Climate haves and havenots

Global warning: The Copenhagen Accord fails to bridge the gap between rich and poor nations

Climate haves and havenots


Climate was the loser at Copenhagen. Twelve days of intense negotiations and close door meetings resulted in a weak political statement that can at best be the starting point to the next round of negotiations.

The Copenhagen Accord backed by the United States of America with support from the BASIC countries – Brazil, South Africa, India and China – could not be adopted in the UN meet due to stiff objection from many who were not in agreement with its content and the “undemocratic” method used to bring the final document on the table.

The chair of the climate treaty talks – Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmuessen – regretted that the climate accord could not be adopted due to lack of consensus and stated that the parties would “take note of the document”.

This leaves open the question about Copenhagen Accord’s acceptability among 193 signatories to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as well as converting it into a legally binding international treaty by 2010.

At the moment, confusion reigns galore on the status of this document, pulled out of the hat at the last moment, ignoring the ongoing two track negotiations. Nobody is sure about its legal status, how it would guide future negotiations.

However, having a weak political document endorsed by only a particular group of countries at the end of two weeks of negotiations capped by two years of preparations does not mean a success.

The world agrees that it may only be a starting point.

The Copenhagen summit had three specific objectives. It was meant to find out legally binding emission cut targets for the developed countries after 2012 and what the emerging economies like India, China and Brazil will do to limit their emissions.
The third objective was to find out an appropriate mechanism for the flow of technology and finance from the rich nations to the vulnerable. The financial contribution was to come from the industrialised nations, historically responsible for triggering climate change.

Copenhagen failed on all counts.

Onus on developing nations

The accord does not spell out any emission cut targets for rich nations within a specific period of time . It merely highlights the importance of keeping the average global temperature rise limited to 2 degrees Celsius.

Rather it opens up new minefields on “transparency” and parachutes fresh conditions like “peaking year for national emission for developing countries in the long run, keeping their economic and poverty alleviation goals in mind.”

Surprisingly, India which steadfastly opposed “peaking year” so far, arguing it is one of the non-negotiables, agreed to this draft with “peaking year conditions”. The implications are not clear at the moment.

Many countries from Latin America and Africa have summarily rejected the Copenhagen document arguing it is inimical to their survival and the document has a dubious legal status.

The accord promises a short-term funding of $30 billion between 2010 and 2012 and $100 billion funding from developed countries by 2020.

The funding is pock-marked with tough conditions and does not specify who will contribute how much. It appears that both government and private sector will contribute to the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund.

Moreover, the accord also talks about setting up a high-level panel under the UN to study “alternative sources of finance,” besides promising to pursue opportunities to use markets to enhance the cost-effectiveness of and to promote mitigation actions. All these may lead to creation of newer carbon markets for revenue generation. But will Asia, Africa and Latin America be comfortable with new carbon markets at the time of recession? Nobody knows for sure.

Surprisingly, the accord was finalised in a meeting between President Barak Obama and heads of the four states forming the BASIC group. Obama entered the BASIC meeting uninvited to “seal the deal”.

The US-BASIC draft was presented later in the plenary session for adoption, where it faced strong criticism. “The draft text asked Africa to sign a suicide pact,” said Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, the Sudanese negotiator, who is also the chair for G77.

Notwithstanding the accord’s uncertain legal status, the only positive for India seems to be recognition for maintaining its forest cover.

Recognising the importance of reducing emission from deforestation and forest degradation, and the need to enhance removal of greenhouse gas emission by conserving forests (REDD plus), it agrees to provide “positive incentives” to fund such action with financial resources from the developed world. This was a demand New Delhi made consistently since the last few years.

Whom to blame?

Most fingers are pointed at the rich nations led by the USA and assisted by host country Denmark and Australia. Denmark attracted flak for showing open bias to rich nations while it was supposed to be a neutral chairperson to the multilateral negotiations involving 193 nations.

Since the Copenhagen Accord could not be adopted in the plenary, it cannot be made operational. But it can serve as the backdrop for bilateral negotiations in 2010.
“Details are still sketchy, but it seems that the deal would eventually require major developing countries to take on comparable targets to developed countries. At any rate, the distinction between Annexe I (developed) and non-Annexe I (developing) countries would be dissolved. There is no word yet on whether the Kyoto Protocol would or could persist,” said a statement from Centre for Science and Environment.
Though the four emerging economies have come around, others question how can an agreement involving only a handful of countries be heralded as a success in an international forum.

Fourteen years ago negotiations broke down at the last meeting of the intergovernmental negotiating committee in New York. But when the first conference of parties (COP-1) met in Berlin, India took the initiative to break the deadlock.

COP-15 in Copenhagen has collapsed. Can India break the deadlock at COP-16 in Mexico City? A billion dollar question!


A change of heart?
Is there a subtle change in India’s position on climate change? Two recent developments seem to justify such an apprehension.

The first one is from the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s departing statement before leaving for Copenhagen climate conference.

Singh recalled an earlier statement made by him at the G8 summit in 2007, to claim India’s per capita emission will always be “lower” than that of the US and European Union.

However, in Heiligendamm he actually stated India’s per capita emission “will not exceed” that of the industrialised countries.

Is there a difference between “will not exceed” and “lower”? Is the tweak purely semantics or is there a subtle underlying message?

The first option can be interpreted as India’s right to equal the per capita emission of USA and EU. It means India can emit up to the same level but will not exceed the limit.

By the same token, the second option means India’s per capita emission will always be lower.

How much lower, is a matter of conjecture.

Three days later at Copenhagen, Singh agreed to the US-backed Copenhagen Accord that talks about peaking of national emission within a certain time frame even for developing countries.

Of course, the document states that developing nations will be given longer time considering their current socio-economic conditions and overriding priority to eradicate poverty.

How much time would be given to India is again a matter of conjecture?

India, so far, maintained peaking year is a non-negotiable. It was a red line, a complete no-no, according to Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh.

Why then the shift?

KR

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