IANS: And the fissure nothing but deepened yet again! This is how experts would like to sum up the outcome of the 2014 Lima climate change talks where the developed and the developing countries supposedly sat across the table to strengthen the global partnership in combating climate change – that instead resulted in its dilution. Those who kept a close watch on the 20th Conference of Parties (COP–20 Lima) that concluded in the Peruvian capital last week said its outcome further eroded the difference between the rich and poor countries like India.
Why? Because the key principles guiding global treaties on climate change were weakened to favour the wealthy, the experts said. In contrast to India’s official stand that the outcome was “satisfactory”, Delhi University professor and environment consultant Shreekant Gupta told IANS: “Lima was a gathering like all those before that only served to underscore the deep fissures between the rich and poor nations.”
The two now stand on a common footing with respect to their contributions to rollback greenhouse gas emissions, giving a free run to developed countries to steer clear of their “historical responsibility” to clean the mess caused by them as early industrialisers.
“The fact this problem has largely been caused by the rich industrial nations is indisputable. Until the onset of the industrial revolution in the 1800s, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere remained steady at 280 parts per million (ppm). But from then on, it shot up and currently exceeds 400 ppm, a level unprecedented,” added Gupta, who has also served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The real bone of contention, the experts said, is the dilution of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR).
The story began in 1992 when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was formulated to guide global treaties in controlling climate change. It operated within the framework of two key principles – equity and CBDR – that demarcate the difference between wealthy and dispossessed countries, requiring the former to take the lead in addressing climate change in accordance with its level of development and its historical contribution to the problem.
In 2014, the COP–20 added a third dimension of ‘national circumstances’ that amounts to re–interpreting “the Convention that was originally strictly about responsibility while acknowledging the limited capability of developing countries,” Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), told IANS. “By bringing in the clause of national circumstances, COP–20 has brought developed and developing countries on the same footing. Developed countries can now cite any national circumstance like the recession in Europe or the incapability to bring relevant legislation to justify its action or inaction with respect to climate change control,” Bhushan explained.
The other potential roadblock for developing countries is the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), where, as some experts believed, India is also to blame. While Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar stood firm in refusing any external audit of India’s INDCs to control climate change, environmentalists termed this “regressive”. Raghunandan, an environment activist at the Delhi Science Forum, said India had nothing to fear from any external review. As the fourth biggest polluter, India has a comparatively marginal carbon footprint in the atmosphere. India could well defend its level of contribution in view of its growth imperatives and commitment to poverty alleviation. But by remaining adamant on its stance, India gave everyone else a free run. Raghunandan said.
“INDCs have been weakened in Lima. Countries were otherwise required to justify their contribution to climate change control. They will still be declaring their contributions but whether they are fair, equitable or ambitious, that’s become optional now. No review is going to happen. No question asked,” said Bhushan as he voiced his fear for developing countries that will now face Paris 2015. The meeting will hammer out crucial climate architecture that will govern global action on climate change post 2020.
Bhushan was not too hopeful as he predicted yet another weak deal in Paris. “COP–20 has eroded the difference between developed and developing countries. This will have far reaching implications. For developing countries, it’s a big thing before they face Paris 2015. I don’t know how India or other countries will wriggle out of this situation. Paris will see yet another weak deal,” Bhushan maintained.
However, there is a sliver of optimism amid these voices.
Former director of the UN Environment Programme and Terre Policy Centre chairperson Rajendra Shende said all was not lost in Lima. “India succeeded in keeping the CBDR issue alive. If at all it is diluted, it remains so only until the next round of discussions in 2015,” Shende told IANS from Pune. The task ahead is for India to audit Lima’s outcome based on its need for a climate–resilient green economy that would enable the country brace against losses caused by extreme weather patterns and provide the investment needs for clean technology, he said. In Shende’s opinion, it would serve India well to ensure that CBDR is not diluted to the point where the principle of historical responsibility falls through the cracks. In the absence of accountability on part of the developed countries, there is limited clarity in sight to determine whether each partner is contributing enough to keep global warming under two degrees Celsius, beyond which, scientists say, the climate change effects will be irreversible and lead to catastrophic results for humanity.
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