No breakthrough in climate talks

The climate summit has reached the halfway mark with its basic issue unresolved – developing countries want developed countries to keep their promises, while developed countries want all governments to promise to arrest greenhouse gas emissions

The annual global climate summit has reached the halfway mark with its basic issue unresolved – developing countries want developed countries to keep their promises and make more pledges before going forward, while developed countries want to move ahead to a regime where all countries commit to arrest emissions of greenhouse gases that are warming the earth.

The earth is moving towards a warmer age caused by emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) from industrial activities, mainly power generation and transport. Recently, the World Bank has warned that a four-degree Celsius rise from pre-industrial temperatures is likely without stringent action. Such a rise would multiply manifold the effects of climate change, which is already affecting farming worldwide, making droughts, floods and storms more frequent and more severe, and raising the sea level. The United Nations Environment Programme has warned that current GHG emission reduction commitments fall about 40% short of arresting temperature rise within two degrees, the mark within which it should be kept for human civilization to exist as we know it, according to scientists. The World Meteorological Organization has reported that the level of carbon dioxide – the main GHG – is higher now than ever before.

The annual fortnight-long summit of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is taking place from November 26 to December 7 in the backdrop of this sombre news. But thousands of officials of 194 governments gathered in the Qatar capital Doha for the summit continue to bicker along the same lines as they have done for the last two decades, while thousands more of NGO representatives continue to watch in dismay.

The battle lines are clear. In the last two decades, rich countries have promised to cut their GHG emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, to finance poor countries as they move towards a greener development path, and to transfer the technologies necessary to do so without charging for intellectual property rights at market rates. Poor countries have been saying for years that these promises are not being kept. Now they are saying it again in Doha, with just weeks to go before the end of the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, and with Canada, Russia, Japan and New Zealand refusing to make any commitment for the next period. The United States of America has not ratified the protocol at all. However, Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC executive secretary confidently expressed on Monday that the Doha summit would “produce the second commitment period”.

Rich nations had promised to give poor nations $30 billion between 2010 and 2012 to start the move towards a greener future. They are on track to keep this commitment, say their officials at Doha. But there is no information on the bigger promise, the generate $100 billion a year for the purpose by 2020. A Green Climate Fund was set up earlier this year, but has no money yet.

As for technology transfer, discussions have been repeatedly blocked by most developed countries – they say this is an area for the private sector, and governments cannot interfere. On all these issues, Figueres said on Monday that chairpersons of discussion groups had produced new negotiating texts over the weekend. With this, the bickering is likely to begin anew.

On the other side of the fence, developed countries say China is now the world’s largest GHG emitter, and India is third, so no emission reduction actions by rich nations will work unless all governments promise action on the same front. This does not account for the fact that the US is the second largest emitter and has refused to make any legally binding commitment; and that the fourth largest emitter, Russia, is moving out of the legally binding Kyoto Protocol. Nor does it take into account that per capita emissions, especially in India, is far lower than in any rich country. China, India and other large developing countries have made voluntary commitments to reduce the GHG emission intensity of production, but developed countries led by the US want stronger pledges that are legally binding. The big developing countries remain steadfast in their resolve to resist this.

In the first week of the Doha summit, developed countries made a big push to end negotiations on all old issues and move instead towards a negotiating a new climate treaty where all countries would have binding commitments. They want the negotiations to end by 2015 and the treaty to come into force by 2020. But almost all developing countries are against the idea of ending negotiations on pending issues.

Ministers started arriving in Doha on Monday for the ‘high level segment’ of the summit, which starts on Tuesday. Their officials are presenting them with another stalemate which they are expected to resolve, though governments have failed to do so for nearly two decades now.