India should insist that developed nations take the lead with substantial emission reductions, in line with the IPCC recommendations. Any non-binding agreement committing all nations without distinction should be rejected.

It is a measure of the current state of global climate negotiations that the only point on which all nations are likely to agree is that the prospects of an agreement at Copenhagen are far from bright. The moral and ethical imperative to reach an agreement has never been stronger. Paradoxically though, climate change negotiations have become progressively more difficult even as the scientific evidence underscoring the need for global action has been mounting.

The reasons for this difficulty are not in the realm of rocket science. As the realities of the scope and extent of mitigation action required have sunk in, many developed nations have increasingly balked at undertaking the necessary effort. Global environmental governance has been made subservient to short-term economic interests, particularly in the United States. They have balked at delivering the finance necessary for global adaptation action. Insisting on a rigid intellectual property rights regime as the basis for any climate change related technology transfer arrangement, the ‘North’ has sought to preserve its economic hegemony in emerging green technologies. The U.S., while rejecting the Kyoto Protocol, effectively set itself against the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” by insisting that it would sign no emission reduction commitment unless the major developing economies were on board.

Developing nations on the other hand have become increasingly frustrated as they see the absence of agreement driving them to increasingly tougher choices in development. The more industrialised among them still have considerable room for manoeuvre, though they will face a considerable shortfall in the ‘carbon space’ needed for their development. The rest face the prospect of bearing the brunt of climate change impacts with very little assistance or resources.

Specifically in the arena of climate negotiations, since the Bali summit two years ago several developed nations, led by the United States, have substantially ignored their responsibility to take the lead in mitigation efforts. Their energies have instead been directed at drawing the entire world into mitigation efforts with specific targets. The distinction between developed and developing nations is constantly sought to be eroded through clever technical stratagems such as a common schedule of mitigation actions by all nations. According to one of the more bizarre proposals, all developing nations would have to specify their low-carbon pathways by signing on to specific, detailed, “ambitious” mitigation targets (formally defined as deviation from business-as-usual), to be specified for every decade. From the perspective of the economics of development, such specifications belong to the domain of astrology.

In Kyoto-Protocol-related negotiations, many developed nations have focussed on delaying specific action on emissions reduction commitments for the next phase that commences in 2013. Several developed nation signatories to the Kyoto Protocol, led by Japan, have campaigned to scrap the Protocol itself. The disinformation campaign by the advanced nations has reached such heights that the global media have bought wholesale into the patent untruth that the Kyoto Protocol will come to an end in 2012.

A comprehensive view of the developed nations’ agenda suggests that they wish to evolve a global climate mitigation order where their interests are preserved, which will be run on their terms, which will be supervised by them. The developing countries understandably have taken a dim view of such proposals and have been kept busy rebutting them. Meanwhile, the core issues of sharp emission reductions by developed nations and concrete progress on finance and technology transfer are increasingly being lost sight of.

The North’s agenda is increasingly being driven by the climate laggards in their ranks. Australia (in denial of climate change until recently and as yet unable to get a carbon credit system going), South Korea, Japan, and Canada have all been extremely active and often quite obviously acting in tandem with the U.S.

Most recently, the United States has been the moving spirit behind suggestions for an agreement at Copenhagen that will explicitly set aside — at one stroke — both the Kyoto Protocol and the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” In this proposal, put forward formally by the Danish Prime Minister, all countries would make their own commitments as they deemed appropriate, which would then be collected in one single document. Further negotiations would then take place to convert these commitments into a legally binding agreement.

It is evident that this process would erase the difference between nations in terms of historical responsibility for emissions. There are further dangers if such an agreement is not effectively converted to a legally binding treaty. The burial of legally binding commitments by developed nations would endanger the entire process of guaranteeing emissions reductions where they matter most. However, developing countries in need of financial assistance and technology would be held to their commitments, even beyond specific project-linked assistance. This would effectively shift the burden of legally binding commitments to the developing countries.

What is the minimum that India should insist on at Copenhagen? The first key issue is the preservation of the integrity, in substance, of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol provides the only framework for mitigation action where developed nations have to take the lead and undertake legally binding commitments. India should unambiguously reject non-binding agreements of the kind suggested by the United States or variants that violate the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.”

Secondly, in line with the Kyoto Protocol, the developed countries need to take the lead with specific quantitative commitments for emissions reductions (without carbon offsets) consistent with the recommendations of the IPCC (25-40 per cent reduction of annual emissions below 1990 levels and 90 per cent reduction below 1990 levels by 2050). Developed countries outside the Kyoto Protocol need to be brought into the ambit of similar commitments by suitable means.

Thirdly, developing countries cannot be expected to favour only market solutions to a range of climate-related problems, including adaptation, mitigation, finance, and technology transfer. All nations have a right to the economic and social institutions of their choice to combat global warming.

Fourthly, technology transfer needs to be led by state-level interventions and green technologies need to be treated as global public goods. Finance must also be primarily routed through multilateral institutions under the aegis of the UNFCCC. But we need to ensure that conditionalities for climate finance do not effectively become legally binding commitments for emission reductions.

As a quid pro quo to developed nations taking the lead, the large developing countries need to come on board with declared voluntary actions. Many of them are already undertaking some mitigation action as well as announcing significant voluntary targets. It is unexceptionable that the large developing economies need to do their share by shifting to a sustainable, low-carbon path of development. But until such time as the developed countries stabilise their climate mitigation trajectories in line with the IPCC recommendations, the emerging economies cannot accept monitoring, reporting, and verification of their voluntary actions, or other means to convert them into legally binding commitments.

Regrettably, in the run-up to Copenhagen, the strategy of the Government of India has been beset by confusion. Most recently, the official statement by the Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, that India would be ready to submit the outcomes of its domestic mitigation actions to “international consultations” has given rise to fresh concerns that India is going too far in accommodating the developed nations. The government has not seen it fit to conduct adequate consultations with Parliament, political parties, and civil society on India’s climate strategy ahead of the summit. In this situation, we can only await with concern the outcome of Copenhagen and the manner in which India’s interests are articulated there by the government.

(Dr. T. Jayaraman is chairperson of the Centre for Science, Technology and Society, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.)

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