The eighteenth United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is being held from 26 November to 7 December amid a great deal of anxiety among its member states. Anxieties are triggered by the fear of ecological collapse leading to the collapse of entire humanity. The symptoms are already apparent: the alarming melting rate of the entire cryosphere, rapid loss of biodiversity, submergence of many coastal regions, frequent occurrence of deadly hurricanes, and droughts that lead to crop failure and severe water scarcity. Global temperature has risen by 0.76 degree celsius since the pre-industrial era, which is the reason for these changes. These are clear harbingers of a perilous future: they may be considered just a preamble to the disasters that may follow if the current trend of global Green House Gas (GHG) emission (the main culprit of human induced climate change) remains unabated. That could lead to a rise in temperature by as much as 6 degrees by the turn of the century, at which point the real drama would start. With temperature rising more than eight times than it already has, a holocaust would be inevitable.
To combat this impending danger, UNFCCC was constituted in 1992 and a Conference of Parties (COPs) is held annually to grapple with the problem. In early years, the emphasis was on mitigation, which was eventually followed by a mix of mitigation and adaptation upon pressure exerted from the developing world. The first benchmark achievement of the Convention was Kyoto Protocol (1995) which agreed that the global emission of GHGs must be reduced by 5.2 percent over the 90’s. However, this did not come into practice until 2008, and was finished up only in 2012. Though hyped as a major breakthrough in initial years by some, it was far below the global requirement to bring about a meaningful change. It also failed to make the US—the second top emitter in the world—commit to its cause. The nations agreed to Bali Action Plan during COP13, and aimed at a binding agreement in Copenhagen at COP15. The purpose was to aim for adequate level of mitigation plus adaptation and also to bring the USA, that was largely absconding from the process so far, on board. Two ad hoc working groups were created for ‘Kyoto Protocol’ and ‘Long-term Cooperative Action’ respectively, and mandated to push the respective agendas. Unfortunately, no agreement could be reached in Copenhagen. The two ad hoc working groups simply got their mandates extended.
CLIMATE CHANGE NEGOTIATIONS
Developed nations are stalling negotiations on Green House Gas reduction, which is irresponsible as consequences of climate change will spare none.
While detailed analysis of why climate negotiations have failed so far is beyond the scope of this article, some basic analysis of the resulting imbroglio is possible. The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) had a nearly unequivocal demand of massive emission reduction at all costs, owing to perceived survival threats to their homelands from climate change. Rapidly industrializing countries such as India and China gave prominence to the issue of ‘historical emission level’ and ‘equity’, as they considered that resorting to a blanket reduction in emission would be inequitable. They argued for ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ that would allow them to emit more than the developed nations, which had allegedly already consumed more than their fair share of atmospheric space in terms of emission. USA and many other developed nations continued their stance of uniform application of GHG reduction quota for all countries and thus did not want to acknowledge responsibility for their excessive emission in the past. An impasse was evident and the outputs of the two ad hoc working groups remained nominal. The desperate parties during COP17 had no alternative but to create and launch a new forum altogether, called Ad hoc working group on Enhanced Action (ADP). ADP is expected to work on all unfinished tasks of both the ad hoc groups, as they will cease to operate by the end of 2012. The ultimate aim is to make all parties sign a legally binding treaty by 2015, regardless of whether they are developed, rapidly developing or underdeveloped. The idea is to bring this eventually into implementation by 2020 as the ultimate rescue measure to impending climate crisis.
It is apparent that the world has once more come to where it was in Bali (COP7). Evidently, the forthcoming COPs until 2015 cannot be expected to do a lot in terms of addressing the global climate challenge, given that ADP itself is in its insemination phase. The major thrust of ADP is bound to be limited to preliminary works such as taking up the unfinished works from the two ad hoc groups. This would mean that hardcore negotiation is unlikely in the following few years. While this may relieve developed countries by buying them extra time for strategic bargaining in the future, many countries which are already reeling under climate change catastrophe with little capacity to adapt may be disappointed. Here, I would like to warn the developed world. Beware! Climate change will spare none of us! It is simply a matter of time. We, citizens of developing nations, will be the first victims of catastrophes, owing to our higher degree of ‘exposure’ and ‘sensitivity’ and lower degree of ‘adaptive capacity,’ to borrow technical terms. But in the long run, you are not going to be spared either. Our national negotiation team may not be as big as yours, and they may not speak as loudly. But watch out! This must not be taken as an excuse for stalling negotiation. There is no alternative planet where you or us could move to safety. So be serious, at least from this point on! Let the world not face the fate suggested by a popular Nepali folktale: seven villages in the riverbank were washed away before the residents could decide on whether they need to flee to safety or combat the impending flood.
The author is former Joint Secretary of Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation