Old quarrels threaten new gains in climate change fight

December 6th, 2010 - 3:45 pm ICT by IANS  

By Joydeep Gupta
Cancun (Mexico), Dec 6 (IANS) Old arguments between industrialised and developing countries threaten to derail new gains in the attempt to tackle global warming as the annual UN climate conference enters its final week.

There has been significant progress at this beach resort last week on how to reduce deforestation and how to provide green technologies to developing countries. There has also been some progress on setting up a fund to help poor countries tackle the effects of climate change, though the fund still has no money, and these countries are already facing reduced farm output, more frequent and more severe droughts, floods and storms and a rising sea, all effects of global warming, according to scientists.

But with key industrialised countries declaring they will not commit to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions after 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol and with developing countries adamant on this, there is a rising fear among delegates of 192 countries gathered here that all the advances will be blocked again, as they were at the Copenhagen summit last year. Emissions of GHG - mainly carbon dioxide - are causing climate change.

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh met his counterparts from the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) countries here Sunday and told IANS after the meeting that the group had “three non-negotiables - a clear and categorical statement on the second commitment period (post 2012) under the Kyoto Protocol; disbursement of fast-start finance on a significant scale by mid-2011; and some mechanism to keep the dialogue on intellectual property rights (IPR) going. We know we won’t solve that problem here, but we need to keep discussing it.”

The second point Ramesh was referring to is the partial failure of rich countries to keep a key Copenhagen promise - to give poor countries $30 billion between 2010 and 2012 to help tackle climate change. Just after his arrival here, he had declared his unhappiness because the US has so far committed “only $1.8 billion”. The European Union has committed 7.2 billion Euro over the three-year period, but 48 percent of that is in loans, and EU climate chief Connie Hedegaard’s clarification that these are “concessional one percent loans” has failed to appease governments in many poor countries.

The IPR issue has been holding up transfer of green technologies, but negotiators here have kept that aside and moved to form a mechanism by which non-patented technologies can be distributed to poor countries from a series of research laboratories around the world, including in India. This agreement and the one on forestry are ready, but they await the breaking of the logjam on the Kyoto Protocol and the rich countries’ insistence that the actions taken by developing countries to move to a low-carbon economy must be “measurable, reportable and verifiable” (MRV).

For months, this has been stoutly opposed by developing countries, led by China, on the grounds that it impinges on sovereignty. India has recently proposed that this MRV be done by “international consultation and analysis” (ICA) rather than by any one country. This proposal has been welcomed by the US and the EU, and after a meeting with China’s Vice Minister for the National Development and Reform Commission Xie Zhenhua, Ramesh confirmed Sunday that it had the support of the Chinese government.

But large emerging economies Brazil and South Africa are still unsure about it, while the chief US negotiator Todd Stern has declared “transparency is an integral part of the balanced outcome” his government is looking for, and without which it will not make any commitment on anything. So apart from the Kyoto Protocol, MRV-ICA may be the second rock on which agreement at this summit founders.

Host government Mexico is trying to build on the advances. Its Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa said Sunday: “The advances should be seen as a positive sign for the conference as a whole. I urge all Parties (countries) to sustain this spirit and bring all outstanding issues to a successful conclusion by the end of the Cancun climate change conference, to reach a balanced agreement that will take the world into a new era of cooperative and increasingly ambitious action on climate change.”

Observers are worried that even if there is an agreement here, it will be too weak to tackle climate change effectively. A spokesperson of the international NGO Greenpeace pointed out that nothing had been done to bridge the gap between current emission reduction pledges and what is needed to keep global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius.

A report released by the UN Environment Programme last week has warned that global emissions must peak before 2020 and then fall if the world has to have any chance of staying within the two-degree limit. Scientists say any increase above two degrees will lead to such serious impacts they are not even able to predict them accurately.

(Joydeep Gupta can be reached at joydeepgupta1@gmail.com)

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