It was a foregone conclusion that a legally binding climate change mitigation agreement was a non-starter even before the Copenhagen climate summit began. Given the scale of mistrust between countries at the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15), it was very surprising that a political pledge on the subject was produced at the end of the summit.

There are two problems with the political statement, also known as the Copenhagen Accord. First, in terms of achieving the goals set for COP15, it only mentions the requirement for emission cutbacks. It does not quantify them, both for the Annex I countries under the Kyoto Protocol (the developed countries) and the non-Annex I ones (developing countries). That continues to be the biggest hurdle in any climate deal. Throughout the summit, rich countries tried their best to scuttle this distinction. If a large part of the effort at Copenhagen was to obliterate this difference, hold no breath that developed countries will agree to bear a heavier burden of cutbacks.

Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint

In turn, the rich countries, led by the US, extracted much more. They made developing countries agree to the “peak year" concept. This would be the year from which emissions would start declining in developing countries. It was something that India had resisted all along, but finally had to accede to.

The second and more problematic matter is that of the legitimacy of the accord. It is a deal between the rich countries and the four big developing countries—Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC). It does not have acceptance from all the 193 countries that participated in the summit. Many of these countries are at the receiving end of climate change. Small island nations and countries threatened by the rising sea level (for example, Bangladesh) are likely to see the deal as a sell-out.

This cleavage may come to haunt the BASIC group at a later date. The possibility of industrial economies lining up with the “ignored" nations to put more pressure on countries such as India to increase emission cuts at a later date cannot be ruled out. This could happen when renewed talks for quantifying the emission targets take place.

Other concerns such as financing and technology transfer to poorer countries find mention in the accord. But as with the emission cuts, these have been deliberately left vague and can be subject to interpretation. Copenhagen has finally produced a “bad deal", as everyone had feared.

Did India gain anything in the deal at Copenhagen? Tell us at