As 192 country delegates converge upon Copenhagen for the 15th Conference of Parties (CoP-15) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), there is little hope that they will emerge from the negotiations with an equitable, legally binding and environmentally effective agreement.
Negotiations at UNFCCC have stagnated. There are deep political differences between the rich, industrialized and developed countries, on the one hand, and the Group of 77, or G-77, grouping of around 130 developing countries—of which India is a member, and with which China also aligns itself, on the other. This is the group of developing countries that is referred to as G-77+China at UNFCCC.
The major political differences between these two blocs essentially arise out of how to deal with the issues relating to the use of and access to earth’s atmospheric space. The developed world has colonized the atmosphere. Around 20% of the global population that resides in the developed world is responsible for 75% of the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. The changes to the climate that we are witnessing now are because of these historical emissions. Apart from a thin slice of the elite at the top of the Third World economic ladder, 80% of the global population living in developing countries is reeling under the impact of climate change that it did not contribute to.
The developed world, therefore, owes a climate debt to the developing world that it must pay off—first, by reducing its own current emissions drastically with immediate effect so as to provide the required atmospheric space for the developing world to attain its own development goals; second, by compensating the developing world for the harm and damage that has been caused through its past actions, because of which the developing world is being forced to adapt to climate change; and third, by supporting developing country actions to undertake climate change mitigation that ought to have been taken by the developed countries, but which they are unable to or unwilling to take for various reasons that one does not wish to delve into now.
Graphics: Ahmed Raza Khan / Mint
The situation, however, has become complex because of a continued rise of global emissions by both developed and developing countries. India has become the fourth largest emitter globally, while China is on top of the list of emitters. The science of climate change is telling us that global emissions must begin to decline soon. Unless that happens, we could trigger catastrophic changes to the ecology of the planet that could endanger all life on earth. Climate change is a global crisis that needs a global collaborative response. However, unless this global response is based on principles of equity and justice, there is a danger that the global economic, social and political disparities that exist now, will perhaps continue to exist forever. These disparities, it may well be argued, could perhaps be as powerful a danger to the planet as is the danger from climate change.
It is in this context that we must find a solution to the climate crisis that is not only environmentally sound, but also socially and politically just. As a member of the G-77+China group of countries, India has been stoutly resisting attempts by the developed world to renege on climate change obligations. It must be clear to all that India’s long-term interests, as well as the interests of the majority of its impoverished and marginalized people, lies in continuing to align itself with the G-77+China. Any notion that India’s interests or the interests of the bulk of its people can be served through jettisoning the developing countries and aligning itself with the global north must be discarded.
This is notwithstanding the fact that there is a lot that India can and must do on its own, domestically, without taking on commitments at UNFCCC, to both mitigate and adapt to climate change.
In addition, India must also collaborate with the rest of the world to implement nationally appropriate mitigation actions that are supported through corresponding transfers of finances and technology through UNFCCC, as and when such support is made available to it.
India must also eventually take on commitments at UNFCCC of a legally binding nature sometime in the future. However, the time to do so is not now. Now is the time for India, in full solidarity with G-77+China, to demand that the developed countries begin discharging their legally binding commitments within UNFCCC without delay in order to protect the planet and the people.
Raman Mehta is policy manager, ActionAid. Respond to this column at firstname.lastname@example.org