Climate Diplomacy at Durban


The view that Cancun Agreement on climate change forged in Mexico (2010) was successful, is being sorely tested in Durban where annual UN climate change talks are in progress (29 November-9 December, 2011). In reality there was no concrete achievement in Cancun. Not unexpectedly, the 16th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), was convened under the  shadow of colossal failure of UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen (2009).

It is beyond any doubt that the Climate Change Conference in Denmark was doomed, though it was camouflaged as successful through a hastily struck toothless accord with no binding commitments on the part of the participating countries. The negotiations leading to that accord were characterized by acrimony and blame trading. Unfortunately, majority of the States Parties to the UNFCCC had felt that the UN process of agreeing on a document through consensus had been ignored. Hence, the Copenhagen meeting on climate change had concluded with a lot of anguish and disappointment.

A few emerging economies such as China and India, among others, under the U.S. leadership secretly cut a deal. Known as Copenhagen Accord, it contained no specific targets of cutting carbon emissions. That agreement involving China, India, Brazil, South Africa and the U.S. was conspicuous by its reference to the issue of Green Climate Fund. This fund seeks to help poor developing countries mitigate the effects of global warming. By providing new technologies the fund is also supposed to assist the recipients adapt to climate change.

Given different positions taken by major polluters like China and the U.S., developing countries and the adherents of Kyoto protocol like the Europeans and Canada, Russia and Japan in current UN climate circus in Durban, it is unlikely that any new deal on climate change will be struck. The simple reason why countries fail to agree on a new climate change agreement that commits targets for cutting emissions is their development priorities.

Michael Greenstone of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as quoted in an article carried by the Economist on its issue of December, 2011 has backed the approach of the emerging economies that their main concern is for their economies to grow rapidly. Such countries like India would be least concerned that their economic progress will result in increased carbon emissions. They would be preoccupied with the need to deliver the fruits of development faster rather than bother to deal with the fallout of global warming.

The UN climate change negotiations in Durban attest that China, the world’s highest polluter contributing to 23% of global carbon emissions, as well as India, another major contributor, have suggested that they may agree to cut down energy or carbon intensities of their economies. They have on the other hand resisted to accept legally binding commitments since Copenhagen summit. Any forthcoming deal, if any, on cutting greenhouse gases, will be meaningless provided big polluters including the U.S., contributing to 20% of global carbon emissions, decline to commit to targets as parties to Kyoto protocol of 1997 have done.

In the opinion of Michael Levy of Council on Foreign Relations, who has written an essay, “Durban UN Climate Stakes” the ongoing talks in South Africa are aimed at advancing international efforts o mitigate and adapt to climate change. He further elaborates saying that talks could be divided into two categories like technical and political negotiations. Technical negotiations will be carried on to thrash out measures to implement past agreements. Political negotiations are meant for elaborating the legal objectives of countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

While states parties to the UNFCCC still hesitate to accept binding commitments to tackle global warming, UN Environment Program (UNEP), has reckoned an alarming prediction about rising temperatures by another decade or so. With utter failure of Kyoto protocol, which has bound developed countries to cut down their emissions level but the U. S. as the latter did not ratify the climate deal, the recent scientific assessment sounds catastrophic.

The Economist in its December 2011 issue contains an article that quotes UN predicting that even if countries honor their promises, by 2020 global emissions will exceed the trajectory for keeping warming under 2 degree Celsius by up to 11 gigatonnes of carbon. It has also been estimated that worldwide emissions have increased by more than a quarter in most of the developing countries since 1997 conclusion of Kyoto protocol.

Recalling a few promises made during the Copenhagen Climate Summit and judging their implementation so far, it rarely looks encouraging. However, seeing the developed countries then to raise a Climate Fund of $ 100 billion by 2020, many poor developing nations like Nepal had pinned high hopes that their capacities to mitigate the adverse effects of global warming and adapt to climate change would be enhanced.

Considering the differences in country positions regarding the need for a successor treaty to Kyoto protocol and more importantly on the modalities of operating the proposed climate fund, it is  commented that even avoiding deadlock would be an achievement in Durban. Nevertheless, developing countries including China and India have indicated that they are willing to negotiate a new pact, to be concluded around 2020. This will hopefully include new emissions targets for rich countries and new efficiency targets for developing ones.

Nepal has been a victim of global warming evidenced in the blackened Himalayas, rising glaciers with likely risks of bursting lakes and significant weather pattern prompted by soaring temperatures. She can hardly meet the requirements to withstand the fallout of climate change without adequate international cooperation. Therefore, Nepal should reenergize her efforts leading the Group of Least developed Countries, to lobby hard for agreement on a Green Climate Fund, that could be utilized for helping her fight the global warming before catastrophe strikes hard against her.

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