Cancun & the climate ‘standstill’

Updated: Nov 28, 2010, 13:57 PM IST

Ajith Vijay Kumar

Hope and gloom, sugar and spice seldom coexist as perfectly as it is with the annual climate change jamboree. Kyoto, Poznan, Copenhagen, the roving spectacle keeps travelling across continents; promising a better, greener tomorrow.

This time the pit-stop is Cancun, Mexico, where the erudite from 194 countries are gathering to deliberate further on who’s responsible for the mess and more importantly, who should pay for it and how much.

That done, if there is still more time at hand and there’s nothing else to do, then they will probably flip through the damning reports about an impending climate change disaster, that, it is feared, will push millions back to poverty.

It may reek of pessimism, the habit of always ‘holding the wrong end of the stick’, but if one goes by empirical evidence, that’s all we can expect in return for the thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases that the climate “negotiators” would themselves generate for taking part in the newest carnival in town.

With the key issue – credible action to negate climate change - remaining fudged and it being unlikely that countries would move an inch from their stated positions, here’s a look at all that will make news and would probably constitute as success.

The moolah

As per the Copenhagen Accord, the developed countries have promised USD 100 billion a year of climate financing. Building on that promise is the report by the UN High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing, released earlier this month, which detailed how the rich can make good on their financial pledges to help poor countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change.

Put together by leading economists, heads of states and finance ministers, the report finds that a carbon price of USD 20-25 for each tonne of CO2 emitted is required to raise funding in the amounts required, which would include a tax on aviation and shipping.

The panel hopes that this formula, besides providing incentives for reducing emissions in industrialised countries, would also offer a potentially huge source of finance for poor countries.

But the fact remains that the good-thinking UN’s ideas may remain just that if not agreed upon by those who have to cough up the money and also from those who would have to take the climate blame on their heads in lieu of the bounty.

And the rest…

Apart from the Reduced Emissions from Degradation and Deforestation (REDD) negotiations, which seem to be have gathered traction with most stakeholders, little forward movement can be expected on other contentious issues:

Emission targets: The biggest stakeholders – the US-led West and India-China – don’t see eye-to-eye on this. Forget about reducing emissions to 1990 levels, the only realistic question which remains is whether anybody cares?

Mitigation: Surely, the next best option after actual reduction in emissions. If can’t cut the carbon, why not reduce its intensity – reducing the amount of carbon generated for each percentage point growth in GDP.

Many countries including India and China had promised at Copenhagen that they would start investing more in green technologies.

But, besides being able to light up their street with CFL lamps, can the developing world do anything substantial without financially viable transfer of critical technology is the big concern. The West has to walk-the-talk and come clean on this.

Adaptation: If not mitigation, then at least decide on putting more money into R&D so that the world is better prepared for the impending disaster. After all, if it comes to that, we have to start learning how to sustain ourselves on rationed air and water. Do they realise it, let’s see…

From the ‘can do’ fervour surrounding Copenhagen, to Cancun’s ‘do something’, as our very own green crusader Jairam Ramesh puts it, “nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to”.

The world community awaits an answer from itself.

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