The United Nations Climate Conference at Cancun has done well to strengthen the multilateral process and restore much-needed momentum to negotiations on one of the biggest challenges faced by all countries. The preceding summit at Copenhagen dealt a severe blow to consensus-building by allowing rich countries to dominate the proceedings but Mexico has commendably steered the discussions at Cancun, providing an opportunity to the developing world to articulate its concerns. No major breakthrough was expected but the outcome of the conference is forward-looking. Two important decisions set the stage for measures to be taken beyond 2012, when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends. Under the Cancun Agreements, the targets set by industrialised countries for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions are recognised as part of the multilateral process. They must now draw up low-carbon development plans and strategies and also report their inventories annually. In the case of developing countries, actions for emissions reduction will be recognised officially; a registry will record and match their mitigation actions to finance and technology support from rich countries; and they will report their progress every two years. These form a good preamble for target-setting for all member-countries under an agreed framework at Durban next year.

India's Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh has suggested at the Cancun conference, apparently taking the long view, that some form of binding cuts on carbon emissions would have to be accepted by all countries in legal form. It would be wrong to read too much into this statement, since India has not acceded to any agreement. Both India and China have responsibly recognised their absolute carbon emissions and pledged voluntarily to transit to a green development path. India wants to cut its intensity of emissions relative to GDP. There is a grand national solar power generation plan for 2022 and a goal to double the share of nuclear power in a decade. That is positive — but much more has to be done in policy terms to raise efficiency and reduce emissions in, say, building and transport. China backs up climate goals with active support for low carbon technology development. Beijing recognises quite rightly that carbon cannot be cheap and that the bar for efficiency must rise constantly. For perspective, it needs to be borne in mind that by one measure, the United States is responsible for 27 per cent of historical emissions and China for 9.5 per cent. This underscores the point that the U.S. must lead the developed world in technology transfer and funding through the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Only then will big players such as Japan and Russia, which have misgivings about a future role for the Kyoto Protocol, remain in the fold.

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