Barely 24 hours after the world congratulated itself for striking a new deal on climate change, Canada exited the Kyoto protocol—a deal that binds developed countries to implement quantitative cuts in emissions. Though expected, the move underlines the inability of the developed nations—who account for largest chunk of accumulated emissions of carbon dioxide—to walk the talk on fighting climate change. Ironically, extension of the Kyoto protocol, which the US has steadfastly refused to sign, was one of the three issues on which global negotiators were claiming a victory in Durban. For Canada, it was a fait accompli as they had failed to adhere to the committed targets. But this move will now provide a legitimate window for other signatories too to bail out.
Such a poor start obviously brings the two other deals agreed to in Durban under a cloud. One was to create a special fund to help poor countries tackle climate change and the other was the agreement to set out a road map to arrive at a legally binding agreement on emission reductions by 2020.
The core issue is that the global political leadership is living in denial. Energy security rather than fighting climate change is their first priority. Indeed, as China demonstrated by its muscular show of power in the South China Sea in challenging other claimants to the gas reserves, the world runs a risk of a serious military conflict among major powers. Further, traditional global leaders such as the US and the European Union have deliberately avoided assuming a leadership role in fighting climate change. Worse, they have instead focused their energies in diverting attention from their historical contribution to the global stock of carbon dioxide emissions.
Part of this strategy was to either play the emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil against each other; more recently, they have, ignoring the principle of equity in fixing responsibility for carbon emissions, sought to argue that emerging economies too must accept legally binding emission cuts. The political economy of this strategy is the fear of developed countries of their diminishing global status as emerging economies led by China play catch up—if they did succeed in their objective then it would restrict the growth trajectory of emerging economies. The developing countries however have so far successfully fended off such pressures. At Durban, India too lent its weight behind the principle of equity. The subtext of this face off is that the world has agreed to disagree.
US lead negotiator Todd Stern at climate change conference in Durban, South Africa. (AP)
This is certainly not an acceptable solution. Vulnerable countries like Maldives and Bangladesh will feel soon begin to feel the pressure of global warming as water levels in the seas rise unabated. The lives of millions of people are at risk. The writing on the wall is clear: till such time a catastrophic tragedy strikes global leaders will continue to ignore the problem, little realizing that it can’t be wished away. But by then there may be no second chance at hand.