Sunday, December 4, 2011

Annual UN Climate Change: India Feels Heat

Two-week international climate conference with participants from more than 190 nations plus the European Union (EU) has already begun in Durban, South Africa on November 28. The conference is seeking ways to curb ever-rising emissions of climate-changing pollution, which scientists said last week have reached record levels of concentration in the atmosphere.
Addressing the conference, South African President Jacob Zuma said that global warming already is causing suffering and conflict in Africa, from drought in Sudan and Somalia to flooding in South African, urging delegates at an international climate conference to look beyond national interests for solutions. He added that for most people in the developing countries and Africa, climate change is a matter of life and death.
Talks Failed
Talks at the climate change conference have predictably bogged down over funding and over the insistence of the first world countries that emerging economies like India and China also commit to legally binding and higher reduction of carbon emission.
Nations like Japan, Canada, Russia and New Zealand have decided to back out of the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding treaty that requires 37 developed countries to reduce amount of CO2 they released. The European Union has made it clear that it would agree to more carbon reduction only if emerging economies like China and India also undertake some form of binding cuts to bring down their gases that trap heat and make the climate warm.
Government delegates from 194 countries have gathered in Durban to agree to the next steps to combat climate change. The talks have been bogged down by disagreements on the kind of actions that need to be taken by developed and developing nations.
Another area of disagreement is on the design of a Green Climate Fund, which will provide $100 billion a year from 2020 to developing countries to combat climate change. The report of the UN committee on how to set into motion such a fund is now being debated at the talks. The South American nations of Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua (representing the ALBA nations) as well as Saudi Arabia and the U.S have objected to its contents.
There is, however, an overall urgency for the Fund to be adopted at Durban so that money begins to flow. Tomasz Chruszczow, the Polish envoy whose country is currently presiding over the EU, told reporters that the report was a “good compromise.” “In its current form it would attract significant funding,” he said. “We believe it would be counterproductive to undertake technical decisions on the instrument.”
The Africa Group also supported India, which “is doing its fair share in the context of its own challenges,” said Nafo, the spokesperson of the Africa Group to The Tribune. The diplomat from Mali further noted that China was taking the lead in investing in renewable energies that do not pollute the environment.
As large developing economies release more CO2 in the atmosphere because of rapid economic growth in the past decades, it has also led to divisions within the bloc of G77 + China. Both have argued that their overriding priority remains poverty eradication.
Emission Reduction Obligations
Even before the annual UN climate change negotiations are formally kicked off in Durban, India was warding off pressure to commit to legally binding CO2 emission cuts. Developed countries are threatening to abandon the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which imposes emission reduction obligations on 37 industrialized countries, if all major emitters don’t do more to curb their greenhouse gases.
The Indian delegation here has reiterated its stand that it was indeed absurd to expect India and other developing nations to undertake reductions on the lines of developed nations. The developing countries, says the Indian delegation, have the overriding priority of eradicating poverty and sustain development. Indian negotiators added that they have already taken on voluntary commitments to reduce emission by 20 per cent by 2020.
The Indian delegation cited the Stockholm Environment Institute’s Report, released in 2011, which said that pledges to reduce carbon emissions from developing countries are more than the targets set by the developed countries. The study, commissioned by Oxfam, estimates that over 60 per cent of emission cuts by 2020 are likely to be made by the developing countries. The emission reductions of China, India, South Africa and Brazil - the BASIC countries - could actually be more than the combined efforts of the seven most developed countries or zones, namely the US, the European Union, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Russia.
Already there are concerns that talks over the next two weeks will fail. The 2010 talks in Cancun skirted around the issue with Japan and Canada asserting their opposition to the 1997 Kyoto treaty. The US had also backed out of the agreement in 2001, claiming that it was unfair. Developing countries, including India, want these talks to result in developed countries renewing their pledges, since the first phase of the treaty expires at the end of 2012.
But the European Union, Japan, Canada and Russia are not willing to be part of a treaty that neither includes the US nor emerging economies like China and India. But with mounting Republican opposition, the Obama administration cannot act decisively until the 2012 presidential elections.
Some countries have also hinted that another treaty could take as much as 10 years to work out. In Durban, the US has already made it clear that it would not agree to any legal instrument that did not put obligations on all major emitters.
The efforts to continue the North-South differentiation under the Kyoto Protocol is led by India, China, Brazil and South Africa (BASIC) countries. “The Kyoto Protocol is the cornerstone of the climate regime,” a Chinese spokesperson told delegates. “We call upon the developed countries to rise up to their historical responsibility and take the lead up by undertaking ambitious and robust commitments consistent with science.”
China is now the largest producer of carbon emissions followed by the US. Indian delegates maintained that the BASIC statement by China at the start of the conference testified to the group’s solidarity. The bloc of developing countries, however, is more fragmented due to the immediate danger faced by small island nations, which are most vulnerable to rising sea levels. The International Energy Agency report, released this month, said the world had five years before the consequences of climate change will become irreversible. The goal is to stop the Earth’s temperature from increasing more than 2 degree Celsius from pre-industrial levels. Despite the deadlock over the Kyoto Protocol, delegates from 194 countries will attempt to find solutions on issues like adaptation, finance and technology sharing.
On a positive note, however, the Indian delegation was pleased that it garnered some support for its three-point agenda - equitable access to sustainable development, unilateral trade measures (in response to the European Union aviation tax), and intellectual property rights - two of which were left out of previous Cancun agreements. India’s lead negotiator Jayant Mauskar said: “We are not talking about the Himalayas, Mumbai or the Ganges. These three issues are important for all developing countries.”
Saving Financial Costs
The UN's top climate scientist says global warming will lead to human dangers and soaring financial costs and that containing carbon emissions will have a host of benefits.
Addressing the conference, Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said that heat waves experienced once every few decades will happen every other year by mid-century.
Coastal areas and islands are threatened with inundation by global warming, rain-reliant agriculture in Africa will shrink by half and many species will disappear.
Pachauri said: "Many impacts can be avoided, reduced or delayed by reducing emissions. The costs of action would be offset by improved health, greater energy security and more secure food supplies.”
Weather Data Released
On the sidelines of the UN-sponsored climate change talks, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) stated that the global average temperature in 2011 was down from the record high in 2010 because of it being a La Nina year, but it was still higher than previous La Nina years.
The latest weather data highlight the conundrum of the negotiations as governments spar on whether developed or emerging countries should bear the brunt of emission reductions. Few attendees expect a breakthrough on the talks, which come amid growing warnings about the likelihood and severity of global warming.The UN weather group stated 2011, still with one month left, was the 10th warmest year on record. While the temperature was down from 2010, the WMO said it was higher than previous La Nina years. La Nina typically has a cooling influence on temperatures.

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