The 19th Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (CoP 19), which began on Monday in Poland, marks a crucial milestone towards negotiating an effective global warming treaty. At CoP 19, the fault lines remain the same: industrialised countries would like to see a significant cut in global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), while developing nations are prepared to reduce their carbon footprint only with financial and technical assistance from the West. Negotiators have given themselves two years to connect the dots on a comprehensive agreement when they meet in Paris in 2015. Predictably, this deadline has proven tough to meet. Most countries agree that it would be unrealistic to have the treaty prescribe the quantum of emission cuts. There seems to be broad support for the “bottom-up” approach, which would involve countries submitting voluntary commitments assessed and monitored for compliance by the treaty’s guardians. Even so, the devil is in the detail: the EU, for instance, will push for legally binding commitments to halve GHG emissions by 2050 in comparison to 1990 levels. The U.S. wants a mix of “legally and non-legally binding commitments.” The Obama administration has said it has no plans to ratify the Kyoto Protocol which imposes a binding emissions cut on developed countries.

For its part, India wants to retain the Kyoto Protocol’s preferential treatment of developing countries. Along with BASIC group members Brazil, China and South Africa, India has based its negotiating position on the principle of equity. New Delhi has made its climate commitments contingent on “mitigation actions” which would entail assistance to it in the form of “finance, technology transfer and capacity building measures”. The challenge for Indian negotiators at CoP 19 will be to secure these demands without being billed as a holdout to the treaty. India has already faced flak, rather unfairly, for its objection to bringing hydrofluorocarbons under the Montreal Protocol, as opposed to the UNFCCC. Meanwhile, fissures have shown up in the BASIC’s negotiating line as a whole. Last month, South Africa suggested the new treaty must include binding carbon cuts for all parties. The imperative of climate change — what with several natural disasters this year, and the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide having crossed 400 parts per million — is no doubt lending urgency to negotiations. India’s climate diplomacy must be aimed at dispelling the notion that it is reluctant to tackle global warming. Meanwhile, it must ensure Indian industry affordable access to western technology to meet our commitments effectively.

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