United we stand: Developed countries & Copenhagen
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Last Updated: Wednesday, December 09, 2009, 22:03
United we stand at CopenhagenAjith Vijay Kumar

The world is abuzz with ‘can do’ fervor in the run up to the Copenhagen Climate Summit. A summit so important – as per the believers – that the very future of our world is at stake when heads of states from 85 countries meet this winter.

Although on the face of it, the world is still where it was – strictly divided between the developed and the developing, the haves and the have-nots - when the Kyoto Protocol passed in 1997.

Trouble spots remain, be it temperature targets, emission cuts, Kyoto, funding, carbon crediting etc.

But the fact remains that lines have blurred since. Now it’s more about paying up for your follies, it doesn’t matter whether you do the favours in cash or in kind, there’s a ready audience for everything.

And busy mastering this new approach is the developed world led by Uncle Sam. The developing countries have also, although a bit reluctantly, now started to tread the same path, albeit on a slightly different trajectory.

All hoping, that our worst fears, as a civilization, don’t come true.

The points of friction:

Temperature Targets

The developed countries led by the US and the EU – the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases – are at odds with the developing countries, especially the island countries like Maldives and Tuvalu over cap on the increase in global temperatures.

The developed world feels that a realistic target of keeping the temperature within two degree Celsius of pre-industrialization levels is the way to go and should be agreed upon at Copenhagen.

On the other hand, the island states – Maldives is on an average just 7 ft above sea level -and even countries like India, which has more than half of its population living by the coast, are very wary of any further increase in global temperatures. They want it to be capped at 1.5 degree Celsius, by way of reduction in global carbon emissions.

Why 2 degree Celsius? Although, any increase in temperature will have its set of adverse effects but as per many climate scientists – later adopted by politicians from the developed countries - the changes in the global ecosystem due to rising temperatures will be irreversible beyond two degree Celsius. It is the ‘threshold’ for dangerous climate change.

Sample this: It’s predicted that a two degree Celsius increase in temperature would ensure that an additional one billion people will suffer water shortages. The developed countries are pledging at least two degree Celsius cap. Let’s be realistic.

Emission Cut Targets

The most deliberated point in the climate debate is emission cut targets. The rich countries hope that the world arrives at a broad consensus on emission cuts to ward off climate change ill effects.

But the developing world wants the rich states to do much more than what they expect the developing world to do and also pay them for any reduction in emissions. The figures going around before Copenhagen include cuts of 25-45 percent by 2020 and of 80-95 percent by 2050 for the biggest polluters like US and China.

On a broader sphere, the developing world, principally, wants to seal the debate on per capita emissions, while the rich countries want it in a way of the ‘total emissions from a country’.

The rich, including the US, favour an ‘implementing agreement’, which allows a country to decide its own goals and also on ways to reach them according to domestic laws which are not legally binding internationally.

The developed nations have in fact went ahead and announced cuts by way of slowing down on the increase in the carbon emissions.

The EU has pledged a 20% cut below 1990 levels by 2020 and further to 30% if other rich countries make comparable cuts. Japan has pledged a 25% cut below 1990 levels by 2020.

Canada and Australia have also pledged 3% and 11% cut respectively below 1990 levels.

But the sticking point is that these developed countries also want to enforce binding cuts on other major polluters like India (CO2 emissions) and Brazil-Indonesia (deforestation).

Indian point of view: We are ready to slow down growth for the larger good, but won’t take any legally binding cuts; it has to be voluntary for the developing world.

Why 1990 as baseline? The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997, had set binding targets for 37 industrialised countries and the EU at an average of 5% by comparing them with the emission levels of 1990, over the five-year period 2008-2012.

As of November 2009, 187 states have signed and ratified the protocol. The most notable non-member of the Protocol is the US. Then US President George W Bush had argued that a 5% reduction, as mandated by the Protocol, would ‘wreck the American economy’.

However, since 1997, emissions in Europe and Russia have fallen, while emissions in other major economies have increased by a considerable amount.

Europe and Russia therefore argue for keeping the 1990 base year. Others like US, China, Australia and Canada prefer 2005, as calculations with it as the baseline means that they are pledging a cut in upwards of 20%.

US & China: The US and China – the top two polluters – have made quite a splash by announcing ‘cap’ on emissions in the run up to the Copenhagen Summit. But the fact remains that they are also calculating their pledged cuts based on 2005 levels.

The US has announced 17% cut in emissions below 2005 levels by 2020 – amounting to a mere 3% with 1990 as baseline.

Countries of the developing block like China, Brazil and Indonesia have announced a reduction in its energy intensity per unit of GDP by 40-45% by 2020 - energy intensity, a measure of how many kgs of CO2 is produced for every dollar of GDP.

Coming in late, India too has now announced a 20-25% cut in its energy intensity by 2020.

Effectively, meaning that most developed and developing countries want the Kyoto Protocol to be all but forgotten, and that the world starts the climate debate afresh.

However, most developing countries want to stick to the Kyoto Protocol framework, which made no specific demands on them, but required 37 developed nations to cut greenhouse gas.

The debate is open: Copenhagen must decide whether to amend-extend the Kyoto agreement (as it expires in 2012) or bring in an entirely new way of looking at the subject.
India’s position

And, here stands India –world’s sixth biggest polluter in absolute terms.

Our PM has now, finally, agreed to attend the Copenhagen Summit.

It’s clear that India like China and US is trying to showcase its voluntary reductions, hoping to fend off pressure that awaits it at Copenhagen.

But now fears have emerged that India might have actually diluted its position and is now more vulnerable to “global pressure” tactics.

