Deal won, stakes lost

Cancun deal shifts burden on developing countries not developed

By Sunita Narain
Last Updated: Thursday 11 June 2015

imageLast fortnight we discussed the clandestine endgame afoot at Cancun to change the framework of the climate change negotiations to suit big and powerful polluters.

Since then Cancun has concluded and a deal, in the form of a spate of agreements, has been gavelled into existence by the chair. Commentators and climate activists in the Western world are ecstatic. Even the critics say pragmatism has worked and the world has taken a small step ahead in its battle to fight emissions that determine its growth.

Let’s assess the outcome at Cancun to see if this is indeed a step forward. It is well-accepted that to keep the world below the already dangerous 2°C temperature increase, global emissions need to drop to 44 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (mix of greenhouse gases measured in CO2e) by 2020—against the roughly 48 billion tonnes of CO2e emitted currently. In other words, the world has already run out of atmospheric space and has to cut emissions fast and drastically.

That’s why at the Bali climate conference in 2007 the target placed on the table was for the industrialised countries to cut emissions 20-40 per cent by 2020, over their 1990 levels. The actual number was to be finalised at subsequent meetings. So what does Cancun do? It mouths some platitudes that the industrialised countries will scale up their mitigation efforts but does not specify a target.

Instead, it endorses an arrangement that emission reduction commitments of industrialised countries will be decided on the voluntary pledge they make. They will tell us how much they can cut and by when. The US, which has been instrumental in getting the deal at Cancun, is the biggest winner. If its target to reduce emissions were based on its historical and current contribution to the problem, the country would have to cut 40 per cent by 2020, over the 1990 levels. Now it has pledged that it will cut zero percentage points in this period. The Cancun deal legitimises its right to pollute.

This is not all. Under the Cancun deal, all countries, including India and China, are now committed to reduce emissions. India’s pledge to reduce energy intensity by 20- 25 per cent by 2020 is part of this global deal. After all, all countries must be part of the solution. It is also in our best interest to avoid pollution for growth.

But surely nobody can agree that the burden of the transition should shift to the developing world. But this is what has happened at Cancun. If you compare the sum of the “pledges” made by the industrialised countries against the “pledges” made by developing countries, including China and India, a curious fact emerges. While the total amount the rich will cut comes to 0.8-1.8 billion tonnes of CO2e, poor developing countries have agreed to cut 2.3 billion tonnes of CO2e by 2020. In other words, emission reduction promised by the industrialised world is pathetic. And the principle of equity in burden-sharing has been completely done away with.

Let us be clear, Cancun makes no pretence that global equity is a principle best trashed into the world’s dustbin. Just consider. All previous drafts of this agreement stated that developing countries would have equitable access to the global carbon budget. This has been crucially diluted in the Cancun agreement. It reads in a fuzzy and meaningless way that there will be “equitable access to sustainable development”. We have surrendered our demand to apportion the global atmospheric space based on our right to development.

This is not the worst. For a moment let’s say India should be willing to pay this price for the global common good. But the pledges will add up to practically nothing in terms of averting the worst of climate change. With the Cancun deal in force, the world is in for a 3- 4°C temperature rise. We are most vulnerable. Already, when world average temperatures have increased by just 0.8°C, our monsoons are showing signs of extreme variability leading to floods and droughts. Then how can a weak and ineffective deal on climate change be good for us?

But the spin masters want us to believe otherwise. The Western media is hailing Cancun as the much-needed breakthrough. That’s because the Cancun deal protects the interests of the rich polluters. It is their prize.

What has the developing world got in return? There is no commitment to cut emissions needed to avert climate change. No money is promised either. The agreement provides for the creation of a green fund and repeats the decision to give US $30 billion as fast track funding by 2012 and US $100 billion by 2020. But this is fictional money to cajole and bribe. The fact is that the rich world is saying openly it cannot pay because of recession. It now wants the developing world to look for these funds in the private sector. The technology deal is even weaker. It only says that it will set up a technology centre. The tricky issue of preferential access to intellectual property rights over low-carbon technologies has been skipped altogether.

