Countries stuck in dangerous stalemate: UNEP head

April 24th, 2008 - 1:15 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
(Interview)
By Joydeep Gupta
Singapore, April 24 (IANS) Global negotiations on tackling climate change are stuck because countries keep saying ‘if you don’t move, I don’t move’. Instead, they should say ‘I’m moving. If you move more, I’ll do the same’, says the UN’s top official in the field of environment. Achim Steiner, the UN under secretary general and executive director of the UN Environment Programme, told IANS in an interview here: “We should not take the Bali roadmap for granted.”

The Bali roadmap was prepared at the UN climate change summit in December to pave the way for a global treaty to tackle climate change after 2012, when the current commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol gets over.

Steiner expressed serious concern that there was “no new discourse either at the major emitters’ meeting in Paris or at the UNFCCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) working group meeting in Bangkok”, the two major meetings on the subject since the Bali summit.

“We risk running out of time,” Steiner said, referring to the end-2009 deadline to hammer out an agreement. “I don’t see on the negotiating horizon concepts that allow a deal. We need a new generation of proposals.”

Steiner agreed that countries had to “address their diverse interests” but added: “The common interest must not be lost sight of while doing that.”

Now that most people around the world recognised climate change as the most serious challenge of our times, Steiner called upon “the public to maintain its close interest. They need to build pressure on the politicians”.

Was he pessimistic? Steiner said he was trying to sound a word of caution.

He was asked if he was in favour of mandatory emission caps for emerging economies, on the grounds that “I am an international civil servant, and this is for governments to decide”.

But Steiner told IANS: “All countries need to move (to reduce emissions) rather than use others as scapegoats. Instead, countries should see how they can leverage one another. For example, India and China should say that if Europe improves its mitigation target, we’ll do more.

“Instead of countries keeping on saying ‘if you don’t move, I don’t move’, they should say ‘I’m moving. If you move more, I’ll do the same’.”

If developing countries were willing to do that, the global community may be more willing to bear the cost of their transition to greener economies, Steiner felt.

“For example, if South Africa needs say one billion dollars to move to a low carbon economy 20 years earlier than they would otherwise, the global community should underwrite that cost.”

During the Bali negotiations, however, the industrialised countries did their best to deflect attention from technology and financial transfers for this purpose. When this was pointed out to Steiner, he said: “A beginning has been made.

“The adaptation fund (to adapt to climate change impacts) was a breakthrough. Now the question is, does it stay an infant or does it grow up? The jury is out. But one shouldn’t write it off just now.”

The US and some other industrialised countries are planning to discuss their climate change negotiation strategies at the G8 summit in Japan later this year.

Asked about his expectations from that summit, Steiner said: “The G8 has important signal value, but it’s not a world policy body. It will be good if it provides a more coherent policy voice, but it can’t be a substitute.

“The G8 is not the whole world. But it does have a special responsibility to clarify its own capacity to lead.”

Asked to respond to Manmohan Singh’s offer of equal per capita emissions throughout the world, Steiner said: “It is an important principle of equity.

“At this stage, I would be cautious about segmenting climate change discussions in statistical ratios. The bottom line is what the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) scientists have told us - we have to move.”

What is the way forward? Steiner said: “It’s not our mandate to dictate solutions. We can only facilitate a consensus building process based on science.

“The world cannot escape targets and caps. But the current focus on mandatory caps for emerging economies is an unnecessary obstacle.

“The economic logic is itself dictating emission reductions and the decoupling of carbon from the development process. We should see what we can gain by moving to a low-carbon economy rather than harp on mandatory caps.

“Ultimately all nations have to be part of the same global regime.”

The Kyoto Protocol has mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions from industrialised countries. These emissions, mainly of carbon dioxide, are warming the atmosphere, which is already affecting farm output, leading to more frequent and more severe droughts, floods and storms and raising sea level, especially in the tropics and sub-tropics.

Global negotiations on a post-Kyoto Protocol agreement are stalled because some industrialised countries led by the US continue to say they will not accept mandatory emission caps unless emerging economies such as India, China, Brazil and South Africa do the same.

These countries say they are already working to mitigate their emissions, but will not accept mandatory caps because that may affect development and their first priority is to provide energy to their entire population.

They also point out that industrialised countries are responsible for almost all the human-induced greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Even today the per capita emission of greenhouse gases by the US is 20.6 tonnes per year, while it is 1.2 for India, well below the global average of around 4.

These points have been articulated most strongly by India, with Manmohan Singh adding another offer - India will never go above the global per capita average. The offer provides an incentive to industrialised countries to bring their per capita emissions down.

Most industrialised countries have not accepted the Indian offer.

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