In any reasonable reckoning, the outcome of the 17th meeting of the Committee of Parties (COP) of the United Framework Convention on Climate Change at Durban was a triumph for European climate diplomacy, placing it firmly once again in the position of a global climate leader. In the run-up to Durban, Europe had offered to support a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol in exchange for a “road map” that would point the way towards a legally binding agreement on mitigating global warming that would involve all parties. Precisely that agenda was realised with the establishment of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action — which is charged with producing, by 2015, a suitably ambitious “protocol, legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force,” to enter into force by 2020. In exchange, a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol is now on board, even if its exact duration and the extent of commitment of the developed countries remain to be negotiated in the coming year. At Durban, the European Union succeeded in putting together a substantial coalition, including the small island states, the least developed and some other developing countries, and the emerging economies of Brazil and South Africa, behind a climate agenda that is, in scientific terms, unambitious in its mitigation goals and clearly aimed at passing the climate burden on to the large developing countries.
It is clear that India was unprepared for the groundswell of support for a compact to deliver a global climate agreement binding on all nations. The Manmohan Singh government, egged on to intransigence by significant sections of civil society, sent a delegation that had no positive mandate, alienating it from all those countries whose interests lie in an early climate agreement. India, together with China, which was supportive of India throughout the meeting, was more or less isolated. The strategic mishandling of Durban is evident from the fact that after opposing for two weeks the very idea of an ‘agreement to have an agreement,' India finally assented to the Durban Platform without even the token inclusion of any of its core concerns such as equity. Repeated references to the principle without any attempt to put more flesh and bones on it made India appear more of a querulous holdout than a champion of developing country concerns. New Delhi has its work cut out in preparing for the tough negotiations due to commence next year. It needs to make up the ground ceded at COP 17. At a more fundamental level, it is high time the government realised that the interests of the 1.2 billion people that it so frequently invokes at climate negotiations lie as much in an early climate agreement as in adequate access to global atmospheric space, and grasped the complexity of translating this into negotiating realities.