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Updated: October 7, 2009 15:02 IST

Copenhagen calling

RAVI CHELLAM
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Human hourglass Photo: AP Photo
AP Human hourglass Photo: AP Photo

Everybody is talking about the Copenhagen Summit. Why is it important? What does it hope to achieve?

The media has been filled with reports about the fast approaching Conference of Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), popularly referred to as the Climate Summit. Climate change is fast reaching a tipping point which is considered by many as a point of irreversible change, and hence deserves urgent action that will have a global impact. Despite the acute nature of the problem, political and other leaders have not provided the required leadership to effectively slow down and ideally reverse Climate Change.

This lack of leadership has confused many people. Let me try and explain the process of global negotiation which will come to a head in Copenhagen in a few weeks from now, the outcome of which will have an enduring impact on all our lives.

Post Rio Summit in 1992 saw some important multi-lateral environmental agreements (MEAs) being negotiated and signed. The UNFCCC belongs to this clutch of MEAs. The MEAs are negotiated by the governments of various countries through a process which is facilitated by the United Nations. The parties to each of the MEAs, national governments, meet at regular intervals and these meetings are called COPs. Since national governments often have to make binding international commitments at the COP and also report on commitments they had made in previous COPs, the latter are very important meetings. Since MEAs have to be signed and then ratified by each national government, the COP is attended by Parties to the convention (national governments which have signed and ratified the MEA), observer states (countries which are still to ratify the MEA), UN organisations and observers which are typically research institutions and NGOs. The COPs are used for really hard negotiations and often nations consider only their narrow national short term benefits and not what is really needed long term globally.

Often there are important meetings held in the lead up to the COP in which countries with similar negotiating positions form groups which will strengthen their negotiating position. The ongoing meeting on Climate Change in Bangkok is a good example. Such negotiating rounds are used to reach broad agreements which are then fine tuned in the COP.

Unfortunately the lead up to COP 15 has been characterised by a totally insufficient recognition of the severity of the problem and a lack of consensus amongst countries about how to tackle Climate Change. It is clear that the COP is unlikely to yield a new global climate treaty even though it is time for one, as the Kyoto Protocol expires soon.

The writer is Country Director, Wildlife Conservation Society-India Program. You can mail him at:

rchellam@wcs.org

Questions we need to ask:

Despite this bleak outlook, at the very least, it is expected that answers to some crucial questions like the following will emerge from this COP, failing which not only will the COP be an utter failure, more importantly, the global environmental consequences are too stark to consider.

1. How much are the industrialised countries willing to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases?

2. How much are major developing countries such as China and India willing to do to limit the growth of their emissions?

3. How is the help needed by developing countries to engage in reducing their emissions and adapting to the impact of climate change, to be financed?

4. How is the money to be managed?

Carbon Footprint

The total set of greenhouse gas (GHG); carbon-di-oxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone; emissions caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organisation, event or product is commonly called `carbon footprint'. This is often expressed as tonnes of carbon-di-oxide equivalent (tCO2e).

Virtually all human activities cause GHG emission, agriculture, industrial production, deforestation, burning of any fuel, transport as well as disposal of waste. It is important to remember that each of us is responsible for GHG emission and hence climate change. To calculate a reliable carbon footprint it is mandatory to follow a structured process to identify, classify and quantify all possible sources of GHG emissions thoroughly.

Typically there are three major categories of GHG emissions:

Direct emissions that result from activities that are controlled by the organisation/individual.

Emissions from the use of electricity.

Indirect emissions from the use of products and services.

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