At the cusp of another lost decade

December 07, 2011

 The climate talk at Durban is heading for a stalemate. I do not see any major breakthrough other than some sort of “Durban declaration / mandate” to take the negotiation process forward. We might also have some decision on Green Climate Fund and its architecture, which the host South Africa and the African Union is pushing for. 

Durban marks the end of two decades of negotiations on climate change. It also marks the lost two decades – the decades, in which the world had an opportunity, but did very little to transform economy, remove poverty and take serious mitigation actions on climate change. 

In the last two decades, the global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) have increased by 49 per cent. The developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol (KP) had agreed to reduce by as little as 5.2 per cent by 2012 but they have failed to do even that. Their emissions have actually increased – their consumption has increased and they have outsourced pollution to developing countries like China. US’s production-based emissions are 14 per cent above the 1990 levels and UK’s consumption-based emissions are 20 per cent above, though the UK claims that it is on track to meet its Kyoto commitments. 

In the developing countries, emissions have increased because of the imperatives of economic growth and to reduce poverty. This was part of the global deal under the UNFCCC which the developed countries’ governments, NGOs and media have today forgotten. They talk about three-fold increase in China’s emissions, but they forget to mention that during the last two decades close to 500 million people were brought out of poverty in China. 

The fact is the most exciting action on climate change is happening in the developing world. 

The emissions gap report of the United Nations Environment Programme now confirms that under the Cancun Agreement, the developing countries will reduce far more emissions than the developed countries during 2010-2020. The new 2011 status report of the REN21 (Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century), shows that more than half the investments in renewable energy are happening in the developing countries. In fact, in 2010, China had the largest installation of renewable energy including hydropower and India had the fifth largest. Both these reports were released at the Durban conference but the western media had no time or inclination to report about it. They are busy blaming developing countries for inaction.  

At Durban, the most crucial issue on the table is what the world will do after 2012. The first commitment period of KP finishes in 2012. The mandate of the AWG-LCA finishes in Durban. So Durban will decide whether the world will get its act together in the next decade or will we have another lost decade. 

The EU wants a new legally binding mitigation treaty for all by 2015, which will take effect from 2020. It wants a mandate in Durban to start negotiating this new treaty. And, it has made its participation in the second commitment period of the KP conditional on this mandate.

The US wants no discussion on any legally binding commitment till 2020 when the voluntary pledges of the Cancun Agreement ends. Interestingly, under the Cancun Agreement, the US will only reduce its emissions by 2-3 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 – virtually nothing.

China wants a legally binding treaty after 2020 but has put five conditions including the presence of equity as a central piece in the new global treaty. India too has said that it has no problem with a legally binding treaty but it wants the content of the treaty to be discussed and decided before agreeing to its legal structure.

The fact is, if we look at the positions of all the major players in the climate negotiations, we actually have a lost decade -- no one wants any major action before 2020. They all want the voluntary pledge and review of the Cancun Agreement to continue which will lead to global temperature increase of 3.5-50C by the end of the 21st century, which will be disastrous for the world’s poor.

We are at the cusp of another lost decade. Should we allow it to happen? This is the decision that the world community has to take at Durban.