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Durban Platform: Kyoto Negotiations Redux

The official narrative on India's position at the climate change talks at Durban has it that the country resisted the proposal to negotiate a new legally binding instrument until its concerns on equity had supposedly been accommodated. However, this ignores more important issues whose neglect by India has severely weakened its ability to intervene effectively in the international climate debate and shape the emerging new global climate architecture.

<p>There are always diverse interpretations of the outcome of each climate summit. After Durban there is fortunately some greater clarity: different readings still abound, of course, but this time their very coexistence tells an important story. Part of this greater clarity comes from the 17th Conference of Parties (COP17) at Durban having formally adopted a decision to launch a fresh structured process, the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (henceforth DP), to develop a new global legal compact by 2015 to replace the Kyoto Protocol and come into effect by 2020.</p>

<p>This is in obvious contrast to the uncertainties of the Copenhagen Accord, which was not adopted by COP15, or even of the Cancun Agreement which, although adopted by COP16 with voluntary emission reduction pledges by various nations, left ambiguous crucial issues of its legal force and status vis-&agrave;-vis the Kyoto Protocol. The different interpretations of DP confirm that the instrument to replace Kyoto is open-ended. And yet, some of the contours of the likely new architecture and their implications are also evident both from the text and from reading between the lines in the context of the Durban conference.</p>
<p><strong>Unconvincing Narrative</strong></p>
<p>A great deal of attention in the media and among commentators has focused on the 11th hour drama at Durban, with India holding out against a new legally binding instrument and finally acquiescing after its concerns on equity had supposedly been accommodated. However, this narrative is unconvincing and ignores more important issues whose neglect by India has severely weakened its ability to intervene effectively in the international climate debate and shape the emerging new global climate architecture.</p>
<p>Legal experts concur<sup>1</sup> that it is very doubtful if the famous &ldquo;third option&rdquo; inserted into the DP text at India&rsquo;s instance, namely to evolve &ldquo;a protocol, another legal instrument or <em>an agreed outcome with legal force</em>&rdquo;<sup>2</sup> (emphasis added) makes any substantive difference to what is meant to be a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, an international Treaty. If indeed equity was the main concern, as against the idea that India and other developing countries would also have to take on legally binding emission reduction targets like the developed countries, there is little to show that these concerns have indeed been addressed. There is no mention in the DP text of either &ldquo;equity&rdquo; or &ldquo;common but differentiated responsibility&rdquo; (CBDR). Indeed, the United States (US) which played a major role in keeping CBDR out of the text has been claiming that it agreed to the dp precisely because it has delivered the &ldquo;symmetry&rdquo; between developed and developing countries that the US has long pushed for. The justification given that equity and CBDR are implicitly recognised by the reference in the text to the new instrument being constructed &ldquo;under the [UN Framework] Convention [on Climate Change]&rdquo; or UNFCCC is dubious.</p>
<p>All COP decisions are taken under the UNFCCC, so the reference to it is unexceptional. The voluntary emission reduction pledges by both developed and developing nations made under the Copenhagen Accord and the Cancun Agreements, especially the latter which was endorsed by the COP, are contrary to the Kyoto Protocol but were nevertheless made under the convention, with the US, China and India all continuing to stand by them. And the US had no problem staying on as signatory to the UNFCCC which contains CBDR, while it opted out of the Kyoto Protocol because it was built around CBDR! Merely acknow&shy;ledging the convention does not by itself guarantee that the CBDR principle is translated into legal obligations in any parti&shy;cular manner.</p>
<p>However, this does not automatically imply, as the US is trying to portray, that all countries would have the same emission reduction targets. In fact, there is no certainty even that the architecture would be built around top-down targets. The US could well push for a bottom-up, pledge-and-review architecture and argue that this is fully compatible with the convention as evidenced by the Cancun Agreements.</p>
