Damp climate

Clouds of pessimism, far heavier than those over the Copenhagen summit two years ago, hang over the ongoing Durban summit on climate change. With the Kyoto protocol, the world’s only binding climate agreement, due to expire at the end of 2012 and no replacement in sight, the Durban summit has assumed critical importance. But there are few signs that the Durban meet will reach agreement on a post-Kyoto protocol. At Durban it is the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis) that is working assiduously to put in place an agreement that would target emissions peaking by 2015-17 at the latest. While it is these island countries that are the most affected by climate change and rising sea levels, they have marginal impact on the summit’s outcome. Whether Durban produces an agreement and how watered down it is depends on the interplay between three groupings – the European Union, BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) and a US-led group of developed countries. The commitment of each of these groupings to reducing carbon emissions is at best shaky and much of their manoeuvering at Durban will be focused on deflecting blame away from themselves for the summit’s likely failure.

BASIC must lead the charge at the Durban summit. It must draw the world’s attention to the steps it has taken already to reduce emissions. It needs to work harder to get other developing countries on its side. This will give strength to its call to the rich to transfer and pay for technologies. Economic crises at home are likely to make the EU, US and Japan more tight-fisted than ever on financially supporting the developing world’s transition to cleaner technologies. Developing economies should not cave in to their whining. An important challenge at Durban is whether BASIC will hold together here. As host South Africa will give priority to the summit’s success; the others will be keen to avoid a legally binding deal that denies them the right to development and industrialization.

The Kyoto Protocol rightly put the burden of carbon emissions on the developed world. At Copenhagen, this burden was placed on emerging economies too. India and China submitted themselves to emission cuts on par with the US, EU and Japan despite the huge gap in per capita incomes. Fortunately, after Jairam Ramesh’s exit, India is taking a touger stand in tune with other developing countries and if they stand together, they can win more support to avoid unfair agreements.

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