CoP-8: Nothing's brewing

For a fortnight, 1,456 delegates from 167 countries sat in conference halls, attended plenary sessions and roundtables, and sized each other up over a cup of coffee. In the end, CoP-8 didn't witness any scintillating intellectual and moral leadership from a host that often likes to portray itself as a leader among developing nations. It could well be said that India passed over a historical moment
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Published: Saturday 30 November 2002

CoP-8: Nothing's brewing

Prime Minister Vajpayee addres It was a huge party. There were camels, horses and gaudily caparisoned elephants. Teams of sweating musicians belted out India's diverse ethnic notes; girls, perched atop plywood props designed to look like fortress towers, swayed and struck dance poses. There was food from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, turbaned waiters, false fountains and even a rickety wooden bridge across a shallow muddy pond. Hosted by the government of India for the benefit of delegates to the eighth Conference of Parties (CoP-8) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the party drably paraded 5000 so-called years of Indian culture, and turned out to be the perfect prelude to CoP-8 itself.

The party was held in the evening of October 23, 2002. CoP-8 ran on for a fortnight, October 23 to November 1, at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi. For a fortnight 1456 delegates from 167 countries sat in conference halls, attended plenary sessions and round-tables, and sized each other up over a cup of coffee in the canteen. 222 media organisations clattered out reports on CoP-8 goings-on, while 213 non-governmental organisations prowled the corridors, observing.

Such intense human effort wasn't without purpose. Three years of negotiations on the operational details of the UNFCCC's 1997 Kyoto Protocol had reached an end at CoP-7 (held in Marrakesh, Morocco, in November 2001), where the Marrakesh Accords were signed. CoP-8, therefore, signalled a new phase of negotiations. What next?

There was the little but big matter of protocol ratification. The previous ratification deadline, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held at Johannesburg in September 2002, was over. Would CoP-8 therefore put an end to sluggish ratification, bring the protocol into force? In addition, were there other protocol-related matters that still needed fine-tuning?

Then there were issues that could make CoP-8 really interesting. Issues that were not so much protocol-related, such as the Accords, but rather UNFCCC-related. Since 1997, when the protocol was signed, developing countries had consistently complained that negotiations tended to focus exclusively on protocol-related matters. Other issues, such as helping developing countries to adapt to climate change, or adequacy of developed country commitments, had gathered cobwebs. Would CoP-8 address these older, left-unresolved issues? If so, how? Here was a real opportunity. After all, CoP-8 was being held in a developing country; the conference was to be presided over by India's environment minister.

These questions hung about Vigyan Bhavan for a fortnight. Not much human effort was expended in raising them. Even less was spent swatting them away. As delegates and then their bosses (the environment ministers) cajoled or threatened each other, or shook hands or fists, CoP-8 reached an outcome - it took the vapid shape of a document called the Delhi Declaration, turning this round of climate change talks into a storm in a teacup.

India Brew
CoP-8 didn't witness any scintillating intellectual and moral leadership from a host that often likes to portray itself as a leader among developing nations. The lack of leadership wasn't unnoticed, particularly by the small island developing countries - most affected by the climate change phenomenon, worst-hit by inaction in climate change talks. "We find it a pity that the Delhi Declaration was not embellished with the same spice, flavours and delicious titbits so much a feature of Indian food," an official representative from Tuvalu, a small island in the Pacific, said in the closing session.

CoP-8 took up where WSSD had left off. In the declaration's reference to the protocol, could a should be humbly prefixed to strongly urge? Those who hadn't ratified the protocol - countries such as the US, Australia, big emitters all - foamed at the mouth. Should couldn't and shouldn't be included. Those who had wanted this word in finally backed off. The result was that the declaration asked for no more - and, to the relief of some, no less - than what the WSSD Plan of Implementation had. In a unique and ingenious time- and effort-saving gesture, it simply repeated - verbatim! - the earlier formulation.

ROGUE PARTY US: Traditionally, the US and the G-77 (group of developing countries) would always range themselves at opposite ends of the negotiation spectrum. The US would filthily undermine efforts to mitigate the problem. The G-77 -including small island states, worst affected by climate change - would faithfully pressurise the world's biggest polluter to take responsibility. In between these two would pop up the European Union, unfaithfully to-ing and froing.

Then in March 2000, the US made it clear it was dumping the protocol. Confusion, and then determination to get the Protocol going without the US, marked climate meetings thereafter. The EU stopped trying to rope the US in, and announced its resolve to ratify. This move was cheered by the rest of the world. The JUSSCANNZ group of US allies (Japan, US, Canada, Switzerland, Australia, Norway and New Zealand), an often obstructive bunch of nations, broke down as Japan announced that it, too, would ratify.

The US became an unusually silent partner at climate change talks.The silence broke just before and at CoP-8. The US revealed a new, equally filthy, strategy: undermine the Kyoto Protocol (old filth), and define a parallel track based on intensity targets and bilateral deals (new filth).

The ground was already prepared for. The US had already struck bilateral deals with several countries - dangerous 'debt for nature swaps' with Thailand, Belize and El Salvador, technology cooperation deals with India and China, and Japan, Italy, Australia and Canada. At the WSSD, the US lambasted the multilateral process and beatified bilateral, voluntary partnerships; a US senator pointed out that multilateralism was an obstacle in the way of the world's superpower.

