At the best of times, climate change mitigation was no one’s baby. After five years of hard but fruitless negotiations, an equitable and binding global mitigation agreement/treaty is nowhere in sight. On Monday, the chief of the United Nations’ (UN) climate change panel, Christiana Figueres, warned that by the end of 2012, the existing framework—pledges under the Kyoto Protocol—would expire, with nothing to replace it.
Recent events—the latest being the beginning of a new apartheid against nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima power plant meltdown—suggest that the world may once again hug dirty power such as coal and hydrocarbons with renewed vigour. Japan has said it would take a harder, less positive, look at nuclear power. Hideki Minamikawa, the country’s top environment civil servant, has said that the carbon emission reduction goal will be hit and will be subject to review.
Perhaps this was one opening that countries such as the US, Russia and Japan, among others, had been looking for. These countries have been firmly opposed to the Kyoto Protocol, which led to binding cuts on the part of some states only. Once the Protocol comes to an end, negotiations will enter an uncertain phase: Developed countries that have shown reluctance towards binding commitments will get an excuse not to do anything until China, India and other emerging economies are subjected to identical treatment. The latter will insist on some commitment from advanced countries before taking binding steps. A chicken and egg game, one that has hobbled negotiations for long, will start all over again. While this sounds pessimistic, it is the likely shape of things to come.
Against this emerging situation, it will be interesting to see the outcome of the six days of talks that began in Bangkok on Sunday. These are of a preparatory nature, meant to set the tone for the climate summit this December in South Africa.
India, while not being averse to binding cuts, has a clear line on the subject: an equitable treatment of all countries, which means a higher level of responsibility for industrialized countries. This is a fair argument given that it has done much to conserve forests, wetlands and other environmental assets. These go some distance in demonstrating its commitment to fighting climate change.
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