Bizarre deviations

Bizarre deviations

The run up to Copenhagen is turning out to be real bizarre in New Delhi. While the discourse on climate change has not only gone far beyond the scientific community, the momentum for substantial collective action by the comity of nations has reached a crescendo.

It has drawn governments, policy makers and of course politics into the vortex of action which needs to be initiated to change the very way we live. This is only to be expected. Because what is at stake is life on this planet. What is at stake will call for international cooperation of a magnitude and dimension which has no parallel in contemporary history. It is truly a ‘united we win, divided we fall’ scenario for the whole of humanity.

The context is captured by an editorial released simultaneously across several countries: “The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting, and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage.”

It further observed, “The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history’s judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice.”

Given the history of its genesis, global warming would require differential levels of responses. The United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change itself talks of “common but differentiated responsibility” of developed and developing countries wherein the former are required to undertake binding emission cuts while the latter would be assisted through funds and technology transfer to adapt to climate change and adopt low-carbon development strategies.

But unfortunately, the advanced countries led by the US in fact seek to shift the burden of the crisis on to the developing countries, especially India, China and other so-called ‘emerging economies’. This comes in the background of the Kyoto protocol and the sinister US response. The Kyoto Protocol, in trying to redress the inequities, had set binding emission reduction targets for the developed countries while exempting developing countries from such obligations, instead calling upon them to take appropriate measures commensurate with their national capabilities. Developed countries had blatantly violated their treaty obligations to reduce emissions by 5 per cent compared to 1990 baseline levels by now. On the contrary, their cumulative emissions went up by 10 per cent, while that of the US which refused to join the treaty went up by a massive 17 per cent.

India’s role
The UNFCCC was adopted in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Kyoto came in 1997. From Rio to Copenhagen, India has remained in the forefront of this battle for the legitimate concerns of the developing countries — demanding greater burden of global warming and climate change by the developed countries. But now for the first time doubts have been raised about the Indian position. Denmark, the host country, has placed a draft on behalf of the developed countries which denies that ‘differentiated responsibility’ removes the distinction between the developed and the developing countries and will be disastrous for India and other developing countries.
That the Danish proposal has the full backing of the Obama administration is amply clear from the statement issued by White House on Dec 4: “After months of diplomatic activity, there is progress being made towards a meaningful Copenhagen accord in which all countries pledge to take action against the global threat of climate change. Following bilateral meetings with the President and since the US announced an emissions reduction target that reflects the progress being made in Congress towards comprehensive energy legislation, China and India have for the first time set targets to reduce their carbon intensity. There has also been progress in advancing the Danish proposal for an immediate, operational accord that covers all of the issues under negotiation, including the endorsement of key elements of this approach.”

Doubts arise with the flip-flop that Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has been putting up. To start with, he claimed that India will not be the ‘deal breaker’. Does a ‘deal’ depend on India’s keenness? The prospect of the ‘deal’ depends on the developed countries to accept “common but differentiated responsibility”- based binding cut on emissions, the recognition of per capita emission principle, funding responsibility for adaptation technologies to be pursued by the poor and LDCs and waiving restrictions for technology transfers invoking IPR. The Danish draft and the White House statement do pose a serious question. This is particularly more so, in the light of Jairam’s observations in the Lok Sabha debate.

Jairam introduced modifications and caveats to India’s fundamental negotiating position on climate change. These are per capita emissions as the basis of negotiations, differentiating between Annex 1 and non-Annex countries and the actions of the developing countries being predicated on the financial and technology transfers position from the rich countries. On each of these points, the minister deviated from India’s position and even from the PM has taken on these issues. He was dismissive of India’s stand on per capita emissions as the basis for equitable burden-sharing at Copenhagen, calling India’s low per capita emissions an ‘accident of history’’.

India can neither fail its own poor, nor the whole humanity. A binding commitment from those who have landed the planet on a precipice will have to be forced in Copenhagen.