Then, just before CoP-8, US chief negotiator Harlan Watson met the Indian media at the US embassy in New Delhi and made a startling announcement: the US no longer expected developing countries to sign the Kyoto Protocol, he crooned. Each developing country should decide its own response to climate change. This was a complete U-turn in US posturing on climate change. Ever since the negotiations had begun, it had demanded equal participation from developing countries, especially India and China, as a condition of its willingness to be part of the process. Since 1997, it had refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, saying India and China had to do it, too. Now, it was saying exactly the opposite.

At CoP-8, it became clear that Watson's announcement was perfectly in keeping with the new strategy the US had come up with. The new plan quickly unfolded. In case countries were ratifying the Kyoto Protocol to shame the US into accepting it, Watson announced that the US would not take on mandatory commitments "not today, not tomorrow, never in the first commitment period". At press conferences and interviews, Watson and his team expressed doubts that the protocol would get the crucial ratification from Russia to come into effect. They were rumoured to have disparagingly called the protocol just "a piece of paper", while declaring that hereafter, the world would be divided into two: those who agreed with the US on climate change, and those who did not.

If the strategy was so blatantly an attempt to throw the CoP process off-rail, surely nobody would go for it? Sadly, not so. One clear taker was Indian industry, sniffing around for lucrative CDM deals. "The US has proposed bilateral projects. And if such schemes are able to prove that they provide the project developer more efficiency in terms of per unit of product output and low energy consumption, then the entrepreneurs will still go for them," K P Nyati, representative of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), said in an interview.

Then there was Shell-oiled Nigeria. "Allow me to break protocol and pay special tribute to the delegation of the US," Nigerian delegate Mohammed Sanusi Barkindo said to the CoP closing plenary session. "On multiple agenda items, including the development of the declaration, the delegation of the US showed leadership and signalled clearly a good prospect of a change in the dynamics of relations in the CoP."

PRIM PARENTS EU: After the US dumped the Kyoto Protocol, the EU had achieved saviour-status in negotiations. It therefore came as a surprise when, at a meeting held in New Delhi in late September, the EU and other industrialised countries (particularly Japan, Denmark, Canada, Norway and the UK) indicated they wanted to start talking about the 'post-Kyoto' period, when developing country would take on commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The EU rationale was that existing commitments were not sufficient; and that it would take a long time to negotiate the basis for developing country commitments, just as it had on Kyoto commitments. But the pre-CoP-8 development put the large developing countries on the defensive. In the conference itself, this issue became a major sticking point in negotiations for the Delhi Declaration.

The draft presented by Baalu, like his earlier informal paper, focused more on adaptation to climate change, and not mitigation. Denmark, currently EU president, tried to counter the move and linked funding to discussions on future commitments at CoP-8. It implied, in the plenary, that developing countries would not get any money for adaptation until they agreed to such discussions. Least developed countries (LDCs) were exempt from this punishment, and were promised US $11.5 million. Developing countries feared that 'just talking' about commitments could be the first step down a very slippery slope. It could lead to the undoing of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, agreed to in the UNFCCC text. Developing countries therefore wanted to review the adequacy of industrialised country commitments - an item continuously postponed from the CoP agenda since 1994.

Realising that the talk of developing country commitments was polarising the conference, the EU then backtracked: it was not talking about developing country commitments, but rather a "common dialogue with a view to kicking off a process for further action under the convention and the protocol". When developing countries finally managed to keep talk of further commitments out of the final Declaration, the EU expressed its unhappiness. 'We have adopted the Delhi Declaration in a situation where you have to choose between having no declaration or a declaration that you are not so satisfied with," said Steen Gade, director general of the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, on behalf of the EU in a closing press conference.

DIVIDED FAMILY G-77: Here was a rag tag group of countries that had never managed to get its act together. At one end ranged the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) desperately goading the world into taking climate change seriously, even as rising sea levels threatened their entire nations. At the other, there was the OPEC sub-group, who would see any attempt to reduce fossil fuel use as a threat to their oil-rich economies. In between lay the South American, African and Asian regions. The so-called "big three" (China, India and Brazil - or big four, if Indonesia is included), would be roused into action only when there was talk of "key developing nations" taking on commitments, or of future commitments. At CoP-8, the big three came under criticism by the small island states for allowing Saudi Arabia to take over charge of the G-77 agenda.

Saudi Arabia came particularly well prepared for CoP-8. They took charge of almost every contact group during the conference. Meanwhile, the EU accused Saudi Arabia of using its position as key G-77 spokesperson to whip up emotions and distrust on the issue of developing country commitments. Many accused Saudi Arabia of being the front for US interests and sabotaging negotiations.

As the debate on future commitments heated up, G-77 differences accentuated. A reference in the Third Assessment Report (TAR) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - to the fact of 'dangerous' climate change, that existing commitments were not sufficient to deal with global warming, and that the global community would have to commit to deeper cuts - rang alarm bells in the AOSIS sub-group. Thus, while the rest of G-77 opposed even a reference to the TAR report in the Delhi Declaration, AOSIS was supportive of the EU call for future action by developing countries. Among the G-77, the AOSIS stood out in rejecting the Delhi Declaration as not good enough. "For the sake of vulnerable countries like our own, we needed a more substantial acknowledgement that the Kyoto Protocol is the primary instrument for addressing climate change. Those who deny this are denying our future," the representative from Tuvalu told the closing plenary.

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