Even before delegates from more than 180 countries converge on the island resort of Bali for the United Nations Climate Change Conference that starts on 3 December, clear battle lines have been drawn ahead of creating a new climate change treaty which will replace the so-called Kyoto Protocol that has been approved by 36 countries.
All countries agree that immediate efforts have to be undertaken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but they differ on how to go about this. Ranged on one side are developed countries who argue that developing countries, which have so far been exempt from committing to reduce emissions, must do so now.
And developing countries led by India and China, believe that doing so would retard their efforts to catch up with the rest of the world. Meanwhile, everyone agrees that the adverse effects of climate change are for real and that they will affect the poorest countries the most.
A Balinese priest planting a sapling on a beach ahead of the international climate change conference in Bali
In recent months, representatives of developed nations have lobbied India to soften its stand, in the hope that other developing countries would follow suit. The list of people who have tried to do this includes German chancellor Angela Merkel, UK’s environment minister Hilary Benn, and Nicholas Stern, former adviser to the UK government and author of the report Economics of Climate Change.
“India is hugely important and extremely influential. What India decides to do is going to have a huge impact on the world’s ability to respond to this (climate change),” said Benn. However, India has steadfastly maintained that a country’s commitment regarding emission cuts should be based on per capita emissions and not total emissions. India’s per capital emissions are 1 tonne a year (of carbon dioxide) compared to the global average of 4 tonnes.
India, according to officials in the commerce ministry who did not wish to be identified, is also against any effort that seeks to link environmental issues with trade. According to them, commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath will voice India’s stand on this at a meeting of trade and finance ministers in Bali. Like India, other countries too are digging in. Not surprisingly, several delegates, candidly concede the chances of the Bali talks throwing up a consensus are remote at this stage. Yet, they believe that the talks will set out the contours for negotiating a treaty ahead of 2012.
Meanwhile, R. K. Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said India should “be doing” some things “for sustainable development at a local level but not for global compulsions.”