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Rediff.com  » Business » India at Copenhagen: 'Yankees go home, but take me along with you'

India at Copenhagen: 'Yankees go home, but take me along with you'

December 23, 2009 16:43 IST
The Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted at Rio in 1992 was a masterly document, encompassing in it the principles and processes for combating climate change in an equitable manner.

But its journey from Rio to Copenhagen through Berlin, Kyoto, Bali and other cities, however, turned out to be a great disappointment. The Rio commitments remained unimplemented both in terms of emission cuts, financing and technology transfer and each Conference of Parties diluted the basic principles farther and farther till the Copenhagen COP moved away from those principles by excluding the whole concept of legally binding commitments altogether.

The Copenhagen COP ended in a discordant note when it merely "took note" of an accord produced by the so-called major economies -- the United States, India, China, Brazil and South Africa. Most developing countries condemned the Accord and even several developed countries expressed anguish that Copenhagen had moved away from the Rio and Kyoto commitments.

Of course, the words of the Rio principles are scattered all over the Copenhagen document and the commitment of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol is reiterated to satisfy public opinion, but it contains only a pious wish to "to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, and take action to meet this objective."

As for commitment of new and additional resources, developed countries will provide an amount 'approaching USD 30 billion for the period 2010-12'. They also committed to the goal of mobilising jointly USD 100 billion a year by 2020 as part of the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, subject to 'meaningful mitigation actions and transparency of implementation'.

The Copenhagen Accord is open for acceptance by the member states, but judging from the intensity of protests from the developing world -- some called it Floppenhagen, some compared it to the holocaust and some even accused those developing countries which accepted it as having betrayed humanity for thirty pieces of silver -- there will be few takers. The only hope is that the negotiations will continue for a year and a more precise agreement with legally binding commitments will emerge.

India undoubtedly disappointed the developing world by breaking away from its ranks to bail out the United States and China, the highest emitters of greenhouse gases. India went to Copenhagen with a negative mandate -- no legally binding cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, no monitoring and no burying of Kyoto Protocol. When it came under pressure to accept new obligations, it found common cause with the worst polluters in the world, the US and China, who were also under similar pressure and let down the other developing countries and left the conference declaring victory, not only for itself but also for the so-called BASIC countries.

But the victor in the exercise was the United States which changed the course of the climate change debate to a new direction. Unlike in Rio and Kyoto, the United States was not left alone to defy the world. President Obama accomplished his three objectives of 'mitigation, transparency and financing' the way he wanted. India, China, Brazil and South Africa let the US off the hook.

Perhaps this is the first time in the history of the UN that India is part of a consensus in a small group, which is being disowned by a majority of the developing countries. It is no great consolation that we are in the company of three other major developing countries. A new alliance between the 'emerging economies' and the US has been forged at Copenhagen, but its future remains in question as they begin to grapple with legally binding commitments, which will be absolutely essential in any action plan for climate. India and China will also come under pressure at that time as the concept of per capita emissions seems to have disappeared from the formulations in Copenhagen.

President Obama's insistence on transparency in actions by all States figures in the Accord in the form of emerging economies reporting every two years to the United Nations, which will be subject to 'international consultation and analysis', a euphemism for international monitoring. A US spokesman has already claimed that China and India have set goals for mitigation and that they will be challenged if they do not reach those goals.

The 'common but differentiated responsibilities' of the individual countries, one of the principles of Rio, has been forgotten as now all the major economies have the same common responsibilities. In his speech to the conference, President Obama, with his characteristic mastery of juggling with words, changed the much negotiated principle into 'common but differentiated responses'. India would have been far better off without this accord. Waiting out for another year with all the options open would have been preferable to closing several doors in an attempt to declare victory at Copenhagen.

Minister Jairam Ramesh did not carry conviction when he declared that the Copenhagen Accord was good for India and the world. His approach looked more like the way he himself described the typical Indian attitude towards the United States: 'Yankees go home, but take me along with you!'

The Indian position outlined by the prime minister at his plenary speech was principled, firm and forward-looking. He opposed any dilution of the Convention signed in Rio, particularly the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. "To settle for something that would be seen as diminished expectations and diminished implementation would be the wrong message to emerge from this conference", he said. "Those worst affected by climate change are the least responsible for it. Whatever emerges from our negotiations must address this glaring injustice, injustice to countries of Africa, injustice to the Least Developed Countries, and injustice to the Small Developing States, whose survival as viable states is in jeopardy."

Unfortunately, the very countries that the prime minister mentioned felt betrayed by the Copenhagen accord. The transparent and inclusive process that India had promised also did not materialise in Copenhagen.

 The Copenhagen Accord can be defended only on the ground that it prevented a complete breakdown of the negotiations and pointed a realistic way in which the worst emitters could be brought into certain broad commitments even if they are not legally binding or verifiable. Instead of being a 'deal breaker', as India was rumoured to be before the conference, it has become a 'deal maker'. The commitment to limit the rise in temperature to 2 degrees, with the possibility of even considering bringing it down to 1.5 degrees, holds out some hope for mankind.

The Accord retains much of the language of the past to show that the way forward is not a complete break from the past. The concept of a fund to finance mitigation of and adaptation to climate change has taken some concrete shape. The United States is now a partner rather than a target in the global effort to safeguard the environment. Cooperation rather than confrontation is the way to go and these are the days of multiple alliances rather than nonalignment.

These accomplishments must, however, be weighed against the price India will have to pay for breaking away from the mainstream movement of developing countries,  the charge that the US and other developed countries have been let off without binding commitments and the concession India has made by accepting some form of international monitoring of its voluntary commitments.

India has taken a calculated risk by accepting what was essentially a US-China deal, which was worked out between them over a year and presented by President Obama as a way to save the Copenhagen conference from total failure. Only time will tell whether Copenhagen will lead to a meaningful and legally binding agreement to halt and reverse climate change.

The Copenhagen conference was remarkable for the demonstration of the grave anxiety of the world about the deterioration of the environment. The people are far ahead of their governments on this issue and even the most powerful and dictatorial governments cannot stop the tide of public opinion and I would like to conclude on that optimistic note.

The writer, a former ambassador, was the chief Indian negotiator on climate change between 1992 to 1995. He was also a vice-chairman and the spokesman of G-77 at the Berlin COP

TP Sreenivasan