The States Parties to UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban have produced an outcome with supposedly legal force. As opined by Dave Roberts, a writer on climate change issues, “compared to what is needed Durban is a failure; compared to what is possible is decent”.
Before delving into the debate of whether Durban Agreement on Climate Change has addressed the genuine concerns of poorer and helpless countries, an attempt will be made to shed light on political interests of major polluters vis-à-vis measures to arrest climate change.
Has the politics of climate change really shifted in the wake of Durban Climate Conference? This is a question that captures our attention and more so of the Least developed Countries and the Small Island Developing Nations. It is because they are suffering the worst catastrophe wrought by rising temperature. Comparatively, their voice in influencing the so-called politics of climate change is the weakest.
Durban deal has been a relief in the sense that it has at least restored the role of UN. However, some critics of UN have already expressed skepticism in the efficacy of this multilateral body to handle the green Global Climate Fund, whose operational modalities as well as the source remain uncertain at this time of writing.
A retrospective look at the 1997 Kyoto Protocol demonstrates the politics involved in climate change negotiations. Then major polluters including China and India, among others, in the developing world refused to join the Kyoto regime. Their argument seems valid as they claim their right to economic development to uplift millions of poor and exemption from reducing the consumption of fossil fuels. Surprisingly, the U.S., one of the world’s biggest emitters of carbon emissions, did not ratify Kyoto protocol arguing that developing countries should also be obliged to reduce greenhouse gases.
Legally binding commitments as contained in Kyoto Protocol have been defied by some developed countries. Some of the states parties have failed in their commitments and have enjoyed immunity. Canada is a case in point, which will avoid some of $14billion in penalties.
This is why in the opinion of Ruth Greenspan Bell and Barry Blechman “compliance will depend on whether nations are committed to change their citizens’ behavior”. They contend that no matter how flawed the negotiating process and how legal the agreement and its ratification, in the end the decisive factor is the political will of the nations accepting the obligations devolving from the agreement.
Questioning the credibility of legally binding agreement, Deborah Larson, an expert on arms control of the University of California Los Angeles, has pointed out, “Without a world government, there is no authority able to force states to keep agreements”. Hence, he holds the view that “compliance is a matter of trust and political commitment not of legalities”.
There is a misconception that a ratified agreement will automatically resolve problems and put the entire world on right path. Those who hold such view cite the examples from Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) of 1972 signed between the U.S. and then U.S.S.R.
After almost 30 years of the signing of the above agreement to prohibit certain types of antinuclear defenses, the Americans decided to quit the regime in 2002 and have started deploying the same in Europe, which was then banned. This clarifies how nations change their behavior whenever it suits their national interests.
Therefore, it is obvious that a good deal can be accomplished, if there is a will among the major polluting countries of the world to agree, to implement, and enforce a new pact, which hopefully will be emerged within a few years.
The role of Durban Agreement in stemming the global warming to stabilize the environment is questionable. This pact, which envisions the assumption of binding commitments to cut down fossil fuel use by the Europeans after Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 and an undertaking to negotiate an emissions-reduction agreement by 2015, will, however, not keep warming within the broadly recognized 2 degrees safety limit.
The aforementioned agreement has both optimistic and pessimistic interpretations. Both Pilita Clark and Andrew England of Financial Times have the optimistic tone when they say “a European Union team prodded the conference to achieve what more than a decade of climate negotiators have never done before. Finally, the world agreed that every country, no matter how rich or poor, would cut its greenhouse gas emissions under a global pact with legal force”.
To the contrary Michael Levi at the Council on Foreign Relations has this to say “the actual phrase, “a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all the Parties “was the result of a hard fought battle by India to block any tight promise of a binding treaty, and “an outcome with legal force “might refer to almost anything with even a little bit of legal force”.
An instance of acrimony and blame trading was also demonstrable during negotiations in Durban. The delegates from rising economies such as India and those from the LDCs like Grenada have offered arguments and counter arguments in defense of their national interests. This clash of positions reflects the politics of climate change, where unfortunately poorer and the least developed countries like Nepal lose the battle. The proposed $100 billion Green Climate Fund designed to help the LDCs and other vulnerable countries mitigate the climate change effects, is uncertain as there is no clarity about the source of the finance.
Unsurprisingly, the Indian Environment Minister, Jayanti Natarajan, objecting to legally binding emissions reduction targets, has said, “Am I to write a blank check and sign away the livelihoods and sustainability of 1.2 billion Indians, without even knowing what the new agreement contains. I wonder if this is an agenda to shift the blame on to countries who are not responsible for climate change”.
The observation by Karl Hood, a delegate from Grenada to Durban, paints the real agony of the LDCs. He has asked rightly, “While they develop we die; why should we accept this”? Perhaps, his bluntness testifies the dilemma faced by the least developed countries, whose current leadership rests with Nepal.