The fact is we hate being hated in the rich man’s world. Cancun was about our need to be dealmakers on their behalf—even if it costs us the earth.

—Sunita Narain

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  • So now we charge those

    So now we charge those responsible for this needless panic? Who is to be charged with treason for leading our country to a false war of climate change? You! the MEDIA
    NEWS EDITORS are to journalism what nasty priests are to religion. Meanwhile, the UN had allowed carbon trading to trump 3rd world fresh water relief, starvation rescue and 3rd world education for just over 24 years of climate control instead of needed population control.
    All of those in media should have at least tried to stop this CO2 insanity somewhere over the last 25 years of fear mongering.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • Happy New Year Sunita though

    Happy New Year Sunita though in Europe the New Year isn't Divali!

    The global geoengineering community has calculated that the emission cuts alone are not enough due to low pledges by the industrialised countries. To neutralise the effect of greenhouse gases the cuts should be as calculated below.

    See especially Chapter 14 "Why do some societies make disastrous decisions?"


    On Tue, Dec 21, 2010 at 10:54 AM, John Gorman wrote:

    Thanks, Emily, for finding this FoE report

    The report (1) looks at the emissions from each country now, and projections for 2020 and 2050. I did the same,from a different perspective, for my document "Why Copenhagen Failed" (2) so I have checked their calculations and they are correct. These are the reductions that would be required from the largest eight emitters by 2020 in order to keep within the 2 degree C rise;(in alphabetical order)

    Canada 80% reduction by 2020
    China 20% reduction by 2020
    Germany 63% reduction by 2020
    India 63% /increase/ by 2020
    Japan 65% reduction by 2020
    Russia 80% reduction by 2020
    UK 57%reduction by 2020
    USA 80% reduction by 2020


    -These figures contain no fudges like "emissions intensity" or basing reductions on 1990. Reductions are from now -and real.

    -The 20% reduction for China is just as impossible as the 80% for the USA. China expects 300 million people to move from subsistence agriculture to the towns by 2030 and predicted 100% increase.

    -The increase allowed to India is due to the very low per capita emission now but is still far less than their post Copenhagen prediction of 100% increase.(

    3)The obvious impossibility of achieving these reductions is the central argument for geoengineering research - now. John Gorman



    (3)Last page of letter to Chris Huhne UK Minister for Energy at

    ----- Original Message -----
    From: "Emily" < emily@lewis-brown..

    Sent: Wednesday, December 15, 2010 4:37 PM
    Subject: [geo] geo eng and new Friends of the Earth EWNI report urges very deep and rapid emission cuts


    please read the last sentence in particular: FoE now join WWF in accepting the possible need for geo-engineering. I agree with this analysis.

    I am trying to track down a link tot he report - if you have one, please circulate.

    Many Thanks and Best wishes,


    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • Bravo Sunita. It is indeed a

    Bravo Sunita. It is indeed a tragedy that what our spokesperson speak to get a deal worked out and what our ground realities demands us to actually perform a task for the nationally acceptable action plans.
    Hope our parliamentarians will read this and make amends to reclaim the lost stake. People's power I hope will be respected and get precedence over marginal and ephemeral economic prosperity. This folly will indeed cost us dearly.
    Compliments of the season to all at CSE.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • This math of measuring and

    This math of measuring and dealing with carbon emissions is nothing but another scam these damn politicians and big corporations have come up with. Man needs to keep his ego under check to be able to imagine that he knows everything..

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply
  • The Polluter Pays Principle

    The Polluter Pays Principle is enshrined in the environmental laws of the US and formed the basis of the Superfund Programme to clean the hazardous waste sites. So why is it that when it is being evoked in the context of Climate Change the US is not willing to take responsibility to pay(together of course with Canada and Australia)? After all the impact being felt by 80% of the world population residing in developing countries is a direct cause of the 'pollution' created over the last 200 years by the 'polluters'.

    Posted by: Anonymous | 10 years ago | Reply