India, China must cap growth of greenhouse gas emissions: UN climate chief (Interview)

February 5th, 2009 - 10:25 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Feb 5 (IANS) It is “feasible” and “indeed essential” that developing countries such as India and China come up with proposals to limit growth of greenhouse gas emissions if finances from industrialised countries are available, says UN climate chief Yvo de Boer, a point of view that will raise the hackles of the Indian establishment. Whether developing countries put a number to this limit or not “is going to be a critical part of the debate” in the run-up to the next summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen this December, he said here.

Worried about climate change that is already affecting farm output, creating water scarcity, worsening the frequency and severity of droughts, floods and storms and raising the sea level, most governments around the world see the Copenhagen summit as the deadline by which a global treaty to combat climate change must be negotiated as the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol runs out in 2012.

But negotiations have been bogged down because some industrialised countries have refused to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions unless emerging economies such as China and India commit to a specific cap on their GHG emissions.

Developing countries, especially India, have refused to do so, pointing out that industrialised countries have been responsible for almost all the extra GHGs such as carbon dioxide that are now in the atmosphere warming up the globe.

The impasse continues as the three-day Delhi Sustainable Development Summit kicks off Thursday. De Boer is here to attend the summit and meet senior officials of the Indian government involved in climate negotiations.

“We have to have political agreement in Copenhagen,” the UNFCCC chief told IANS in an interview on the eve of DSDS.

“But I don’t think we can agree on every comma and semicolon,” he admitted.

After the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997, it took eight more years of negotiations before it could become operational. What would be the requirements for an agreement in Copenhagen? De Boer listed four.

“First, ambitious emission reduction targets from industrialised countries. Second, commitments from developing countries on national actions to limit growth of emissions.

“This would depend on the third condition, which is availability of public finance from industrialised countries so that developing countries could carry out their national actions. Fourth, a governance structure on how this money is to be spent, with developing countries in charge of that structure,” he said.

But financing is unlikely in the current global meltdown, an issue over which the UNFCCC summit in Poznan (Poland) broke down last December.

“Economic recovery packages should be used for tomorrow’s technologies and not yesterday’s,” De Boer said in connection with the bailout being offered to the US car industry.

The UN climate chief was clearly worried about the lack of movement on the road to Copenhagen. “If the deadline begins to slip,” he warned, “people will start losing faith in the international process” to deal with the pressing challenge posed by climate change.

But he had seen some encouraging signs, as at the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland last week, where despite the financial meltdown, he said he was “encouraged to see that climate change is still on the agenda, though I’d expected it to have had a downturn”.

India has repeatedly put forward the issues of equity and ethics in the global debate on how to combat climate change.

Asked if this was the best time to raise the issue again, De Boer agreed, and said: “A Copenhagen deal that slows down growth in developing countries would not be equitable; a rise in poverty would not be equitable.”

That was why finance and technology transfers from industrialised to developing countries to help combat climate change was “essential”, according to De Boer.

“It is the moral responsibility of developing countries to ensure that issues of equity and ethics are not forgotten in the debate in Copenhagen. Then, we all have the moral responsibility to find the way forward.”

Asked to react to India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change that was unveiled last June, De Boer said: “It has been very well received internationally. It is a very comprehensive analysis of the current situation, followed by eight clear goals. And it also says that more could be done if international support was provided.”

This year, the DSDS theme is ethics and equity on the road to the Copenhagen summit.

Asked how an event of this kind could help international negotiations, De Boer said: “It feeds in because it brings here a lot of people confront them with India’s reality. It’s an important learning experience.

“Plus, given the high quality of people who come here, it tends to generate ideas that are then reflected in the negotiations. It is an offline informal approach that is nonetheless very important.”

(Joydeep Gupta can be contacted at

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