CoP out in New Delhi

THE EIGHTH MEETING of the Conference of Parties (COP-8) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that will conclude in New Delhi today has heard many speeches with little commitment on concrete action to arrest global warming. It has also been a high-level meeting where India, the host country, has played a less than distinguished role in the proceedings of the conference. The Delhi meeting was not expected to result in any legally binding agreements on climate change, but the tone and content of the discussions at COP-8 send out troubling signals that Governments are not showing any urgency to combat climate change.

With the passing of each year, the signs of changes in the weather — global warming leading to alteration of rainfall and temperature patterns — are becoming more and more apparent. There can now no longer be any doubt that the world is in the midst of climate change. Since it will take decades to reverse the process, there is a need for immediate action. Yet, consider the progress in operationalising and implementing the UNFCCC. The Convention was drawn up in 1992; but it was not until 1997 that the Kyoto Protocol of the Convention was negotiated with what is considered a weak goal of a 5 per cent reduction over 1990 levels in the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by 2008-2012. In 1998, the Buenos Aires Plan of Action was agreed upon to operationalise the protocol. But with the U.S. deciding to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol, a Bonn Declaration had to be negotiated in 2001 to breathe new life into the UNFCCC. That has not materially changed the pace of implementation since the Kyoto Protocol has not yet come into force. According to the agreement, the protocol becomes operational once 55 countries have ratified it, including Annex I (broadly developed) countries accounting for 55 per cent of emissions in 1990. So far, Annex I countries accounting for only 37 per cent of global emissions have ratified the agreement. Some major polluters like Russia are yet to ratify the Protocol. This means that just five years before the end of the "first commitment period", the Kyoto Protocol is still not a legally binding international agreement. In the meanwhile, global emissions are in the aggregate growing and not coming down. In 2000, emissions of GHGs by the member-countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development were 8 per cent higher than in 1990. With such indifference to a global agreement to combat climate change, it is no wonder that COP-8 has been reduced to a talking shop about some of the mechanisms for implementing the Kyoto Protocol.

The convening of a COP for the first time in a major developing country was supposed to provide the context for a focus on the unique problems faced by the world's poor countries in coping with climate change. Yet, the astonishing fact is that India has drafted a declaration on climate change that is to be issued by the conference which makes no mention whatsoever of the Kyoto Protocol and its implementation. It is a shame that India has put forward a declaration that has been roundly criticised by the least developed countries, the small island nations (many of which will be submerged by a rise in the sea level unless global warming is reversed) and by the European Union, all of whom refused to endorse the declaration in its original form. Not surprisingly, the only two countries to have praised the draft are the U.S. (which continues to oppose the Kyoto Protocol) and Saudi Arabia (which as a major exporter of crude oil has always been critical of efforts to control GHG emissions). At whose behest and why India put together such a declaration is not known for sure. It required the inaugural speech of the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, at the high-level segment of COP-8 to dispel fears that India was back-pedalling on its known position on the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. A compromise will eventually be worked out. But the damage has been done and in the future not many countries will believe that India is sincere about its support for global efforts to combat climate change.

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