The Way Ahead at Copenhagen


Ashok Handoo

The rough road to Danish capital Copenhagen is getting paved, slowly. The signals emanating from Port of Spain, which hosted the just concluded Commonwealth Heads of Governments meeting (CHOGM) are encouraging. The consensus document issued at the end, speaks of the commitment of the 53-nation body to work for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, to deal with the challenge of climate change. The UN Secretary General, Ban ki-Moon says he believes that an agreement is in sight and has, in this hope, urged the leaders to seal a deal at Copenhagen next week. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the French President Nicholas Sarkozy share his views. All this optimism seems to be well placed. But some twists still remain. The interests of major developing countries have yet to be addressed appropriately.

India too has a major stake in the Copenhagen. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pointed out it would like to see a “balanced, equitable and ambitious” outcome. This requires a fair burden-sharing and focus on mitigation of emissions, adaptation to climate change and provision of finance and technology to the developing countries to let these actions be implemented.

Dr. Singh made it more than clear that India is interested to see a successful conference on climate change and that it has already initiated unilateral measures to reduce the emissions, under the National Action Plan. He also said that solar energy was being tapped to the maximum extent and several proposals received from different countries were being processed. India’s Environment Minister Shri Jairam Ramesh too has made a voluntary offer of reducing the emission levels by 20 percent. All this should dispel apprehensions, if any, about India’s keenness in dealing with the global challenge. New Delhi has however made it clear that it cannot accept any binding caps on emissions as that would slow down its growth rate.

The proposal mooted at Port of Spain, to launch a 10 billion dollar fund to help developing countries to cut greenhouse gasses is a welcome step, although economists say that about $300 billion will be needed for this purpose. The proposed fund would aim at giving incentives to the developing countries to stop deforestation, develop low carbon energy sources and prepare for the effects of warmer climate. The fund would cover the years 2010 to 12 and would make sure that the poor countries most affected by climate change, get the maximum help. But major developing countries apprehend that the financial aid would go to small island nations only. They certainly need utmost attention but other developing countries cannot be left aside.

Also, the money has to be upfront. As the UN Secretary General and the Danish Prime Minister pointed out, they wanted to see “money on the table” at the UN Conference. Obviously mere words won’t do. Though the French president, who attended CHOGAM as a guest, supported the proposal of setting up the fund, he did not commit the amount France would be contributing.
We all know about a similar agreement reached in 2001 to create a $410 million fund for the purpose but its implementation got mired in confusion created in the fine print of the agreement, leading to impediments in its execution. One hopes that this time there will be less of confusion and more of willing and adequate contributions. We must admit that adequate transfer of technologies and resources is the key to fight against climate change. As Gordon Brown put it “we face a climate emergency” and there is no time to wait.

China, India, Brazil and South Africa, seen as a “BASIC” block, are also working to forge a united front at the forthcoming conference. They want an extension of the Kyoto Protocol which the United States had refused to endorse. They also do not want to allow rich nations to make climate change an excuse to set up trade barriers. It is unfortunate that some developed countries are trying to junk the Kyoto Protocol to adopt protectionist policies. These have to be resisted. It is only appropriate that developed countries take legally binding emission cuts while the developing nations can take the responsibility for nationally appropriate mitigation actions. It must be kept in mind that contrary to the impression wrongly created, the Kyoto Protocol will not expire in 2012, which only marks the end to the first commitment period for developed countries to fulfill their legally binding obligations to reduce their emissions by specific quantified figures. The already existing trajectory, flowing from the Bali Action Plan, about the goals of the UN Framework Convention, needs to be followed. Let no one forget the 1992 Rio agreement which prescribed a path of sustainable development for the developing countries but said that they need to be assisted with technology and financial resources.

There is a need for putting in maximum efforts for as much convergence as possible towards a positive outcome. India has consistently maintained that it wants developed countries to take deeper cuts. World’s most industrialized nations have to make more efforts than developing nations because they have reached the present stage after polluting the atmosphere most. As the Prime Minister put it, “Climate change action based on perpetuation of poverty will simply not be sustainable” We need to create a situation where no nation should be obliged to choose between development and reduction in gasses.

It is in this context that nuclear energy is so crucial for countries like India. Fortunately, the US and other countries have realized this and the Indo-US nuclear deal is on the right track. India has already signed agreements with 8 countries so far in this regard, Canada being the latest.

India has been repeatedly emphasizing the need for comprehensive, balanced and equitable outcome in Copenhagen. We need to get moving on climate change as quickly as possible because its harmful effects would damage all the countries of the world. The realization is there. What is needed now is sincere action. The Copenhagen meet must prove a turning point in dealing with the challenge. For that the industrialized country need to take a big leap forward.


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