German climate change initiative

Published: Monday 15 October 2007

german Chancellor Angela Merkel's backing for allocating emissions budgets on a per capita basis will come as sweet music to leaders of the developing world. This has been one of their key demands in climate change negotiations, one that the developed world has almost unanimously refused to countenance till date. The implications are obvious. An emissions budget so reckoned while being equitable both to countries that are low on the industrial league table and ones that are both populous and industrialising rapidly--mainly Brazil, China and India--will strike at the roots of an unequal global order in which the already industrialised world have emissions allocations that do not take into account the historical dimensions of the problem of climate change.

For this very reason, it would be premature to be too optimistic about Merkel's statement in Japan. It is difficult to see the weight of European opinion, which has so far been on the reasonable side, to fall in behind this proposal. It would be wildly unrealistic to see the us and its industrialised hardline allies--Australia mainly--giving much quarter to such a radical proposal. The us has, in fact, signalled once again its intention of pursuing its recalcitrant emissions agenda outside the un negotiation framework. That can be the only construction we can put on the us's decision to host a round of negotiations involving the G8 countries and the emerging economies close on the heels of un-sponsored talks at the end of September that will function as preparatory steps to the conference of parties meeting in Bali, scheduled for December.

There are two issues that need to be taken note of. First, despite Merkel's new advocacy, none of the G8 countries, including Germany, have shown much hesitation in engaging with the us outside the un framework, as is evidenced by their acceptance of George W Bush's invitation. Second, some leaders of the emerging world have also shown some readiness to be a part of the us process--India is reportedly sending a team.

But these countries, especially India and China, on whom a lot of responsibility devolves, must not be seduced by the us embrace in the hopes of actualising short-term, self-centred gains. If they do that, they will have succeeded in underwriting us hegemony at the cost of severely weakening the unity of the South and sacrificing its long-term goals. The cost will be incalculable.

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