Poor man’s burden

Developing countries shoulder the clean-up responsibility, yet it is not enough

Last Updated: Sunday 28 June 2015 | 16:34:24 PM

Poor manÔÇÖs burden

moralesWorld leaders applauded the Cancun agreement even though it violated the right of developing countries to grow with an equal access to global carbon space. Bolivia was the only country that pointed out the inequity. When its ambassador to the UN, Pablo Solon, called the deal a step backward, others booed him. Industrialised countries, along with a few emerging economies, pulled the biggest coup in the history of climate change talks: science and the principle of equity were brushed aside.

The Cancun agreement ignored ambitious targets of greenhouse gas reduction to arrest average global temperature rise below 2°C—the guardrail fixed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to avoid catastrophic impacts of the climate change.

The agreement recognises that increase in global temperature cannot exceed 2°C (and also recognises the need to review whether the world should try keep it below 1.5°C) but it provides no road map for reaching this goal. It fixes no emission reduction targets for the developed countries, collectively, and there is no mention of a year when the world emissions should peak before starting to decline. On the contrary, it gives additional space to developed countries, especially the US, to increase emissions further.

What it does is legalise the voluntary “pledge and review” mentioned in the Copenhagen Accord. Now countries are allowed to set their own domestic targets in the form of pledges. The developed countries’ pledges will be measured, reported and verified (MRV) but will not invite penalties if they are not met. “This is a slap in the face of those who already suffer from climate change,” said Nnimmo Bassey, environmental activist and chair of Friends of the Earth International. “The rich countries that are primarily responsible for climate change are to blame for the lack of desperately needed greater ambition.”

For the developing countries, the pledges will go through international consultation and analysis (ICA)— euphemism for MRV. So far 42 industrialised countries have pledged quantified, economy-wide emission targets for 2020. In addition, 43 developing countries have also submitted nationally appropriate mitigation actions.

Gigatonne gap

A report by the UN Environment Programme finds that fully implementing the pledges associated with the Copenhagen Accord could, at best, bring down emissions to around 49 gigatonnes (billion tonnes, Gt) of CO2 equivalent by 2020, against business as usual emissions of 56 Gt. This would leave an emissions gap of around 5 Gt of CO2 equivalent between where nations might be in 2020 against where the science indicates they need to be. In the worst case, the global emissions could be as high as 53 Gt in 2020.

imageThe Copenhagen pledges, which are now part of the Cancun agreement, therefore, fall short by as much as five to nine Gt emissions reduction. This will put the world on course for a temperature increase of 3-4°C.

The Cancun agreement has also changed the basic rules for combating climate change forever; it has shifted the burden of emissions reduction from developed to developing countries.

Against weak pledges by developed countries, developing nations have pledged to reduce emissions intensity significantly. India has pledged to reduce by 20-25 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.

China has pledged more ambitious target, to reduce its CO2 emissions intensity by 40-45% by 2020 compared to the 2005 levels, and increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to 15 per cent by 2020. The pledges made by other emerging economies like Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia are also quite ambitious.

The industrialised countries, that should have led in the emissions reduction, will get away by cutting comparatively less emissions than the developing world. While they cut 0.8-1.8 Gt by 2020, developing countries pledge to cut their emissions by 2.8 Gt.

The cost of meeting these targets could prove too expensive for poor countries. It might hinder the UN millennium development goals, which include eradication of hunger and poverty and environmental sustainability.

The US, which is yet to commit to how much emissions it will cut, has the most to gain from the agreement. With the highest historical emissions, it needs to reduce 40 per cent of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. But it will get away by reducing zero per cent over its 1990 levels.


How US built consensus to get a deal it wanted

imageFundamentally, there is no difference between the Copenhagen Accord of 2009 and the Cancun Agreement on Long-term Cooperative Action. Both turn the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on its head—all countries, rich and poor, have a common protocol under which they “pledge” their voluntary emissions reduction targets. Both pave the way for jettisoning the Kyoto Protocol, in which rich nations had binding obligations based on their historical responsibility for causing climate change.

Cancun has actually operationalised the Copenhagen Accord. Still, while Copenhagen was termed a disaster, Cancun is being celebrated as a success. Copenhagen was rejected because it was unilateralist, and Cancun became acceptable because of its multilateral process.

