But a favourable climate for India

Written by Kirtika Suneja | Updated: Dec 11 2011, 07:30am hrs
It is no mean feat that India has partially had its way at the 17th Conference Of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban by making the issue of equity a prerequisite of any legally binding treaty and being included on the agenda of all future talks. From being considered a hurdle in the talks due to its inflexible stance, New Delhi has managed to a strike a deal on its own conditions. The two-week-long talks are likely to finalise a massive fund to help poor countries cope with climate change and indications are strong that the conference could end with an agreement to begin the next phase in a battle to control heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

The talks have moved forward, where India is concerned with India willing to negotiate on mitigation issues once its three tenets of equity, intellectual property and trade are taken care of.

Even as all cards were stacked against the Durban talks for the extension of the Kyoto Protocol, the world was sceptical of any positive results emerging. Despite the apprehensions, major negotiating countries have slightly budged from their positions.

So while India had followed a hardline approach, it has now agreed to discuss mitigation, whereas major developing countries of Brazil and South Africa (who are also a part of BASIC) have acceded to binding emissions cuts after 2020. The EU plan has set a 2015 target date for a new deal that would impose binding cuts on the worlds biggest emitters of the heat-trapping gases, a pact that would come into force up to five years later. The US also insists that the agreement be equally legally binding on all major emitters that is, if the US and the EU take on legal commitments, so must China.

The Indian response has increased the chances of the global ministerial level talks on climate change yielding clear solutions, as China too said it favoured legally binding carbon emissions cuts.

Without a response based on equity, we cannot solve the problem. Architecture we create and promote should be based on recognition of these fundamental principles. Equity is absolutely central to the climate change debate, environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan said on the sidelines of the Durban talks. She is heading the Indian delegation to the talks this year.

Throughout the talks, the minister reiterated that issues related to finance, technology transfer, adaptation and REDD+ are key deliverables for the Durban conference, besides operationalisation of the Cancun decisions. As part of the Cancun agreement of 2010, developed countries had agreed to set up a technology mechanism and networks of climate technology centres, along with fast track finance of $30 billion till 2012, and a long-term climate fund of $100 billion.

New Delhi has avoided international pressure on taking mitigation targets and instead is more keen on adaptation. Also, unlike the last two summits, India has been insisting on greater binding commitments from developed countries before beginning to discuss the developed countries demand for mandatory action by all nations on limiting global warming.

However, with a slight change in stance of the two largest growing economiesChina and Indiathe European Union has proposed a road map towards a new accord that seeks to replace the Kyoto Protocol and would take effect after 2020.

Almost two decades ago, countries joined an international treaty called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to cooperatively consider what they could do to limit average global temperature increases and the resulting climate change, and to cope with whatever impacts were, by then, inevitable. This was in 1992, and by 1995, countries realised that emission reduction provisions in the convention were inadequate. They launched negotiations to strengthen the global response to climate change, and two years later, adopted the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol is the only legally binding treaty the world presently has to combat climate change and legally binds developed countries to emission reduction targets. The Protocols first commitment period started in 2008 and ends in 2012.

So crucial are the Durban talks that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all countries to resolve political differences, the worldwide financial crisis and a divergence of priorities among rich and poor countries that are barriers to an agreement on a future negotiating path.

We must be realistic about expectations for a breakthrough in Durban. The ultimate goal for a comprehensive and binding climate change agreement may be beyond our reach for now. We must keep up the momentum, he said.

During the Durban talks, the industrial countries, led by the EU, insisted on revising the 20-year-old division of the world into rich and poor nations with two levels of responsibilityrich countries are legally bound to reduce carbon emissions, while developing countries take voluntary actions.

In fact, the EU won an endorsement from an alliance of small islands and the world's poorest countries for its proposal to start negotiations now on a deal to take effect after 2020. Under the EU proposal, all countries would be equally accountable for their global-warming actions. Also, the EU has said it will not renew its emissions reduction pledges, which expire in one year, unless all countries agree to launch negotiations on a new treaty that would equally oblige all countries, including the worlds two largest polluters, the US and China, to control their emissions. Though the US has never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, it has made voluntary efforts to reduce emissions.

No one can question the importance of a legally binding treaty at this point of time, but it is laudable that Indias concerns over equity will find mention in future negotiations and its true victory would be if it is accepted in the work programme ahead agreed to in Durban.