This only means the log jam continues. Because many countries, including
India, see this EU move as a ploy to remove the differentiation between the
contributors to the problem of climate change and the rest. (This distinction
formed the basis of the climate convention and set the principle that countries
responsible for the bulk of emissions had to take action first, make deep
emission cuts to create space for the rest to grow.) They see surreptitious
moves to rewrite this agreement. So, distrust has grown deeper, even as we know
that the agreement to cut emissions cannot work without global cooperation.
This is not to say China, Brazil and South
Africa, or even India, should not take action to combat climate change. When
negotiations began over 20 years ago, it was well understood the industrialised
world – contributor to 70-80% of the stock of emissions in the atmosphere – had
to vacate space for the emerging world to grow. The deal was this enriched
world would reduce emissions drastically, for they had thrown the climate
system out of kilter. The deal also was that money and technology transfer
would enable emerging countries to avoid future emissions growth. But none of
this happened. Meagre targets were set; the US and other big polluters walked
out of the agreement. The funds never came.
This deal was critical because if the
already-rich emitted in the past, the emerging rich will emit in the future. We
know carbon dioxide emissions are linked to economic growth. We also know the
road to a low-carbon economy is bumpy and costly. If the world is indeed
serious about an agreement to cut emissions, it has to accept there will be
limits for all – past polluters and future contributors. This agreement will only
work if it is based on equal entitlements to atmospheric space. But Durban
wants to brush aside this principle as an inconvenient fact.
In Bali in 2007 and in Cancún last year, the
big developing countries like China and India agreed to set domestic targets
for emission reduction. There is no doubt this level of ambition can, and must,
be increased. But it is equally a fact that these countries, targeted as being
obdurate about climate change, are actually doing more to cut emissions than
the rich countries, who are legally obliged to do so. A recent study by the
Stockholm Environment Institute clearly shows the Basic countries are actually
going to do the bulk of emission reduction– 60-80% – in the next 20 years.
Of course the world must take tough action,
including a legally binding agreement, to cut emissions. Of course India and
China, who will only now contribute to pollution, should do more. But that does
mean the industrialised world should stop beating up the underdogs, simply
because it cannot do anything to get the US on board.
Consider only where the EU's climate
evangelism has led the world. Instead of talking about low ambition and even
lower levels of implementation, the world is now agreeing to postpone effective
action till 2020. The world is running out of time. It would be good if the EU
caught up with this fact.
Sunita Narain is an
Indian researcher and environmentalist who has been following climate
negotiations for many years. She is the director-general of the Delhi-based
Centre for Science and Environment, a public interest research institution.
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