New Delhi, tread cautiously

New Delhi, tread cautiously

The recent agreement between the US and China on climate change has presented mammoth challenge for the rest of the globe, especially the developing world. Under the pact, the US has agreed to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) by 26 to 28 per cent by the year 2025. On the other hand, China has agreed to peak its emissions by the year 2030, and thereafter will start receding its emissions.

Earlier in 2009, at United Nations Framework Convention on Climate (UNFCCC) held in Copenhagen, the US had agreed to reduce their emissions by 17 per cent by 2020, from 2005 levels. This means that according to the agreement with China, the United States will reduce its emissions between 2.3 per cent and 2.8 per cent between 2020 and 2025.

The agreement between the US and China in itself is an exceptional agreement as so far environment and climate change have been the dealt in multilateral agreements and never have two countries clinched a bilateral deal. Environment has been the subject matter of multilateral negotiations, because toxic gas emissions and global warming affect the whole globe and not any one or two countries or a group of countries.

So far, developing countries have shown complete solidarity while dealing with the US and other developed countries on the environment issues. India and China have always argued that it has to meet development aspirations of their people, so they should have no obligation to reduce emissions for the time being, and their argument was well received in the Kyoto Protocol. However, the treaty between China and the United States has definitely affected the solidarity of the developing countries.

Increasing pollution and global warming has become a reality today. Long summers, deficient and sometimes excessive rains, devastating floods etc have become a major threat to humanity today. Pollution in cities has increased. Earth's average temperature has increased by 0.6 degrees Celsius by now since 1800 and by the year 2100, it can rise up to 20 degrees. Due to rising temperature, sea level has increased by10 to 20 cm and it may further increase by 40 cm by 2100. Greenhouse gases are merely one per cent of the environment.

The UN took the initiative and made efforts toward coping with the menace, which ultimately resulted in Kyoto protocol, which was adopted unanimously in 1997. According to the agreement so reached at Kyoto (Japan), there was a target to reduce combined emissions to 5 per cent (below 1990 level).

According to the Doha Declaration, European countries proposed to reduce their emissions further up to 2020, and extended their Kyoto commitment up to 2020. However, draft of treaty to extend Kyoto Protocol on the reduction of emission levels, would be prepared in yet another environmental conference to be held in Paris in December 2015.

It is important to note that the United States had come out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2001. It was argued that with this treaty, the economic interests of USA would be hurt. Notwithstanding the argument of developing countries, especially India and China, they still have a low level of per capita emissions; USA's argument is that the member states should bring down their total emissions. This would mean that India, China, Brazil and other developing countries must reduce their total
emissions levels. But developing countries argued that this type of arrangement may doom their development aspirations.

Interestingly, China currently accounts for 29 per cent of world's emissions of GHG while the US is 15 per cent and India accounts for only 6 per cent. India has been arguing that any international treaty should be based on per capita emissions than the total emissions, because China's per capita emission of carbon dioxide is 6.2 tonnes, while in the US it is 17.6 tonnes. India's carbon dioxide emissions oxide is only 1.7 tonnes per capita.

Cracks in developing countries
As regards environmental issues, there are three types of countries. Maldives, Bangladesh etc are the countries which are low lying and impact of rise in the sea level will be first on these countries as parts of these countries may get submerged in the sea. Second set of countries comprise of Africa, Latin America etc, who are not so directly affected. However, they want economic aid to get rid of the menace of excessive emissions to adopt new technology for reduction in emissions.

The third set of countries are those which are aspiring for growth, such as India and China, which are not willing to immediately agree to reduce emissions, as the same may jeopardise their developmental efforts. That is why, smelling the possibility of treaty between China and the United States, India had disassociated from China's stand about a week before the agreement.

The reality is that in all previous conclaves, India and China were placed in the same category. Now, when China has reached an agreement with the US, India may also come under pressure to agree to reduce emissions. European countries, which are in any case in favour of environmental treaty, may try to take advantage of the new situation. India, where the efforts of industrialisation and development have just taken off, the new situation may put us in an awkward position.

Some people also believe that this agreement between USA and China may be a part of Chinese diplomacy to curb India's industrialisation prospects. India will have to tread very cautiously in the future in the forthcoming UNFCCC so that our industrial growth prospects are not hampered, while keeping its global commitment to reduce emission levels intact.

(The writer is Associate Professor, PGDAV College, Delhi University)