As the date for the Copenhagen climate change summit approaches, the discordant voices on the subject are getting louder. On Tuesday, African nations boycotted UN climate change talks in Barcelona. They want rich countries to agree to greater emission cuts than the latter have agreed to so far, though this may prove to be a bargaining tactic and no more. A similar boycott was threatened by US senators last Friday; only they were threatening to derail a climate Bill in the Senate.

If anything, Copenhagen is likely to expose the fault lines in the efforts to control climate change. Failure to achieve a global deal at Copenhagen cannot be dismissed anymore. If anything, the pleas of Denmark’s Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen and climate and energy minister Connie Hedegaard underscore the difficulties ahead.

illlustration; Jayachandran / Mint

There is no consensus, so far, on key issues such as emission cut targets and financial aid to developing countries to help them check climate change. Developing countries want cuts to the tune of 40% of the 1990 level by 2020. That will not happen. Advanced industrial countries will agree to nothing more than 15-20% of the 1990 level. Then, there is the issue of financial help. The European Union, probably the most willing participant in the global effort, has dished out a $100 billion per year (from 2020) figure. This is way lower than the 1% of advanced country gross domestic product (roughly $300 billion per annum) demanded by developing countries.

There is a fundamental problem, though. Even if a deal is thrashed out, there is no way it can be implemented in a legally binding fashion, short of sanctions and other coercive measures. As Michael A. Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs, these problems defy easy resolution. This is because emissions have different causes in various countries. If in India and China it is economic growth fuelled by industrial expansion that is leading to rising emissions, in Brazil and Indonesia it is deforestation that is creating the problem.

The result, however, is clear: The idea of constructing a one-size-fits-all deal may not work. Because of the diversity of causes behind the problem, different solutions appeal to different countries. A big umbrella treaty is a Western dream and not of the world at large.

There is no doubt that something has to be done about the problem: Climate change has too much scientific evidence to be denied. The issue is how to go about fixing the problem. On that there are plenty of doubts.

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