Cancun musing

December 06, 2010

I have reached Cancun few hours’ back to attend the 16th Conference of Parties (CoP-16) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and have been greeted with news that can only be characterised as bad or worse.

The most talked about of these is the ‘all-or-nothing’ position taken by the US. The US claims it wants a ''balanced package'' from the summit – a balance, many would say, which is to be seen from its own perspective. This so-called balanced package would include some sort of an agreement or understanding on finance, technology and deforestation, along with actions on emissions reduction by developing countries like India and China with an internationally verifiable system of measuring those cuts. The US itself does not figure in this balanced package -- the package does not throw any light on what the US will do to reduce its own emissions or how much money it is willing to put on table or what relaxations it is willing to make in the IPR regime to facilitate technology transfer. As one of my NGO friends from the US told me, the US negotiators have hardened their position so much that they are even willing to walk out of the summit if the developing countries don’t agree to their demands. And, the news is that India and China have been ‘softened’ to accommodate the US demands.

The Maldives president has added fuel to the raging developed vs developing country fire by announcing that developing countries too should reduce emissions. Many here in Cancun are remembering the ‘double’ game he played in Copenhagen. On one hand, he had spearheaded the demand for restricting the global temperature increase below 1.50C and on the other, he had done the US bidding and signed on to the weak Copenhagen Accord. He could be positioning himself to do a repeat in Cancun.

Participants in Cancun are also taking about the recent UNEP report which highlights the gross inadequacy of the Copenhagen Accord in keeping the temperature below 20C. This report has propelled NGOs into demanding legally binding ambitious emissions reduction targets from developed countries and to junk the ‘pledge and review’ game of the Copenhagen Accord.

News is also rife about the manner in which the EU has ‘fudged’ its fast start finance data. Under fast start finance, the developed world had agreed in Copenhagen to give US $30 billion between 2010-12 to poor and vulnerable countries for adaptation. This money had to be in form of grants, and funds that would be new and additional to the existing financial support that the developed countries give to the developing world, like the Overseas Development Assistance (ODA). The EU has not only failed to meet its first year commitments; it has accounted loans that it has given to some of the poorest countries in the world, as part of its fast start finance contribution.

As far as the US is concerned, no one knows how much it has shelled out so far and whether it is in the form of ‘new, additional or grant’ or not. What the EU episode has certainly brought to fore is the issue of transparency in measurement and reporting by the developed countries. Many are also saying that the developed world will never fulfil its pledges and therefore, we need to build an accountability mechanism in the global convention.

Developed countries are not only fudging their financial commitment data, they are working hard to change the rules of how their total GHG emissions will be calculated and reported. Accounting rules for emissions from LULUCF (land use, land use changes and forestry) from developed countries is being discussed in Cancun. NGOs are alleging that the EU, Norway and Australia are proposing changes in the rules that will allow them to cut ‘managed’ forests and burn them for electricity generation (as the UK is planning to do); these emissions will not be accounted in their balance sheets. This loophole would allow some 450 million tonne of unaccountable GHG emissions each year from the developed countries, or 5 per cent of the global total.

It is not that differences exist only between the developed and developing countries. Major differences have emerged between the developing countries on the definition of ‘vulnerability’. Which country is most vulnerable to climate change and therefore entitled to more adaptation funding, has split the G77. Countries are coming out with their own definitions of vulnerability. The ‘divide and rule’ policy of the developed countries seems to be working.

On the plane to Cancun, one news item caught my attention. Reported by Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, it said that our honourable environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, has – in a written reply in the Lok Sabha -- said that he favours the extension of the Kyoto Protocol. And the reason he gave for this was that "India has been one of the major beneficiaries of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a flexible mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol and would like that this mechanism to continue and be further strengthened". So the reason, the minister believes, why Kyoto Protocol is important for India is not that it is the only legally binding instrument that demands developed countries to reduce their emissions first, but because it allows some Indian companies to earn money by selling carbon credits. Another illustration of Mr Ramesh’s ‘pragmatism’, perhaps?