Cancun, Climate negotiations and the national interest

  • 16/12/2010

The time has come to develop a national consensus, define the national position and determine red lines for future negotiations, otherwise we risk endangering our future growth prospects.

A new paradigm has emerged at Cancun. Instead of the multilaterally agreed emissions reduction targets of the Kyoto Protocol, there is now a shared target for all countries, where deep cuts in greenhouse gases are required according to science. Developed countries are to take the lead in cutting greenhouse gases with low carbon strategies. New rules, in the form of guidelines, will assess domestic action in developing countries.

While the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities will continue to provide the framework for international cooperation it will no longer be the policy driver, as a ‘bottom-up’ approach is being institutionalized. Global climate governance is now conceptualized in terms of strategies that will modify patterns of resource use rather than in term of international environmental law to determine a balance of rights and obligations.

We need a national consensus on the appropriate response to the new situation. In this context, we must recognize the geopolitical rather than just the environmental nature of the climate regime, which has over the last twenty years focused on institutional arrangements to dilute commitments of developed countries, through three distinct but related tracks.

The lengthy negotiations around the Kyoto Protocol were dominated by largely successful efforts of developed countries to shift the focus to flows rather than stocks of carbon with offsets reducing the costs of measures. Consequently, the total amount of surplus emissions credits, or ‘hot air,’ is large enough to allow these countries to follow a business-as-usual pathway until after 2020, while still complying with the emissions targets announced at Copenhagen.

The second track has been to keep developing countries engaged in new institutions to support capacity building projects (Global Environment Facility, Green Climate Fund), expert groups (technology transfer, adaptation) and programmes of action (adaptation, forests) whose only tangible result has been to increase awareness and transfer limited funds to the Least Developed Countries. Adoption of new energy or agriculture technology has not been provided incremental costs promised in the Convention, despite countries submitting projects, including lists of technologies they need. At Cancun, too, intellectual property rights were off the table and discussion on the nature and modalities of funding postponed. Finance serves to solve a political problem and not the problem itself.

The third track has been to end the differentiation between countries in undertaking emissions reductions, and each annual meeting of the Convention post Kyoto has advanced this agenda to the point where developed countries, in the Cancun Agreements, are only required to take the lead before developing countries take on commitments.

India, with a larger population below the poverty line and without access to electricity than in Sub-Saharan Africa, is now caught between a rock and a hard place. In the period 1990-2005 developed countries emissions rose by 1.35 Gt, and their overall emissions remained limited only because of the reductions of 1.76 Gt in the Economies in Transition following the economic collapse of the Soviet Union. They do not want to bear the cost of modifying longer term trends, or lifestyles, as they had agreed to do under Article 4.2(a) of the Climate Convention.

Notwithstanding this inaction, China will contribute over 40% of total abatement by all countries by 2020, more than the total abatement by all developed countries combined, and more than 2.5 times the amount of abatement pledged by the United States, driven by concerns over energy security.

As India has per capita electricity availability less than 10 per cent the OECD average and half that of China, peaking of emissions while ensuring access to sustainable development will be by 2050, or earlier contingent on assured and affordable access to new technology, and this should be our first red line for the negotiations.

Science is now going to be the determining factor in assessing the adequacy of national actions, as limiting the increase in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius agreed in the Cancun Agreements, implies biophysical limits to growth. Therefore, both global temperature and quantitative limits on national emissions are needed as a transparent basis for developing and assessing national strategies. The Cancun Agreements recognize equitable sharing of the carbon budget, and a global goal on these lines should be the second red line for the negotiations.

This will lead to reframing the equity debate away from historical responsibility to reviewing the developed country interpretation of burden sharing. Currently, ecosystem services delivered outside national boundaries – by the atmospheric and terrestrial natural resource - have been ignored, effectively setting their value to zero in decision making. Consequently, in the world energy related carbon dioxide abatement scenario up to 2050, recently prepared by the International Energy Agency, most of the reductions come from developing countries – China 27%, India 12%, US 11%, OECD other than Europe 10% and OECD Europe 7%. This analytical work ignores lifestyle changes and is based on ‘global least cost’ economic efficiency criteria for allocating global emissions reduction to secure the 2 degree goal, and using global ‘fairness’ criteria will lead to a much more aggressive emission reduction effort in developed countries.

Finally, it has yet to be fully appreciated that the UN Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in 2012 (Rio + 20) will focus on the green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development, echoing similar provisions of the Climate Convention. That eradication of poverty remains the overriding priority of developing countries in formulating national actions must also be recognized in the guidelines for their reporting and assessment, and this should be our third red line for the negotiations.

In taking a leadership role we should stress that national carbon budgets alone will safeguard the ecological health of the planet, enable eradication of poverty and be a stronger driver than market mechanisms for the transformation of the world economy.


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