Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sunita Narain: The climate coalition

Sunita Narain: The climate coalition

The new alliance, with India as a 'deal-maker', will do little to cut
emissions to anywhere near the desired levels
Sunita Narain / New Delhi October 23, 2009, 0:27 IST

The new alliance, with India as a 'deal-maker', will do little to cut
emissions to anywhere near the desired levels.
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As the clock ticks to Copenhagen, how low is the world prepared to
prostrate to get climate-renegade US on board? Is a bad deal in Copenhagen
better than no deal?

The US' intentions are not good for the climate. It has proposed that it
will not take international commitments but will follow a domestic
legislation route. So, it will act on targets legislated nationally.
Indeed, the amount it will cut is nowhere close to what is required of it.
The global consensus is industrialised countries need to cut at least 40
per cent over 1990 levels, to avert a 2°C rise in temperature. But the US,
after much fanfare on its Nobel-awarded president, has proposed a puny
target of 20 per cent of 2005 levels by 2020. Now, this country's
greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 20 per cent between 1990 and
2005. Thus, it is saying it plans to do nothing but stabilise by 2020. It
does nothing to cut its gargantuan emission share—with some 5 per cent of
the world's population, it currently emits 18 per cent of global
emissions. This single country is responsible for 30 per cent of the
global stock of emissions in the atmosphere — this is criminal, when you
think of the impact of climate change on the poor of the world.

Interestingly, this puny target includes a huge amount of emission credits
it will 'buy' from developing countries as offsets. In sum, it will
actually continue to increase its emissions till 2017, at the very least.
Finally, it has made it amply clear it will do this little bit only if
China, India and other 'polluting' nations are with it in this grand
cop-out plan.

In other words, the world now needs a second coalition of the willing —
this time for President Barack Obama. This time, not to go to war with
Iraq, but to blow up the chance of an effective agreement in Copenhagen.

The generals are putting together the coalition, building block by
building block.

One, the influential Harvard Kennedy School's proposal for a 'portfolio of
domestic commitments' is gaining traction in the coalition-world. It sets
out a Track-2 option for climate agreements, built not on international
targets and time-tables, but on a portfolio of actions which will be
domestically legislated. Nations will then be asked to 'honour' these
actions as international 'commitments'; such voluntary actions will be
internationally reviewed. In short, no red-phrase such as 'legally binding
commitments' will exist, but only, as the authors say, a "flexible and
politically palatable approach" to an international agreement.

Two, there is the Australian proposal on a legal architecture for the
post-2012 climate regime, submitted at the October Bangkok meet. Australia
is a country whose carbon dioxide emissions have increased by a whopping
40 per cent from 1990 to now. It is a loyal soldier of this coalition. The
proposal is ingenious: The world should move towards a single agreement
(read: dump Kyoto Protocol), based on "unifying commitments of all
parties" (read: all together on one page). Simple. All countries (other
than LDCs) have a national schedule, which forms the basis of
international agreement. The national schedule is based on domestic action
or legislation (note the link to the US-Harvard position). But all
national actions will be internationally scrutinised.

The Australian proposal kills two birds with one stone. It gets rid of the
Kyoto Protocol, with its uncomfortable distinction between the world and
the Annex 1 nations, industrialised countries with high historical and
current emissions who have to take action first. It also gets the US on
board. President Barack Obama can now come to Copenhagen and be the
climate hero. He will have 'earned' his Nobel prize.

Now, all they need to complete this coalition is to split the G-77 and
bring one big dissenting country on board. Who other than India?

The international media has been 'worked' to build a strong campaign to
play on our worst fears—being isolated and hated in a rich man's world. An
image has been crafted: India is the climate renegade. India has not got
the climate narrative right. She is the naysayer, a deal-breaker. Anathema
to our whitewashed politicians, who crave for global attention and

But if we want to be part of the coalition, we must agree to their
proposal. It is here we must spot the similarities between the 'leaked'
letter of the minister of environment and forests to the prime minister,
which asks for domestic legislation, international scrutiny on our
mitigation actions, which we have to do for our own good and support for
the Australian proposal. If we accept this proposition, we will be the
deal-makers. We will break ranks with the G-77/China bloc and join the
gang of the powerful polluters.

Will this 'pragmatic' approach to bring the world's most renegade nation
to the table be effective for climate change? Unequivocally, no. It will
dismantle a multilateral agreement based on setting global targets to
reduce emissions, equitable burden-sharing and strong mechanisms for the
most powerful to comply. Worse, it will do little to cut emissions on the
scale needed. The US is unwilling and the rest will now follow.
Ineffective. Iniquitous. Bad for the world, worse for us.

This coalition of the willing has many powerful takers. In the days to
come, the chorus will grow. Watch and wait. Hear and listen. The world is
moving towards climate-disaster, and no Nobel Peace prize can cover that
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