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Climate talks make little progress( Dec.)

 

Deccan Herald, Delhi, Tuesday 3rd December 2013

After more than 35 hours of continuous discussions, Ravi Shankar Prasad, one of India’s lead negotiators, described the United Nations climate change conference as “a partial success” for keeping the pathway open for a global climate treaty to be finalized in 2015.

Prasad said that after being on the verge of a breakdown, the talks, which concluded Saturday, delivered a mechanism for developed countries to give money to poor nations for climate-related “loss and damage” and created an outline for a system under which countries could make “contributions” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after 2020, when the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the first treaty on climate change, will end.

“Loss and damage is something African countries have been asking for 15 to 20 years. It was very close to their heart and so were keen on it,” Prasad said, as delegates of several countries rushed out of the National Stadium in Warsaw to catch their flights after the talks had been extended an entire day.

Last week, the failure to reach agreement over loss and damage had led to a walkout by the bloc of developing countries called G77 & China, which also includes India. For itself, India sees any future money for losses and damages to be utilized for building sophisticated risk resilience mechanisms that warn against natural disasters. But many environmental activists saw the 2013 talks as a bust since no specified amount or timeline has been set for rich countries to actually give the money for losses and damages, and neither is there a specific plan to capitalize the $100 billion Green Climate Fund, which will help developing nations adapt to climate change.

Lack of progress

As old arguments dragged on, a large group of activists handed in their badges and walked out of the conference to express their anger over the lack of progress. Even the issue of global emissions was stalled until the last hours of the conference, when delegates of 189 countries agreed to an amendment proposed by India and China to change the word “commitments” to “contributions” in paragraph 2b of the text, which forms the basis of the new climate treaty. The running joke in the negotiating halls was “2b or not to 2b.”

Since India is still faced with the massive challenge of increasing development for poverty eradication, Prasad explained that only developed countries would have legally binding “commitments” as they were responsible for historical emissions. The Indian delegate said that it was not for developing countries to “fill the gap” left by the failure of rich countries to take on 40 per cent reduction targets over 1990 levels, targets that had been recommended by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC.

Presently, the European Union’s reduction figure in the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period, which runs until the new treaty kicks in 2020, is only 20 per cent from 1990 levels. The United States, which never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, has pledged a 17 per cent reduction from 2005 levels. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which put the burden of cutting emissions on the shoulders of rich countries, the 2015 treaty will be “applicable to all,” as was agreed to in the Durban Platform decided at the 2011 talks in South Africa.

India, for instance, would have preferred “actions” in the text to “contributions” to refer to its voluntary domestic actions to reduce emissions. The country is also not willing to sign up for international obligations until it gets the technology for its implementation. Asked when India would change “contributions” to “commitments,” Jayanthi Natarajan, India’s environment minister, said, “Why should it be changed to ‘commitment’? Developed countries should first show their commitment.”

Ms. Natarajan stressed that developed countries had to increase their emission reduction pledges under the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. “I only see with dismay that they are cutting down on their pledges,” she said. Countries like Russia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand have not signed up for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, and Tokyo has also lowered its emission reduction target to 3.8 per cent from 2005 levels, which in effect is a 3.1 per cent increase in emissions from its 1990 levels.

The Philippines’ negotiator, Yeb Sano, who had fasted for the duration of the conference to highlight the suffering from Typhoon Haiyan in his country, said that India “had played a very important role” in retaining the principles of “common but differentiated responsibilities” included in the 1992 Rio Declaration.

The report said that China accounted for 70 percent of the global increase in 2012, while India was 7.7 percent. It also found that the United States still had highest per-capita emissions at 16 tons, compared to seven tons in China and 1.8 tons in India. While India’s per-person emissions were low now, the British climate economist Nicholas Stern in a recent conversation with India Ink said that even while grappling with poverty eradication, the country needed to think 20 years ahead.