<p>In this sense, the architecture that would emerge from DP is for the moment truly open-ended. But one thing the text is clear on is that it would be &ldquo;applicable to all parties&rdquo;, the very single framework that the US has pursued all along. Not this is entirely new. Ever since the Copenhagen Accord introduced the idea of pledges by both developed and developing countries, the foundation for a single framework had been well and truly laid, cemented at Cancun by the COP endorsement of these pledges, with the groundbreaking having been done much earlier under US leadership at various G8+ summits. It was in this theatre, in which the large developing countries participated and which later morphed into the &ldquo;Major Economies Forum&rdquo; and the G20, that the idea of &ldquo;major emitters&rdquo; together making commitments had first become institutionalised.<sup>3</sup></p>
<p><strong>Complete Renegotiation</strong></p>
<p>This means that the entire global climate architecture will now be renegotiated virtually ab initio, and the next few years will be a rerun of the tortuous Kyoto negotiations with all that this entails. Everything will be up for grabs, all principles will be reopened and all the old arm-twisting and back room manoeuvrings will be back in full swing. But with one big difference: no developed-developing firewall, rather a single framework for all countries.</p>
<p>At the same time, differential mitigation targets could be set for different categories of nations even within a single framework based on, say, per capita emissions, histo&shy;rical contributions to accumulated carbon stocks, or a combination of these, with deve&shy;loping countries taking on absolute emission cuts only much later while first undertaking to slow down emissions growth rates. But whichever way the cake is sliced, it is clear that developing countries, especially the larger ones such as China and &shy;India, will henceforth have to bear a greater burden for mitigation than they earlier did.</p>
<p>Part of this will be due to global political economy, with the US and other developed countries doing their utmost to retain occupation of as much atmospheric carbon space a possible by transferring a greater portion of the emissions reduction burden on to China, India and other large developing countries. Atmospheric carbon space is a vital factor of production, at least till such time as low-carbon or non-carbon sources become a major part of the energy mix, and the battle in the international climate negotiations is a part of the struggle over this resource. This is well known by now and needs no further elaboration.</p>
<p><strong>Role of India and Others</strong></p>
<p>What is however less appreciated is that the science, practical politics and ethics too call for large developing countries to take on more serious mitigation actions, which would also bring substantial financial and societal co-benefits. Regrettably, this has not been internalised within the Indian policy establishment or even in sections of civil society. Except for occasional flashes of recognition in the recent past, a proper understanding of the future role of India and other large developing nations in emissions mitigation has not been evolved and properly integrated into the nation&rsquo;s official climate policy either domestically or internationally. This is not the place to argue this in any great detail, but a few points may be briefly this.</p>
<p>Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change&rsquo;s Fourth Assessment Report of 2007 (IPCC/AR4), while calling for deep cuts by developed countries, also called upon deve&shy;loping countries to &ldquo;deviate below their projected baseline emissions within the next few decades&rdquo;.<sup>4</sup> Some simple back-of-the-envelope calculations based on figures in IPCC/AR4 will show why. Global emissions in 2004-05 were around 49 GtCO<sub>2-eq</sub> (giga tonnes or billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) and developing countries were already emitting around 26.5 gt of this total. If, as required by IPCC, global emissions are to be half their current levels by 2050, that means total emissions of about 24.5 gt at that time. Therefore, even if developed countries reduce their emissions to zero, developing country emissions too must reduce, at least by some time near 2050.<sup>5</sup> In other words, large developing countries such as China, India, Brazil and a handful of other nations need to embark on appropriate trajectories commensurate with their developmental needs which would see their emissions growth rates first slowing down and then, at some date in the long-term future, start declining in absolute terms.<sup>6</sup></p>
<p><strong>Models on Emissions</strong></p>