Why? India has climbed down from its insistence that it will not impose any sort of legal or otherwise, binding cuts on itself, until others don’t do enough or provide compensation.

Moreover, by taking a unilateral pledge to cut emissions, we have also, in a way, accepted that the Kyoto framework is dead.

Although the government denies it, but India seems to be losing its valid argument that the developed world is trying to use climate change as a shield for its trade protectionist beliefs. It’s true that if the developing world cuts emissions – and curbs growth – in the same proportion as the industrialized countries, then the chasm prevailing between the two will also linger on.

As Sunita Narain, director of the Centre for Science and Environment puts it, “We agree India should work to make its economy less carbon intensive, but we’re worried India’s domestic target may be misused by the industrialised countries to dismantle the global climate agreement.”

“These (industrialised) countries would like the goalpost of the international climate agreement changed — from rich countries taking legally binding commitments to all (countries) taking voluntary domestic commitments,” Narain said.

Moreover, fears about a sell out by India get accentuated as we are being seen by the same prism with China, conveniently forgetting that China has already built up its infrastructure and also has a large manufacturing sector, which already has high energy intensity. So in that sense, it is only offering a small dip.

On the other hand, India`s energy intensity is bound to rise as its economy grows. Will we be in a position to fuel our growth? Yes, we can says Jairam Ramesh, as our growth is focused on the services sector as against China’s focus on manufacturing, hence we have that little bit more of leg room…hmmm.

Planning Commission Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia chips in with, "If we grow at 8%, intensity will go down by 30% but emissions will expand. We cannot reduce per capita emissions. There can be global goals on energy intensity but no emission caps. We have a God given right to produce GDP, but emission intensity can be benchmarked."

The Economics

Emails and documents leaked recently from some of the world`s leading climatologists offer evidence that they were massaging the data to keep the dooms day scenario seem real and of course to keep the money tap open. But notwithstanding such deviations, it is getting clearer by the day that the climate change debate is turning to be more about the economics of the whole deal.

The developing countries want their developed partners to take the blame for the mess the Earth is in and also, correspondingly, pay up to get things back in shape. And – being fair to the rich – the industrialized nations are ready to pay up, albeit not to the extent the developing ones are expecting.

The US, UK, France, the EU as a whole, and even business magnates like Richard Branson have committed billions of dollars, but the fear remains that it is too little and a bit too late.

The rich also want the developing countries to do their bit and commit some money and of course slow down the growth in their emissions.

The EU, for example, has calculated that poor countries will need around 148 billion dollars per year in funding by 2020 to control climate change.

However, the developing nations say that the EU proposal is half to a third of the actual sum needed. They want the rich countries to commit as much as 1% of their GDP for the climate initiative – to be spent in developing world to help it cope with the changing climate and threat to livelihoods.

The emerging countries – except the Gulf states - also expect the technologically advanced countries to transfer green technology for free; something which is not going down well with countries in the EU and the US. After all, their business sense says: “make the moolah, even if it is at the cost our existence”.

The Gulf countries’ concern is on a different tangent. They fear that their oil-based economies will suffer if the world starts to aggressively develop green technologies and thus want compensation!
Advantage ‘developed world’ at Copenhagen

Let’s acknowledge; the developed world has played its cards well in the run up to the very important Copenhagen Summit. They would be out there in numbers, with US President Barack Obama leading from the front with his ‘teleprompter supported’ eloquent speeches about the need to do more, about the need to save the world…

They are coming to the summit with something constructive on the table. Most of them – conveniently feigning ignorance about having known anything called Kyoto Protocol -have announced cuts in emissions by 2020 and also pledged money to the tune of billons of dollars to help offset the impact of climate change.

And when we consider the coup de grace of having China break away from the developing world lobby and announce unilateral action towards reducing carbon emissions- later followed by other torchbearers of the cause of the developing world; the rich have for sure won round one.

The US, as expected cannot hide its glee and sense of triumph of having finally overcome the Kyoto wrangle and proved to the world, once again…who the boss is.

John Kerry, the man behind the Kerry-Boxer bill in the US Congress that aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 83 percent by 2050 and 20 percent over the next decade from 2005 levels says, “The recent emission cut announcements made by China and India is a result of US President Barack Obama`s personal talks with the leaders of these two countries.”
But, given the deadlock the world is in regarding the climate debate, what more can we expect from the developed world. They are cutting emissions, they are paying up the poor, they are not averse to some sort of legal framework on the issue by next year…what more?

Even UN chief Ban Ki-Moon appears to be buoyed by what is thought to be a success, with him asserting that a deal is ‘within sight’ at Copenhagen.

The developed countries are united. All their plans have the same central core – to cut emissions in the short term and pay up for the rest…so that others keep their mouths shut.

But, what’s wrong in that? After all, it will surely have some positive impact on global climate…every single effort matters in view of the enormous challenge the world faces.

Yes we have our issues, but all said and done; India needs to do its bit to tackle the problem, as we, more than anybody else, know what it may mean to have a failed monsoon.
Now it all depends on how we position ourselves in the debate. A little hard stance, you will have Obama frowning at you, a little softer than required could mean we have, although unwittingly, caved in.

If a permanent seat at the UN Security Council is what we are aiming at by joining the ‘Big Boys’ on the issue, then our sensibilities are for sure not in league with the reality. Instead, joining the world for the sake of saving our planet could well just do the trick.

As UN chief Ban Ki-Moon puts it, “We have less than 10 years to halt the global rise in greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avoid catastrophic consequences for people and the planet. It is, simply, the greatest collective challenge we face as a human family.”

First Published: Wednesday, December 09, 2009, 22:03

(The views expressed by the author are personal)
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