What happened in Cancun? What made the poorest and most vulnerable countries, who had vehemently opposed the Accord in 2009, to agree to the Cancun agreement? To understand this one has to understand what happened in Copenhagen and in the period between Copenhagen and Cancun.

It is important to understand that domestic politics of Kyoto-renegade US demanded a non-binding agreement with full and complete participation of countries like India and China. This meant that the US could not afford to continue with the two-track UNFCCC negotiations and needed a new agreement that had no legally binding emissions reduction obligations as well as brought India and China into the agreement. This was the genesis of the Copenhagen Accord.

At Copenhagen, though most countries were negotiating under UNFCCC’s two-track process, a group of countries, led by the US and assisted by the host government of Denmark, had every intention to subvert the process and replace the UNFCCC negotiating text with a framework of their own. They worked on and with the BASIC countries and a few Least Developed Countries (some 20-odd countries were huddled in a room with Barak Obama) and came out with what is now infamously known as the Copenhagen Accord.

However, on the last night of the conference, when the meeting was convened to endorse the Copenhagen Accord, things went wrong for the US. Despite all the armtwisting, bribery and threats, countries like Tuvalu, Bolivia and Venezuela rejected the accord because they believed that the process was undemocratic and that the accord was very weak on emissions reduction targets.

Only 116 countries of 194 that are parties to the UNFCCC actually associated themselves with the accord. Because the UNFCCC works on consensus, the accord was not passed and was only “noted” by the Conference of Parties. So the design of the big polluters of the world to move out of the two-track process, to dump the Kyoto Protocol and to replace it with the Copenhagen Accord failed.

The US diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks tell us what happened between Copenhagen and Cancun. Just after Copenhagen, the US mounted a major global diplomatic offensive to force small and poor countries to endorse the accord. After all, getting as many countries as possible to endorse the accord was the only way it could have been officially adopted.

The US $30 billion promised by the accord for adaptation in the poorest countries was used to lure countries like Maldives and others in the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) and Least Developed Countries to sign on the accord. In one cable the EU climate commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, is quoted as saying to the US Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing that “the AOSIS countries could be our best allies given their need for financing”. In this meeting both Connie and Pershing agreed “on the need to operationalise the Copenhagen Accord and ensure it is incorporated into the UNFCCC process”.

Where money didn’t work threat was used. In one cable the US Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, Maria Otero, is found urging the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, to sign the Copenhagen Accord and explaining to him “that it is a point of departure for further discussion and movement forward on the topic”. Essentially, threatening Zenawi that he sign the Accord or discussion ends now.

The US government also roped in countries like the Netherlands to use its financial muscle to get poor developing countries to endorse the accord. The fact is that by the end of February 2010, till when WikiLeaks cables are available, 140 countries had already associated with the accord. There were still another 10 month to “work on” countries.

The US diplomatic effort had borne fruit and now it was up to the Mexican government to get the rest on board at Cancun.

The biggest opposition to the Copenhagen Accord came from the Bolivarian Alliance for the peoples of our America (ALBA)—comprising the Latin American and Caribbean countries like Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Cuba. The ALBA group had denounced the process followed to arrive at the Copenhagen Accord as undemocratic and illegitimate. It had denounced the outcome as a “threat to the destiny of humanity”. The task of the Mexican government, therefore, was to work on these countries and get them on board.

This was done quite beautifully by Patricia Espinosa, the president of the CoP 16. She and her colleagues gave huge space to these countries to create a sense of their involvement in the process. The fact that the CoP was being held in the Americas also helped. The solidarity of ALBA group with Mexico to ensure that the conference was not a failure went a long way in creating consensus.

At 9 pm on December 10 at the informal plenary of the CoP, Patricia Espinosa was greeted with a huge applause by the parties and observers. In her opening remarks she emphasised how Cancun had restored the faith of the world in multilateralism which was eroded in Copenhagen. She urged the countries to accept the text prepared by the presidency. In this meeting she again “worked on” the ALBA group. The first three countries she invited to speak were Bolivia, Peru and Venezuela. The agreement was formalised in the wee hours of December 11 at the formal plenary where India’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh termed Patricia the goddess.


