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Lima failure was foretold. A robust climate change regime must be based on equity

Updated: December 18, 2014 12:19:06 am
The UNFCCC clearly recognised a differential historical responsibility for climate change on the part of developed countries. The UNFCCC clearly recognised a differential historical responsibility for climate change on the part of developed countries.

By Shyam Saran

Yet another depressing charade played out at Lima, Peru, where the 20th conference of the parties (COP) to the United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) concluded on December 14, with a 43-page negotiating text, with several alternative formulations for virtually every provision. It is unlikely that, within the deadline set by the Paris COP in December 2015, an agreed text will be negotiated, especially since Lima has further heightened the mistrust and bitterness between the developed and developing countries.

Since the 15th COP in Copenhagen (2009), each subsequent meet, in Cancun (2010), Durban (2011), Doha (2012), Warsaw (2013) and now Lima, has moved the international community farther away from the original intent of the UNFCCC and the Bali Action Plan, adopted at the 13th COP in 2007. There has been a veritable war of attrition, aimed at eviscerating the UNFCCC, erasing the distinction between developed and developing countries in assuming responsibilities to tackle climate change and focusing almost exclusively on the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, relegating to lower priority other associated challenges of adapting to climate change, including the provision of financial resources and technology transfer, which are of equal interest to developing countries.

India is frequently accused of  obstructing international consensus on tackling climate change. In fact, India and other developing countries have only insisted that developed countries deliver on their commitments, enshrined in the UNFCCC, and not cherry-pick from the package of measures all countries agreed on at the Bali COP in 2007. This package, including mitigation (emission reduction), adaptation (to climate change), finance and technology (to enable developing countries’ climate change action), was designed to “enhance” the implementation of the principles and provisions of the UNFCCC and not to negotiate a new climate change treaty. This “enhanced action” was prompted by the sense of urgency and the scale of threat conveyed in the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is responsible for providing the best scientific evaluation of trends in global climate change. Based on a scientifically determined scale of global effort required to address climate change and its consequences, multilateral negotiations are to be undertaken to ensure equitable burden-sharing among developed and developing countries. The achievement of agreed targets would be subject to a strict international compliance procedure. That is what the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 was all about. The UNFCCC clearly recognised a differential historical responsibility for climate change on the part of developed countries. It also recognised that climate change action by developing countries would need to be “enabled” by finance and technology from developed countries. When India and other developing countries insist these commitments are kept, they are criticised as recalcitrant and unreasonable.

The Copenhagen summit jettisoned the notion of multilateral negotiations to determine the respective commitments of states parties, based on equitable burden-sharing. Instead, it introduced the concept of “pledge and review”, with each country voluntarily putting forward its national targets and subjecting them to “international consultation and analysis”, but with no compliance procedure. The Copenhagen Accord blurred the distinction between developed and developing countries. The latter also agreed to register their “voluntary” mitigation efforts. For example, India pledged that it would reduce the energy intensity of its growth by 20-25 per cent by 2020, compared to 2010. Now, all countries are only obliged to make voluntary commitments in the form of intended nationally determined contributions (INDC), subject to no compliance mechanism and with no reference to what is needed at the aggregate level to dispel the climate threat.

The UNFCCC recognised the right of developing countries to accord overriding priority to poverty eradication and economic and social development. At Cancun, this was limited to “equitable access to sustainable development”.

The Durban Platform called for an agreed outcome that would be “applicable to all countries”. The  usual reference to the very important equity formulation —  common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities, or the CBDR principle — was missing from the main declaration. And now at Lima, the CBDR principle has an ominous qualification added to it — “in the light of different national circumstances” — a very convenient escape route indeed.

The UNFCCC committed developed countries to provide adequate finances from public sources to developing countries to enable climate change action, although private financial flows and even philanthropic funds are welcome as supplements. The latter cannot be a substitute for public funds. At Copenhagen, this financial commitment was diluted by putting public funds and private capital funds at the same level, and the much touted Green Fund has barely $10 billion in pledges.

On technology transfer, the US and other Western countries took the position, fairly early on in the negotiations, that it was unrealistic to expect them to provide proprietary technologies, which are in private hands, to developing countries. Suggestions from India and other developing countries, that these proprietary technologies be leased or purchased through international funding and made available as global public goods, were studiously ignored. In fact, developed countries wish to benefit their own companies by creating a market for climate-friendly technologies in the developing world.

Developing countries, including India, have repeatedly acquiesced to this attrition process because of pressures to uphold the international consensus and avoid being branded as dealbreakers. In fact, it is mostly the developed countries that have been dealbreakers and guilty of systematically hollowing the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol. Now that the US has plenty of shale gas to replace coal-based thermal power, its climate warriors are busy portraying India as the main culprit for the climate crisis, because much of its power comes from coal. The recent US-China climate deal is no deal at all because by 2030, each country will have a per capita carbon emission of 12-14 tonnes. India’s current per capita emission is 4.1 tonnes and likely to go up to seven to eight tonnes by 2030, still about half of the US and China figure. Our total emissions are barely 6 per cent of the global figure, compared to over 23 per cent for China and 14-15 per cent for the US.

Therefore, in the run up to Paris, India need not be defensive. Along with other developing countries, it should insist on its rights under the UNFCCC and dare to accept failure of negotiations rather than settle for a weak and ineffective climate change regime. We have been complicit in the relentless devaluation of our interests. Ambitious climate change action and promotion of renewable energy is in our own national interest. But this must be accompanied by an energetic and focused negotiating stance to ensure a robust climate change regime based on equity. An iniquitous regime, which shifts the burden of meeting the challenge of climate change to the shoulders of already vulnerable developing countries like India, courts a costly failure in the long run.

The writer is a former foreign secretary and was India’s chief negotiator on climate change from 2008-2010

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