The Durban Climate Change Conference concluded a few days back, with environment and forests minister Jayanti Natarajan hammering in the last nail in the coffin of India’s long-standing position that all global negotiations should happen with equity as a basis. The global media is claiming that a “historic” deal has been brokered at the Durban conference – they are quick to remind us that Kyoto Protocol as well as the UN-sponsored multilateral negotiation process has somehow been rescued against all odds.
The Durban conference is indeed historic, for the process that began in Copenhagen is now almost complete. The final agreement signed (called the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action) essentially bids an official goodbye to the basic premise of the Kyoto Protocol – “common but differentiated responsibilities” for different countries. Yes, the conference has ensured a second term for the beleaguered Kyoto Protocol (till 2017 or 2020, the final term will be decided at Doha next year), and paved the way for a new protocol. However, this new protocol will be based on a fundamentally different premise from Kyoto. Now, the difference between developed and developing countries has been wiped out, meaning that starting from 2020, even countries like China, India, Brazil and South Africa will have to accept binding commitments on greenhouse gas emissions.
Jayanti Natarajan and the UPA are now claiming that the final text has left enough “vagueness” to ensure that India’s “right to grow” will be protected. What has the Durban conference decided? That countries have agreed to launch “a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force”. The term “legal force” was added at India’s insistence, and we are now being told to believe that there is a substantial difference in “legal instrument” and “outcome with a legal force”!
Also, at Durban, India’s proposal on equity has been added in the work plan for the next conference. The decision on the Long Term Cooperative Action (LCA) accepts that the issue of equitable access to sustainable development must be debated and reported back at the next climate change meeting at Doha. Exactly how “equity” will be addressed when the very foundation of the new protocol is inequitable is anyone’s guess.
Of course, since the basic premise of equity has been left out of the ambit of the new protocol, the US (having refused to be part of the Kyoto Protocol which had differentiated the responsibilities of developed and developing countries on the basis of historic contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions) is now more than happy to have won a major ideological victory. For the US, a global regime based on equity is completely unacceptable. For many years now, it has been running a vitriolic campaign against developing countries, especially India and China. After having almost single-handedly sabotaged any meaningful action to counter climate change by refusing to sign the Kyoto Protocol, the US has frequently portrayed India as “obstructionist”, a “deal-breaker” and “global governance’s biggest headache”! It has stubbornly refused to accept responsibilities for historic emissions, and for the obscenely high per-capita emissions in the US. Now that India, China, Brazil, South Africa and other countries have agreed to accept legally binding emissions, the US now has no excuse left.
Apart from the crucial question of legally binding commitments, the other important issues at climate change conference have been funding for mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as technology transfer. The Durban conference has agreed to set up a Green Climate Fund. Because of opposition from key developing countries, the World Bank and the Global Environmental Facility will not run this fund. And predictably, especially since this fund may not be controlled by the World Bank and other US stooges, developed countries are already showing a reluctance to contribute to this global fund. So we have a “Green Climate Fund” with no real or promised money! While there are specific timelines for actions or requirements for developing countries to meet, developed countries have as of now refused to commit either finance or technology.
It is clear that a deal was struck at Durban to somehow safeguard the multilateral negotiation process and the UN’s reputation and legitimacy in bringing together all countries onto the negotiating table. However, the climate change negotiations have revealed once more the deeply unequal nature of global negotiations – which not surprisingly lead to weak deals protecting the rich and the powerful and where developing and poor countries constantly find themselves fire-fighting against unfair conditions.