Cancun clinches dealÔÇöfor polluters


On the night of December 10, Patricia Espinosa shed a tear and received a standing ovation. The foreign secretary of Mexico and president of the 16th Conference of Parties (CoP) on Climate Change held in Cancun had just read out her speech urging all negotiating parties to accept a draft agreement anchored by her country. As she finished her speech, the plenary hall burst into a thunderous applause. Mexico had managed the impossible. It had got all countries barring one to agree on a draft very similar to the Copenhagen Accord, which the earlier CoP had refused to adopt.

The draft had let the rich countries, largely responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, off the hook; they did not have to commit legally to cut emissions. Instead, it proposed everybody voluntarily pledged to cut emissions as much as they pleased. This meant erasing the historical responsibility of industrialised nations to clean up greenhouse gases.

Decisions in climate change negotiations always take place at the eleventh hour. Cancun was no different. For the first 10 days the negotiations played out like a silent movie, apart from strident calls by Japan, Canada, Australia and Russia to scrap the second phase (post- 2012) of the Kyoto Protocol that makes it legally binding for rich countries to take emission cuts, hence essentially differentiating their responsibility from that of developing countries. US delegates did not have much to say except that they wanted a “balanced package”; the Chinese did not come before the media till the second week of the conference; India held a press conference where the media was not allowed to ask questions. It was the antithesis of Copenhagen where every hour statements were made and accusations hurled.

The calm was a perfect foil for the heated arguments within the negotiating chambers. There was no agreement on any aspect of talks that progressed along two tracks. One ad-hoc group negotiated the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol and the other long-term cooperative action on what every party should collectively do to adapt to and mitigate climate change. At the end of the first week, the chairs of both the working groups presented their drafts to the parties, which remained divided on critical issues: how much emissions should be reduced by developed countries, how much money should developed countries give to developing countries for adapting to climate change, how technology should be transferred to developing countries to reduce their emissions. Even the legal form, whether the long-term cooperative action should be a binding protocol, was being hotly debated.

The developed countries pushed for incorporating the Copenhagen Accord—that makes no commitment legally binding—into the formal negotiating process. For most time the US behaved as a fence-sitter. But as confidential cables leaked by WikiLeaks revealed on December 4, it had other methods to persuade smaller countries, either with a carrot or with a stick. Smaller nations, particularly the small island states, were offered money to side with the developed nations. On December 8, the European Union, along with the small island states, proposed merging the two negotiating tracks into a single, legally binding one on long-term action.

This meant undermining the Kyoto Protocol. The US, India, China, Bolivia and the Philippines staunchly opposed the move. The group of 77 developing countries called G77 did not want to move away from the Kyoto Protocol, while the US did not want legally-binding commitments. Bolivia said no because it smelled a repeat of the Copenhagen Accord.

As the negotiations progressed, Indian and Chinese negotiators began complaining they were under tremendous pressure to adopt long-term cooperative actions as a legally binding agreement. They wanted to know the emission cuts industrialised countries would take before deciding on it. With the group of countries led by Japan, Russia, Canada and Australia withdrawing from the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol, the developed countries pitched for negotiations on long-term cooperative actions without binding commitments. They wanted every country, rich or poor, to pledge voluntary actions as mentioned in the Copenhagen Accord.

India blinked. Its environment minister Jairam Ramesh told the high-level plenary all countries must take on “binding commitments under appropriate legal forms”. “Appropriate legal forms” is not exactly “legally binding”; it leaves scope for varying interpretations. Several experts believe that Ramesh’s statement was a support for a pledge-and-review regime as a single instrument in a new protocol. Later, he admitted he was under tremendous pressure not be seen as a deal breaker.

The Mexican presidency moved in swiftly for the kill. It took a few ministers from negotiating parties into confidence to persuade other countries to accept the draft. Meetings were pushed behind closed doors where only those negotiators “who could be trusted” took part. Nobody slept till early morning of December 10.

The negotiators only got a few hours’ break and by 8 am most of them were back in negotiating chambers. The Indian minister was busy getting other BASIC members (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) to accept the draft. China was still adamant on a number of issues, including mitigation targets and international monitoring and verification of its domestic commitments. Eventually, it too gave in. South Africa, host to the talks next year, did not want to raise hackles.

In the end 193 of the 194 negotiating parties supported the deal. Only one country said no: Bolivia.


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