Comfort of compromises

Complacently deadlocked nations at Cancun are posing cruel questions of extinction for some. Can we talk climate for a change?
By Aditya Ghosh

Ever heard of Kaminaga Kaminaga?

There can be prizes for guessing this one right, because he is not even a fringe player in the all-encompassing proclivity of industrious negotiators to write a historic climate text at Cancun, Mexico, the seat of 16th Conference of Parties (CoP) on climate change. But he, in a rather obscure presentation attended by a few climate fanatics and despondent journalists lurking for 'exclusives,' has perhaps raised the most pertinent question in the entire negotiations.

Kaminaga, the climate coordinator of Marshall Island, a small nation inhabited by 61000 people in the middle of Pacific ocean, has humbly asked: what happens to his nation if it disappears, and is yet to be answered. What happens to the internationally accepted legal framework of a nation-state? Will the country still exist somewhere? Nations have faded into history through secession — recently with the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, for example — or through conquest or ceding their territory to other countries. But no country has ever physically disappeared, and it's a real void in the law.

Time is running out for them as soft diplomacy across various quarters keep procrastinating any possibility of a deal. 

Quite in contrast to the history of Conference of Parties (CoP), very few strong words have been tossed at each other by the current and emerging powers in this round of climate negotiations. The sobriety is uncannily discomforting, even subterfuges beneath the measured diplomatic quibble have been sordidly unconvincing. After the initial belligerence from Japan against any extension to Kyoto Protocol, China has shown surprising malleability for a compromised climate deal. India has intriguingly acceded to third-party verifications of its domestic mitigation and binding emission targets. There is a seeming consensus on technology transfer sans the all important Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues and the mechanism on transfer of patented 'green' technology.

What then, is the outcome of Cancun? Is a secret group working in the backrooms and will emerge with a text to please all? While going to press, the possibility looked bleak. No meaningful financial contribution is on the table yet, which could still have made a little compromise worthwhile.

Hope the quietus will at least help Cancun be remembered something beyond its beautiful beaches and compromising platitudes. So that the likes of Kaminaga does not have to grapple just now with solving an esoterically quaint politico-legal case study on nationhood.

BOX: Outcomes at Cancun so far

  • A possible deal on technology transfer without resolving IPR issues

  • China's willingness to commit to emission targets albeit voluntarily

  • India's willingness to open up to binding domestic emission targets and verification of mitigation actions

  • Japan's opposition to an extension of Kyoto Protocol

  • Wikileaks castigating the US for 'bribing' the smaller island nations to get them on board to accede to Copenhagen Accord

  • Wikileaks revelation that US coaxed the EU to work towards weaken the unity among BASIC member countries

  • India proposing that all countries with over one per cent of global emission share should commit to emission targets and third-party verification regime