Changing climate change

Changing climate change

What purpose the Copenhagen summit will then serve as it is a common knowledge that the outcome, in all probability, will be a loose political statement rather than a legally binding international emission reduction treaty.

 The big apprehension now is that the Copenhagen political statement could guide the contours of future negotiations, junking the Kyoto Protocol. This is not in the best interests of the developing nations.

“Will the political agreement spell out a different framework for future agreement? The world wants to shift the goalposts by diminishing the distinction between the developed and developing countries,” said Sunita Narain, director of the Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi and a member of the Prime Minister’s council on climate change.
The 15th conference of parties (COP 15) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change at Copenhagen had three broad objectives.
The summit was meant to find out legally binding emission cut targets for the developed countries and what the big developing nations like India, China and Brazil will do to limit their carbon emissions.

Polluter pays
The third expectation was to find a mechanism for the industrialised nations, historically responsible for climate change, to financially and technologically support developing countries’ meet emission mitigation targets and adapt to the consequences of climate change.

The summit is unlikely to deliver on any of these three objectives. More worrisome is a fear that it may be the beginning of a concerted effort to junk the Kyoto Protocol – rooted in the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” – and look for a new legal instrument that will put the polluter and victims on the same page.
Since the world’s largest polluter, the USA, is not a party to the Kyoto Protocol, a new negotiating track was opened at COP 13 in Bali to bring the USA on-board. A new Ad hoc working group for long-term cooperative action (AWG-LCA) was set up.
There is also a separate Kyoto track under a different Ad-hoc working group (AWG-KP) whose responsibility is to fix new targets for the developed nations – without the USA – for the second commitment period beyond 2013. This was set up in 2005 and the negotiations were to be completed by April 2009 for discussions in Poznan and adaptation subsequently.

There is barely any progress in AWG-KP because other industrialised nations wanted the US to commit before going ahead with their own emission cut plans. So far most of the capping plans announced by other industrialised countries are linked to the commitments made by the “countries not party to Kyoto” (read USA).

In the midst of this stalemate, Barak Obama administration announced some steps, which are not inspiring, to say the least. Its proposed emissions reduction target – 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 – is less than one seventh of what the European Union leaders have said they are prepared to commit. The proposed reduction refers to 2005 emissions and not the standard 1990 baseline accepted in Kyoto Protocol.
The fourth assessment report of the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that the United States and other developed world countries should cut their emission level by at least 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80 to 95 per cent by 2050 to prevent the global temperature rise crossing the two degrees centigrade ceiling.

There is a near-unanimous scientific consensus on not allowing the global temperature rise by more than two degrees centigrade to avoid disastrous and irreversible consequences of climate change. That’s why the developing nations –more vulnerable to the perils of climate change – demand “deep and ambitious cuts” from the rich nations.
But, according to the UNFCCC’s own estimates, since 1990, US emissions increased by more than 11 per cent. And according to a Greenpeace calculation, Obama administration’s emission cut announcements mean only four per cent cut in pollution from the 1990 level.

Pushed to the wall on its failure to deliver on the carbon front, the US and its allies have opted the “offence is the best form of  defence” route. A slew of proposals from the developed world are out to corner emerging economies like India and China.
Infamous gang up
The most infamous of them is the Australian proposal, which calls for a “schedule” approach for emission reductions for all nations – blurring the Kyoto distinction between the developed nations.

Since the submission of the Australian proposal in May, other polluting nations like USA, Canada, Japan and European Union have endorsed the concept of a single instrument to replace Kyoto.

There are multiple proposals suggesting various mechanisms to achieve the objective, suiting the interests of the industrialised world. None talks about “historic responsibilities” and Kyoto’s stipulation that the developed countries have to do more since they polluted the earth much before the developing world.
The split was wide open at the Bangkok negotiation that began on September 28. The developed countries did not put any number on the table offering deep emission cuts. They more or less decided to quietly bury the Kyoto Protocol and go for a new treaty – a move that was steadfastly opposed by G-77 and China.

Though India was originally with the same block, its position weakened in the wake of union environment minister Jairam Ramesh suggesting a linkage between going soft on the climate change issue and winning a permanent seat on the UN Security Council as well as distancing from G-77 and hobnobbing with G-20. 

The last round at Barcelona in October did not offer any solution on the contentious issue of Kyoto versus the single legal instrument. The proposal will travel to Copenhagen as well and may receive a boost after India gave indications that it is willing to blink.
The US will offer nothing at Copenhagen as its domestic emission cut legislation is still being debated in the Senate after being passed by the House of Representatives. Other major polluters too will not offer anything more than lip service. And going by some of the ideas mooted by the European Union and its member countries like the conference host Denmark, it would be foolhardy to expect any soft corner for India from the EU.

Obama letdown again?
The ball squarely lies with Obama administration. Most believe it will let the world down once more a la Kyoto style.  Since the high-level segment involving the ministers and heads of governments begins on December 16, President Obama’s original plan to participate at Copenhagen on December 9 on his way to Oslo to collect the Nobel Peace Prize, was criticised as a mere token. He has since changed his plans.

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