The basic issue at Copenhagen is whether an adequate global response to climate change should be achieved through enhanced implementation by all countries of their commitments under the existing agreements, or whether a new agreement should be negotiated to reduce the commitments of the developed countries by shifting a large share of their responsibilities to the shoulders of developing countries. The developed countries are pressing for replacing the Kyoto Protocol with a new agreement designed to impose new legally binding commitments on developing countries.
The two existing international agreements on climate change—the framework convention and the Kyoto Protocol—are based on concepts of equity and environmental justice. The convention notes that the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs.
Accordingly, the convention requires the developed countries to reduce their emissions, as well as to provide financial resources and transfer technology to developing countries in order to enable the latter to respond adequately to climate change. It also provides that the “extent to which the developing country parties will effectively implement their commitments under the convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country parties of their commitments under the convention related to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country parties”.
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The convention lays down the overall framework of international cooperation but does not specify the scale of emission reductions required to be made by each developed country. The Kyoto Protocol fills the void, incorporating a schedule of emission reductions for the period ending 2012 and a specific obligation to negotiate similar schedules for subsequent periods.
The framework convention and the Kyoto Protocol are based on equity and environmental justice. Developed countries are primarily responsible for causing climate change and, moreover, they have a much greater financial and technological capability to respond to climate change. Thus, in accordance with the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”, they are required to implement time-bound emission reduction commitments and contribute financial and technological support to the developing countries to enable them to address climate change. Developing countries have no legally binding commitments. Their mitigation actions are of a voluntary nature and are conditional on receipt of adequate financial support to cover incremental costs. Since these actions are voluntary, they are not subject to any form of review or “verification”.
The two equity-based climate change agreements — the convention and the protocol — effectively protect the interests of the developing countries. Their provisions for differentiation in favour of developing countries are arguably unmatched by any other international treaty.
As already noted, the convention and the protocol impose legally binding commitments only on the developed countries. In regard to differentiated treatment, international agreements range from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at one end of the scale to the climate change agreements at the other end. The underlying principle of NPT is maintenance of the status quo; it, therefore, differentiates in favour of the most powerful states. The climate change convention and the Kyoto Protocol are based on the principle of environmental justice, and the differentiated treatment benefits the developing countries. In between these two poles, we have a large number of trade and technical agreements in which “equal” treatment is the basic principle. Many of these agreements contain “review” or “consultation” provisions applicable to all parties. Neither the convention nor the Kyoto Protocol subject developing countries to such procedures.
These equity-based climate change agreements are now facing a concerted assault by the developed countries. They are calling for a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol — a new treaty that would impose binding commitments also on developing countries. As a first step, we are being asked to “internationalize” our domestic plans to mitigate climate change, opening the door to an international assessment of their “adequacy” and pressure to revise our targets. Our targets, “voluntary” in origin, would merely pave the way to internationally negotiated figures. Implementation of these revised targets would then be subject to “verification” of compliance. We would have to surrender the right to formulate our national plans without external interference.
It is instructive to study the reaction of the developed countries to China’s plans for reducing its carbon intensity. In September, when China initially declared its intention to “significantly” reduce its carbon intensity, it immediately came under pressure to quantify the target. China recently announced its aim of reducing carbon intensity by 40-45% by 2020, from a 2005 baseline. Western commentators are now describing the Chinese target as a mere “opening bid”, to be revised upward in the negotiations!
India and other developing countries should press the developed countries to reduce their emissions by at least 40% by 2020. We must ensure that the message issuing from Copenhagen reflects the need for urgent action to enhance implementation of the convention and the Kyoto Protocol. Proposals implying renegotiation of the principles and provisions of these agreements must be firmly rejected.
Our Prime Minister has launched a far-sighted National Action Plan on Climate Change. We can and must implement such voluntary national actions that simultaneously advance our development goals and climate change response. We may report these initiatives and their outcomes to the global community in a transparent manner. But we must firmly reject pressures to convert our voluntary, domestically funded national initiatives into internationally binding commitments or actions subject to international review, consultation or verification. We must reject all attempts to impose new commitments on developing countries, including new review commitments. We should protect the integrity of the framework convention and its Kyoto Protocol in the interests of climate justice and the right to development.
Chandrashekhar Dasgupta is distinguished fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute. Respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org