<p>While the above is merely a crude illustration of the basic idea, considerable further work has been done in India towards developing models for apportioning future emissions for different countries.<sup>7</sup> These exercises are based on the maximum limit of carbon the atmosphere can hold if temperature rise is to be kept within 2<sup>0</sup>C, and take into account the total accumulated stocks of atmospheric carbon, which are the actual drivers of climate change rather than current or future emission flows, and thus incorporate historical emissions into the calculus. Briefly, these &ldquo;carbon budget&rdquo; models apply a principle of equity and apportion to each nation a &ldquo;fair share&rdquo; of the remaining total carbon budget proportional to its population and after deducting its historical contribution to accumulated carbon. Thus developed countries currently occupying more than their fair share, would need to decrease their total emissions over a given period, while a country such as India could increase its total emissions, both till they reach their respective fair share.</p>
<p>Put simply, the model shows that national emissions allocations based on fair shares of carbon budgets could indeed meet a 2<sup>0</sup> goal, with developed countries coming down to fair share levels in reason&shy;able time frames, and with emissions from China, India and most other large deve&shy;loping countries growing, in India&rsquo;s case till around 2040 and till much earlier in the case of China, and later declining to reach their respective fair shares.<sup>8</sup> In other words, a formula for equitable sharing of available carbon space between nations, based on total carbon budgets set by physical limits of the atmosphere to &shy;absorb carbon, is compatible with the requirements of the science and with a single framework as likely to emerge from the Durban platform.</p>
<p>There are other versions of carbon budget models with different numbers and in some cases incorporating other human development indicators, and there could well be improvements made in some or all of them to arrive at a consensus. For the purposes of this article, further discussion on the merits or otherwise of this approach is not required, the point being merely to demonstrate that even within a single framework a system of differen&shy;tiated emission targets for countries can be evolved, the important requirements &shy;being to meet the demands of science and of fairness.</p>
<p><strong>India&rsquo;s Defensive Position</strong></p>
<p>The problem is that India, and other large developing countries, went into Durban without an alternative framework or set of suggestions. Some of them like fellow BASIC nations Brazil and South Africa had decided early on to go along with the EU proposal for a new legally binding instrument, which was solidly backed by the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). China, after initially going along with India and the US in opposing a new instrument, appeared to have read the writing on the wall and, while verbally supporting several of India&rsquo;s positions, ultimately backed off and went along with the EU-AOSIS draft. India preferred to stick to its familiar defensive posture, not wanting to move from the status quo, essentially meaning the Cancun Agreement&rsquo;s pledge-and-review system framed and favoured by the US, and sticking to the demand for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol in the full knowledge that this was a non-starter. India, as a large developing country with a growing economy but with a heavy burden of poverty and underdevelopment, had once again lost an opportunity to frame the debate at Durban with two serious consequences.</p>
<p>India found itself isolated, not only within BASIC, but also from what used to be its natural constituency, the developing countries now in various groupings such as the AOSIS, LDCs, Africa Group and so on, all of whom strongly coalesced in favour of the proposal for a new instrument. India had completely misjudged the overwhelming mood of the conference delegates in favour of a positive outcome and an architecture in which the burden of emission reduction was carried more widely than earlier including by large developing nations. Indeed, in the run-up to Durban and, in fact going back to Copenhagen, the AOSIS countries who see themselves as the first likely casualties of climate change and consequent rising sea levels, had been vocal in pushing for &ldquo;all countries&rdquo; to take on strong mitigation commitments through a new legal instrument coming into effect earlier, such as 2015, rather than later such as 2020, which they finally but unhappily consented to.<sup>9</sup></p>
<p>So India will now have to live with the onerous consequences of having to recover much lost ground. But it can do so only if it is prepared to do the hard work involved in preparing a technically as well as legally sound, convincing and positive position based on the science and the UNFCCC equity principles of common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities. India will also have to reforge alliances based on shared interests and common understanding on climate issues, rather than being misled into deeply flawed alliances such as with the US on poorly understood &ldquo;strategic&rdquo; considerations. The forthcoming negotiations under the dp in the months and years ahead till 2015 promise to be tough and bruising, and will undoubtedly once again raise all the issues that were debated and supposedly thrashed out during the Kyoto negotiations.</p>
