So far, all attempts at securing a mutually acceptable global climate change limitation agreement have proved futile. The problem is not that countries don’t agree to the need for one, but the details of such a deal.

On Wednesday, US President Barack Obama said as much when he said the forthcoming talks in Durban will be a “tough slog". He also raised the issue of “greater responsibility" on the part of India and China in arriving at an acceptable global regime.

A glacier meeting the ocean in Antarctica (File photo Bloomberg)

This is the nub of the problem. It is called the principle of differentiated responsibility. Developing countries would like no responsibility on this front as it is largely historical emissions since the Industrial Revolution that are responsible for man-made climate change. The developed world does not agree. The problem, as always, is about drawing the line: the level of burden developing countries will have to shoulder.

In the past three years, there has been no sign of agreement on this subject. All attempts at it have failed. The one way out would have been to generously endow a “green technology transfer fund".

If anything, Western countries have been niggardly in agreeing even to this limited cash transfer to poorer countries. With a looming global recession, the chances for this are not bright any more, if they ever were.

Unless some out-of-the-box idea can be conjured up at this late hour, such transfers remain the only viable option for a climate deal. A commitment to create a $500 billion fund would be a good starting point. More would certainly be needed. The sooner industrial countries realize that, the better it will be. Otherwise, Durban, too, will join the ranks of a failed summit.

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