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Hopes dashed

Thursday, 17 December 2009 - 11:56pm IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

The Copenhagen meet is likely to be a failure with the US playing spoilsport.

Everyone at Copenhagen is surprised that despite two years from the so-called road map charted in Bali for a treaty on climate change, virtually nothing is on the anvil on the penultimate day of the UN summit. Many of the interminable meetings are about procedures, though some relate to substance, at this very late hour.

As the host, the Danish prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen appears to have staked his personal reputation and that of his country in ensuring that there is a deal of some kind in his capital. The main stumbling block is none other than the US. It was party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, but refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, the "rules" which lay down emission targets for industrial countries and penalties for defaulters.

The Danes and the EU want to leave no stone unturned in bringing the US on board. Otherwise, it could well be a case of "Hamlet, without the Prince of Denmark" — with Obama playing this role. He will be physically present, but has committed very little by 2020, even though US long-term targets of 50 per cent reductions in emissions by 2050 converge with the EU's. 

What is worrying is that the US and EU have been targeting China for being a "deal-breaker" by refusing to take on cuts itself as the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide; it replaced the US some months ago. The US Special Envoy on Climate, Todd Stern has made it clear that China would not be eligible for funding to cope with climate change.

China's vice-foreign minister He Yafei clarified that financing should flow to poorer countries and that China wasn't in the queue for doles. This is a substantial concession, considering that China is far from being a rich county, however strong its economy is. Its per capita income is $3,000 and 150 million Chinese live below the poverty line.

China earlier diverted the pressure being exerted on it by the West by volunteering to take on carbon intensity cuts of 40-45 per cent by 2020 — reducing the amount of carbon emitted per unit of output, which forces it to be more energy-efficient. Not to be left behind, India followed with cuts of about half as much. These concessions, however, have not assuaged industrial countries which maintain that China, and to a lesser extent India, are stalling the talks. India, incidentally, has been conspicuous by its absence at the talks, despite the arrival of Jairam Ramesh last week-end.

Rasmussen circulated two highly controversial unofficial texts. The first set different emission limits for developed and developing countries, turning the UN's painstakingly negotiated earlier position of countries having "common but differentiated responsibilities" on its head. By 2050, when everybody agrees, all countries must have reduced their emissions to prevent a climate catastrophe, the Danish document posited that developing countries could only emit 1.44 tonnes per capita, while industrial countries could emit 2.67 tonnes.  

It died an unnatural death after G77 and China raised a furore. But this has not deterred the PM from issuing another draft, also trying to get major emerging economies to take on some commitments. Industrial countries concede that these can be voluntary at this stage, as the Kyoto protocol lays down, but are insisting that these be subjected to international verification, which India and others have objected to. In particular, India has to resist the "top-down" process after every sentence has been painstakingly negotiated over the past two years.

What we are likely to get in Copenhagen on Friday — in the unlikely event that it is extended by a day — is a political statement signed by everybody, recognising the imperative to tackle climate change and to take steps to do so in 2010. There is another meet scheduled in Bonn in June, where the figures will be worked out, but the more likely dénouement will be in Mexico, a year from now.

All one can expect by way of funding at this stage is some "kick-start" money of $10 billion a year from 2010 till 2013. The EU and Gordon Brown have been offering $100 billion a year by 2020. And even with the initial funding from next year, and the road ahead from Copenhagen, there are two caveats. 

There is every likelihood that these funds will be diverted from aid. Jeffery Sachs of Columbia University has cited how when the Group of 20 met in September, rich nations reiterated their 2005 promise to raise aid to Africa by $30 billion a year between 2005 and 2010. Nothing of the kind happened, and some countries have reduced their aid budgets. Secondly, there is no clarity on whether this constitutes public funding by governments, or private investments and carbon trading, which are another matter altogether.

All said and done, it is obvious that Copenhagen, which was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to deal not only with environmental problems, but those of development and equity, has been squandered.

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