<p><strong>Concluding the Climate</strong></p>
<p>In all the din around the Durban Summit, we should not lose sight of what it is all about, namely, the climate. The decision that the new legal instrument will come into effect in 2020 clearly means that things will get much worse before, and, if at all, they get any better. Studies by many scientific institutions and bodies indicate that, far from meeting the goal of restricting temperature to 2&deg;C, we are staring at the near certainty of crossing that and perhaps reaching 3&deg;C or more.<sup>10</sup> The UN Environment Programme&rsquo;s Emissions Gap Reports released just before the Durban Summit estimates that, even if all the Cancun pledges are adhered to, emissions in 2020 would exceed the required maximum for 2&deg;C by at least 6 gt, up from the 5 gt estimated on the eve of Cancun.<sup>11</sup> The Durban platform text too, like other climate summit declarations before it, genuflects to the notion of being science-based, and states that the DP process would be &ldquo;informed&hellip;by the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change&rdquo; due in 2013-14 and then even &ldquo;enhancing mitigation ambition&hellip; [to] close the ambition gap&rdquo;.</p>
<p>Given the low level of pledges of Cancun, the poor performance of most countries with respect to the Kyoto targets, and the current lack of appetite for taking on higher emission reduction commitments, this appears very unlikely. Whatever else DP does nor does not do, it does not appear likely to be science-driven, and the Durban decisions clearly imply a deepening of the climate crisis. It is well known that whereas the international negotiations are influenced by the science, they are ultimately political decisions. The Durban decision to carefully watch the IPCC&rsquo;s Fifth Assessment Report raises a new danger: that climate science and IPCC/AR5 in particular will become a theatre of strong political contestation in a bid by vested interests to ensure more politically convenient recommendations.</p>
<p><strong>Notes</strong></p>
<p>1 See Lavanya Rajamani, &ldquo;The Durban Dictionary&rdquo;, <em>Indian Express</em>, 25 November 2011 (online) at http://www.indianexpress.com/news/the-durban- dictionary/880125/</p>
<p>2 &ldquo;Establishment of an Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action&rdquo;, UNFCCC, in http://unfccc.int/files/meetings/durban_nov_2011/decisions/ application/pdf/cop17_durbanplatform.pdf</p>
<p>3 See D Raghunandan, &ldquo;A Critical View of India&rsquo;s Official Position&rdquo; in Navroz Dubash (ed.), <em>Handbook of Climate Change and India</em> (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), 2011, pp 174-75; see also D Raghunandan, &ldquo;Hokkaido G8 Summit and Climate Change&rdquo; (online) in http://www.delhiscienceforum.net/environment/275-hokkaido-g8-summit-a-climate-changeg8-o5-mem16-0-.html and other companion articles in the same website.</p>
<p>4 &ldquo;Climate Change 2007: Contribution of Working Group III&rdquo;, Summary for Policymakers&rsquo; (Online), IPCC, pp 89-90, in http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg3/ar4-wg3-spm.pdf</p>
<p>5 For sake of brevity, debates about &ldquo;peaking year&rdquo; or the obvious trap of discussing global emissions without simultaneously talking about historical emissions or respective shares of developed and developing countries, have not been discussed here, the idea being to give an overview of the problem facing developing countries.</p>
<p>6 Ibid; see also D Raghunandan et al, &ldquo;Climate Crisis: Challenges and Options&rdquo;, All India People&rsquo;s Science Network, Delhi and Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, 2007.</p>
<p>7 Tejal Kanitkar et al, &ldquo;How Much &lsquo;Carbon Space&rsquo; Do We Have? &ndash; The Physical Constraints on India&rsquo;s Climate Policy and Its Implications&rdquo;, 2010, pp 36 &amp; ff (Online) in http://delhiscienceforum.net/images/paper-final-dsfversion.pdf</p>
<p>8 See Kanitkar et al (2010), pp 36 &amp; ff for detailed results of the model runs and explanations of these results.</p>
<p>9 See AOSIS Press Release, Durban, 28 November 2011 (online) in http://www.aosis.info/documents/AOSISDurbanReleaseFinal.pdf</p>
<p>10 In fact, the goal should not have been set in terms of temperature rise which is, after all, an outcome but in terms of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations or atmospheric carbon stock which are the parameters that can be directly observed, monitored and regulated.</p>
<p>11 UNEP, &ldquo;Bridging the Emissions Gap&rdquo;, 2011 (online) at  <em>www.unep.org/pdf/UNEP_bridging_gap.pdf.</em></p>

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