Press Release

The much-publicised Kyoto Agreement to combat the threat of climate change is neither an agreement that will save the world from the threat of climate change nor will it protect the interests of developing countries. "In fact, the battle between developed and developing nations has not ended. It will continue in the months ahead as the protocol has left many things open for future negotiations leading up to the next conference of parties scheduled to be held in Buenos Aires in 1998," says a team of the Centre for Science and Environment, a New Delhi-based NGO, which attended the Kyoto conference.

The last few days of the Kyoto conference were marked by high political drama beginning with the unscheduled appearance of US Vice-President Al Gore, who disclosed that President Bill Clinton and he had been "burning the phone line over the weekend" reaching out to presidents and prime ministers of various developing countries, namely, Tanzania, Philippines, Argentina and Brazil. He openly expressed the hope that these delegations had heard from their respective capitals. As the US Congress had unanimously passed a resolution stating that it would not ratify any treaty that did not include commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by key developing countries like India and China, Gore made it clear to the Kyoto conference that the US would not accept any treaty which did not have "meaningful participation" from key developing countries.

International phone diplomacy reached another high two days later when the conference, with just one day to go, found itself without any agreement between the US and the European Union on carbon dioxide emission reduction targets or any agreement between the US and key developing countries. This time it was the Japanese prime minister, Ryutaro Hashimoto, who burnt the phone line by ringing up Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany, Prime Minister Romano Prodi of Italy, Prime Minister Tony Blair of the United Kingdom and President Bill Clinton of USA to sort out differences between the US and the EU.

Meanwhile, Britain’s deputy prime minister, John Prescott, rang up other world leaders, including prime minister Inder Gujral to request him to take a soft attitude towards the commitments of developing countries being demanded by USA on reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. Prime Minister Gujral had already agreed in the communique of the Edinburgh Summit of the Commonwealth Heads of State and Government to undertake commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions after Kyoto. Prime Minister Gujral is reported to be keen on a soft line towards US demands on this issue. But in the heat of the Kyoto conference, the Indian delegation led by environment minister, Saifuddin Soz, took a strong stand and went ahead to work with China and other developing countries who argued that participation of developing countries had not been agreed in the earlier conference at Berlin. Moreover, since 1800, developing countries have not even contributed to a fifth of the total carbon dioxide emissions.

But India and China did give in to the concept of ‘emissions trading’ in the final hours of the conference with the proviso that the principles and rules will be elaborated in further meetings. Under this concept, industrialised countries like USA can work with developing countries to pay for projects that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions and take the credit for this reduction to meet their own carbon dioxide reduction commitments. The European Union has expressed fears about emissions trading arguing that countries may use this instrument to avoid undertaking strong action domestically and simply pass on the burden to developing countries where carbon dioxide reduction measures are expected to be cheaper at their current level of development.

According to CSE’s director, Anil Agarwal, "the biggest weakness of the emissions trading proposal as incorporated in the Kyoto Protocol is that it aims to use developing countries to help industrialised countries to meet their carbon dioxide reduction commitments. It is not a system built on the specified entitlements of a nation to carbon dioxide emissions based on equal per capita rights." While this principle was strongly enunciated by India’s environment minister, Saifuddin Soz, in his speech to the Kyoto conference and was appreciated by various nations, lack of adequate advance preparation and discussions with key nations meant that it could not get incorporated in the Kyoto protocol. India, therefore, faces a major challenge in the international negotiations ahead to ensure that the emission rights of its current and future generations are adequately protected within a framework that would both lead to environmental sustainability and global equity. The 14 US senators who came to Kyoto made it clear that the US Congress is unlikely to ratify any treaty which is "unfair to the US"-- in other words, a treaty which lacks meaningful participation of key developing countries. Therefore, the pressure on India and China is unlikely to end soon. "Only advance preparation and discussions with like-minded countries can help to develop a useful framework of cooperation between developed and developing countries," argues Agarwal. "This is an area in which India should lead the world."

In the years ahead, CSE argues that India will also have to fight for stronger committments by industrialised countries to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. "The target of 5.2 per cent reduction as compared to 1990 levels by the end of the first decade of the next century is hardly a target to applaud," says Agarwal. Emissions of carbon dioxide, the main gas responsible for the heating up of the earth, from industrialised countries as a group are already about 4.5 per cent less as compared to 1990 because of the economic collapse of the former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe. Therefore, all that the Kyoto Protocol asks developing countries is to essentially stabilise their emissions at around 1996 levels. The expert panel set up by the United Nations has, on the other hand, asked for a 60 per cent cut in emissions below 1990 levels if future global warming is to be prevented. The Indian subcontinent is likely to be one of the areas worst hit by global warming, with the likelihood of millions of people flooded out of Bangladesh and the Maldives, substantial parts of coastal Goa and Gujarat going under sea water, and increased incidence of extreme weather events like cyclones, floods and droughts.