levels threatening coastal cities.

And then in the middle of the talks in Doha, typhoon Bopha struck the Philippines, killing hundreds of people and making thousands homeless.

Media grabbed at the emotional outcry of the Philippines negotiator at Doha, who broke down in tears and urged the world's leaders to open their eyes "to the stark reality that we face."

It prompted the Guardian newspaper to ask whether those tears could "change our course on climate change?" It's a good question. Will this be the Doha metaphor the world embraces? Or will the wrangling become our epitaph?

The world's politicians now need to prove they can see that reality. It's time for them to act.