Durban Consensus: Funding Climate Affected

Dec 20th, 2011 | By | Category: Adaptation, Biodiversity, Carbon, CoP17, Financing, Global Warming, Green House Gas Emissions, News, Technologies, UNFCCC

Dawn: There is now near consensus in the international climate community that Asia will be the most severely affected continent because of the changes associated with global warming. And Bangladesh, the Maldives, parts of India and almost all of Pakistan are likely to suffer the most.

Bangladesh and the Maldives will be hurt because of the expected rise in the level of the sea; India and Pakistan will suffer because of the rapid melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas. Pakistan has already begun to feel the impact. The devastating floods of 2010 and 2011 – portend what may lie in the future.

However, these floods were not caused by the rapid melting of the glaciers. That will happen in the future, in the next half century. The floods were the result of unusually heavy rains in the monsoon season.

Experts believe that severe changes in whether pattern are one of the many consequences of global warming. Unprecedented rains and droughts will occur with greater frequency in the future.

Since global warming is the result of human action, the process can be halted and possibly reversed also by human action. But actions need to be taken not by one or two countries but by the international community working together. That is why global action has acquired such significance over the last decade and a half. That said, consensus on needed action has been hard to reach.

The effort began in 1997 when a conference was held in the Japanese city of Kyoto. Then US Vice President Al Gore worked hard to produce a document for global action only to see it set aside by a new American administration that came to power in 2000. . Dick Cheney, the number two person in that administration, with strong links to energy businesses, was able to stall any policymaking that reduced carbon emissions by the energy producers and energy consumers in America. Politics combined with economic interests produced a potent brew that came in the way of meaningful global effort.

Even with the induction into office of a more liberal Barack Obama as president, there was little change in Washington’s stance.
The Republicans, now in opposition but with a strong voice in Congress, were able to prevent any move in the area of climate control.

Obama administration’s effort to introduce a “cap and control” carbon emission regime in the country went nowhere in Congress. The proposed legislation would have introduced “caps” on carbon emission by the industry which could only be exceeded by the purchase of permits in the markets from those who were able to function at levels below the mandated amounts of emissions.

The programme proposed to Congress by the Obama administration would have introduced a market in carbon emission and also provided strong incentives to curb the release into the atmosphere of carbon dioxide.

With the Kyoto protocol set to expire in 2013, there was growing sense of urgency on the part of the countries that wished to see that international effort at controlling global warming was not set back. Several countries favoured a legally binding international agreement that combined incentives with fines to make certain that agreed targets were met.

The Europeans took the lead and convinced other large players to come together at Copenhagen and devise a way of saving Kyoto from collapsing. In spite of the last minute effort by President Obama, the summit produced only marginal results. One of them was to agree to another international conclave to be held in 2011. Meetings were also held in Cancun, Mexico the following year at which some progress was made in moving towards another international agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

In the meantime, significant changes had occurred in the rankings of the world’s largest emitters of carbon. In 2006, China crossed the United States and became the worst atmospheric polluter. While emissions by America declined somewhat largely because of the downturn in the country’s economy, those by China continued to increase.

The International Energy Agency estimated China’s emissions in 2010 at 6.9 gigatons of carbon dioxide while that by the United States was 5.2 gigatons. In 2009, India crossed Russia to become the third largest emitter with 1.6 gigatons compared to Russia’s 1.5 gigatons. South Africa emits 0.4 gigatons while Brazil’s emissions are estimated at 0.3 gigatons. The European Union’s 27 countries together let 3.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

This change in the relative positions of the largest emitters created new dynamics in the international community when it convened in Durban, South Africa for yet another international meeting on climate change. This was the 17th meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It was dubbed the COP17. As the United Nations’ statement issued at start of the meeting at Durham stated, the COP 17 “sought to advance, in a balanced fashion, the Bali Action Plan agreed at COP 13 in 2007, and the Cancun Agreements, reached at COP 16 last year.”

The Durban summit concluded on December 10 after it was extended by a day. The extension resulted in an agreement that has been accepted by the global climate community as a success. For the first time in history of climate talks, there was a split in the developing world between those who, like China and India, had become large contributors to the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere against those who, while throwing up insignificant amounts, were likely to be hurt a great deal. The latter group was made up of small, relatively less developed countries. They joined hands with the Europeans to put pressure on the global community to come up with an agreement with some teeth.

This happened in the concluding moments of the summit. But the larger countries, India in particular, were not prepared to accept a legally binding international agreement. India’s refusal to budge brought the conference to the brink of collapse.

According to one account, “during one break in the proceedings, representatives from several countries huddled to reconcile concerns of India and those pushing for a stronger provision” that would ensure compliance. The American delegate suggested the phrase “outcome with legal force” to be incorporated in the treaty. This was acceptable to the Indians and the countries looking for a more robust language.

The final outcome also included the provision of a fund into which richer countries would make contributions to help those most likely to be affected by climate change. Pakistan is one of the countries that will receive funding from this source provided it is able to come up with policies and programmes aimed at addressing the problems it faces. Compared to some other countries, Pakistan has paid little attention to environmental matters. They are low on the policymakers list of priorities. Only time will tell whether the incentives incorporated in the Durbam declaration will push Islamabad towards more meaningful action.

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