Thursday, November 5, 2009

Talks beyond Copenhagen

The threat of climate change that led to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) at Rio, is perceived differently by different countries. Unsustainable consumption patterns of the rich industrialised nations are responsible for the threat of climate change. Only 25% of the global population lives in these countries, but they emit more than 70% of the total global CO2 emissions and consume 75 to 80% of many of the other resources of the world. The richer world accounts for over 50% of carbon emissions and China brings the proportion to over 70%. In contrast, India accounts for less than 5% of global emissions. In per capita terms, the disparities are also large: an Indian citizen emits less than 0.25 tonnes of Carbon per year whereas a citizen of the USA, for example, emits more than 5.5 tonnes.

Another theme of Indian analysts has been the lack of reliability of GHG emission estimates, particularly of methane. According to initial estimates, large emissions of methane from paddy fields were ascribed to developing countries. However, the empirical basis of these estimates was questioned; subsequently experimental measurements by Indian researchers showed these doubts to be well-founded. Many Scientists and policymakers belonging to developing Nations argue that emissions by poor who live on the margin of subsistence should be considered a basic human right and should not be counted when ascribing responsibilities for emission reduction.

These facts have delayed any sort of effective international agreement on how to deal with the problem. In the case of the Montreal Protocol covering ozone-depleting substances, there was a wide consensus and effective action was mobilised quickly. Thus, an understanding of perceptions and positions of different countries makes it easier to explore possibilities of effective action.

Even in recently released IFPRI report, it’s clearly elucidated that agriculture is extremely vulnerable to climate change, because farming is so weather-dependent and small-scale farmers in developing countries will suffer the most. During the same phase, we are witnessing unsounding price rise, with substantial reduction on production fronts and weather aberration in the form of late or, almost failed rains/ monsoon, flood and deluge in rainfed and dry areas. Lastly, the study has called for an additional annual investment of $7 billion in agricultural productivity to help farmers adapt to climate change.

India’s perceptions on the problem of climate change and sustainable development; the kind of negotiating positions that follow from these perceptions; the policies India has undertaken so far and finally India’s possibilities for action that can help contain the threat of climate change.

Minister of state for environment and forests, Jairam Ramesh scotched speculation that India was softening its stand by allowing international verification of its steps for climate change mitigation or by agreeing to international commitment for quantified cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. India has always opposed the “full stop” word from its climate change talks.

India has insisted that the measures it undertakes, as part of its domestic measures to counter climate change, will not be subject to international verification and reporting, unless it is funded internationally or uses technology received from abroad, like the world’s industrialized counterparts claiming to have taken all efforts to reduce the emission caps and mitigation measures, but denies any the right to be questioned or scrutinized.

There should also be consideration towards the common but differentiated responsibilities of different countries. As such, mitigation by India in two or three decades is neither necessary nor sufficient to arrest global warming and its consequence according to many experts in the field.

The argument that mitigation is not feasible without India's participation is thus political. As a bargaining tactic, the United States Congress refuses to undertake internationally-mandated mitigation obligations unless India accepts them.

There is a need for an equitable and efficient solution to climate change, so that efficiency can be obtained through a system of tradeable emission quotas and equity through equal allocation of global environmental space to all human beings. Therefore, in so far as the impact of human activity on global warming, rains, floods, sea levels and hurricanes in two to three decades is concerned, the die is already cast. So, it is time to act and further the talk on equity and sustainable basis, which should be acceptable to all partners across the globe and economic classes. Negotiations leading up to the climate change conference in Copenhagen in December are deadlocked on the question of similar demands on developing nations.

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