Post-Copenhagen: The Battle is now in Mexico

Posted on September 27, 2010 in Environment

By Siddhartha Roy:

It is too late to save the summit, but it’s not too late to save the planet and its people. We have no choice but to forge forward towards a legally binding deal in 2010. This must be a rapid, decisive and ambitious movement, not business as usual.

— Robert Bailey of Oxfam International talking about the Copenhagen Summit in December 2009.

The last few months wrapping up 2009 saw phenomenal public awareness and participation in countless events and rallies and widespread coverage concerning ‘climate change’ in the print, visual and online media. Everyone seems to have heard of or was discussing ‘Climate Change’, ‘Kyoto Protocol’ and ‘Copenhagen’ across board rooms to classrooms. The UN Climate Change Conference 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark was one of the most anticipated events globally in recent years. Newspapers, blogs and Television news channels were a hot bed of activity during the countdown to and finally during the conference from 7th — 18th December 2009.

The prime aim of the Copenhagen meet was to charter and adopt an effective treaty post-2012 when the Kyoto Protocol ends. However, as the meet proceeded, the overall progress made seemed ambiguous. But in the final days with talks stretching hours into midnight with no accord being reached, it became clear that the talks were in a state of disarray.

With the helm being handed over to Danish President Lars Løkke Rasmussen and the premieres of the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) group and the USA coming together in a closed door meeting to salvage and produce if not a legally binding commitment but at least an Agreement that was ‘to be taken note of’.

The ‘Copenhagen Accord’  as it is called was not adopted nor was it passed unanimously (because of the opposition of countries such as Bolivia, Venezuela, Sudan and Tuvalu who registered their opposition to both the targets and process by which the Copenhagen Accord was reached).

With 192 countries in the fray and the tussle between developed and developing countries on extent of sharing responsibility and taking mitigation steps, for a naïve individual grasping the complexity of the affair is mind boggling.

The world did come together to solve the crisis of the Ozone layer by effectively adopting the Montreal Protocol which entered into force in 1989 and phasing out all CFCs (cholorofluorocarbons) and other chemicals which were causing the widening of the Ozone Hole above Antartica. Although most of the chemicals were in widespread use for the common man (like refrigerants, propellants, solvents, etc.), effective phasing out and replacement chemicals were found for all uses.

CFCs indirectly also contributed to global warming and hence their phasing out also helped reduce their impact. The Montreal Protocol was ratified by over 190 states and Kofi Annan calls “perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date”.

The Carbon problem however is far more tangled. Emissions are the basis for economic and allied growth of developing countries and their disagreement with the developed countries on division of sharing responsibility in terms of policy changes and emission reduction targets is not even close to the problem the Montreal Protocol attempted and succeeded in solving.

Add to this the minority and endangered countries that have been directly impacted by climate change which has not even been created by them in the first place but they have to bear the brunt of it.

Hence, the winding up of the Copenhagen meet the way it did is nothing short of shocking. And it should propel policy makers, environmentalists and the common man towards putting their most honest and best foot forward to face the impending crisis.

The Copenhagen Accord recognises the scientific case for keeping temperature rises below 2°C, but does not contain commitments for reduced emissions that would be necessary to achieve that aim.

One part of the agreement pledges US$ 30 billion to the developing world over the next three years, rising to US$100 billion per year by 2020, to help poor countries adapt to climate change. Earlier proposals that would have aimed to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C and cut CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050 were dropped. The Accord also favors developed countries’ paying developing countries to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation, known as “REDD”.

We can be hopeful that some good has been done from Copenhagen considering the number of countries have submitted targets and Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs). India announced plans to reduce its emissions by 20-25% (per GDP) of 2005 CO2 levels by 2020 and China did the same giving a figure of 40-45% (per GDP). So have other countries including the US (cut greenhouse gas emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, 42% by 2030 and 83% by 2050) and the EU (cut 20% emissions below 2005 levels by 2020 unconditionally).

However, in absence of a legally binding agreement for cutting emissions and a sturdy mechanism of pooling in and transferring money for adoption of cleaner alternatives especially in developing countries, these figures don’t do much.

Governments are the only entities that can make the necessary tradeoffs and negotiate solutions; they (especially developed countries) must assume leadership and take action on the issue. Countries like India need to focus on their growing economy and look for ways to facilitate this growth using cleaner energy and reducing emissions.

The principle of ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibility’ holds true any day as the developed countries have been the prime sources of emissions for more than a century and hence have to carry a major share of the burden when it comes to adopting solutions.

Although developing countries didn’t play a role in creation of the problem, they should work in whatever capacity possible simply because their growth cannot proceed like that of the developed countries since the Industrial Revolution. India’s involvement, along with countries like China, and its emission targets (20-25% per GDP of 2005 values till 2020) and policy changes (like the Bachat Lamp Yojana and National Solar Mission among many others) are commendable and, for it to deliver, major infusion of money and adoption of cleaner alternative methods are just two of many steps required.

India is the biggest generator of business in the field of Carbon Credits. Offsetting billions of metric tonnes of Carbon emissions, the Indian economy has gained both impacting projects and monetary influx. However, Copenhagen was not good for carbon markets. There is no clear signal post-2010 and there is no clear signal on the fate of the Kyoto Protocol. This burning issue too needs a clear outline.

Ways of raising the $30 billion and then further increasing this fund to $100 billion in long term funding and also including the private sector are important areas which have to be addressed.

The next G20 meeting is scheduled in November 2010 in Seoul right before the COP 16 meeting in Mexico. This meet could be used by all its member countries to narrow down differences and then take their improvised concrete approach to Mexico.

In addition, focus on REDD is important. REDD has evolved to include both reducing emissions and increasing forest cover. The focus on emission reductions is very important and should be a priority of a REDD mechanism. Although other “plus” activities are acceptable, a priority should be placed on deforestation and forest degradation.

When it comes to agriculture, we have to analyze the impact of climate change measures on the agriculture sector to prevent food scarcity. We have huge underinvestment in agricultural research. We have been riding on old investments in agricultural research and not reinvesting. An emphasis on climate change can be a way to regenerate investment and funding in this sector.

The Conference of Parties (COP) meets for the 16th United Nations Climate Change Conference on November 29th till December 10th in Cancún, Mexico. With so many pressing issues to be addressed, the World looks up to some of the most powerful economies and their counterparts to deliver.

The media, the NGOs and the youth should gear up. November isn’t far away.