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India feels the heat at climate talks
Betwa Sharma in Durban

Even before the annual UN climate change negotiations are formally kicked off in Durban, India is warding off pressure to commit to legally binding CO2 emission cuts. Developed countries are threatening to abandon the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which imposes emission reduction obligations on 37 industrialised countries, if all major emitters don’t do more to curb their greenhouse gases.

Climate Justice Action activists protest outside the UN Climate Change Conference venue in Durban on Tuesday.
Climate Justice Action activists protest outside the UN Climate Change Conference venue in Durban on Tuesday. — AFP

The Indian delegation here has reiterated its stand that it was indeed absurd to expect India and other developing nations to undertake reductions on the lines of developed nations. The developing countries, says the Indian delegation, have the overriding priority of eradicating poverty and sustain development. Indian negotiators added that they have already taken on voluntary commitments to reduce emission by 20 per cent by 2020.

The Indian delegation cited the Stockholm Environment Institute’s Report, released this year, which said that pledges to reduce carbon emissions from developing countries are more than the targets set by the developed countries. The study, commissioned by Oxfam, estimates that over 60 per cent of emission cuts by 2020 are likely to be made by the developing countries. The emission reductions of China, India, South Africa and Brazil - the BASIC countries - could actually be more than the combined efforts of the seven most developed countries or zones, namely the US, the European Union, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Russia.

People take part in a rally in Durban.
People take part in a rally in Durban. — PTI

Already there are concerns that talks over the next two weeks will fail. The 2010 talks in Cancun skirted around the issue with Japan and Canada asserting their opposition to the 1997 Kyoto treaty. The US had also backed out of the agreement in 2001, claiming that it was unfair. Developing countries, including India, want these talks to result in developed countries renewing their pledges, since the first phase of the treaty expires at the end of 2012.

But the European Union, Japan, Canada and Russia are not willing to be part of a treaty that neither includes the US nor emerging economies like China and India. But with mounting Republican opposition, the Obama administration cannot act decisively until the 2012 Presidential elections.

Some countries have also hinted that another treaty could take as much as 10 years to work out. In Durban, the US has already made it clear that it would not agree to any legal instrument that did not put obligations on all major emitters.

The efforts to continue the North-South differentiation under the Kyoto Protocol is led by BASIC countries. “The Kyoto Protocol is the cornerstone of the climate regime,” a Chinese spokesperson told delegates. “We call upon the developed countries to rise up to their historical responsibility and take the lead up by undertaking ambitious and robust commitments consistent with science.”

China is now the largest producer of carbon emissions followed by the US. Indian delegates maintained that the BASIC statement by China at the start of the conference testified to the group’s solidarity. The bloc of developing countries, however, is more fragmented due to the immediate danger faced by small island nations, which are most vulnerable to rising sea levels. The International Energy Agency report, released this month, said the world had five years before the consequences of climate change will become irreversible. The goal is to stop the Earth’s temperature from increasing more than 2 degree Celsius from pre-industrial levels. Despite the deadlock over the Kyoto Protocol, delegates from 194 countries will attempt to find solutions on issues like adaptation, finance and technology sharing.

The conference needs to address the setting up of a Green Climate Fund to the tune of 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 for developing countries to tackle the consequences of climate change. Activists from NGOs and civil society, frustrated with the lack of progress, have launched the “Occupy Durban” movement inspired from the “Occupy Wall Street” protests.

On a positive note, however, the Indian delegation was pleased that it garnered some support for its three-point agenda - equitable access to sustainable development, unilateral trade measures (in response to the European Union aviation tax), and intellectual property rights - two of which were left out of previous Cancun agreements. “We are not talking about the Himalayas, Mumbai or the Ganges,” Jayant Mauskar, India’s lead negotiator, told The Tribune . “These three issues are important for all developing countries.”





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