climate conference

People’s Democracy

Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 44


Flop-8: Climate Conference In Delhi



too many people had great hopes from the 8th Conference of Parties (or COP-8) of
the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Even before the conference began,
it was known that COP-8 would not be the first Meeting of Parties since Russia
had made it clear that it would not ratify the Treaty before it. Nor was there
any other landmark expected or being worked towards. Yet, commentators thought
COP-8 would at least see some serious work put in towards on the various
contentious issues and operational details that remain to be sorted out before
the various provisions of the Kyoto Protocol are ratified and form part of a
global Treaty. Now, after the dust raised by COP-8 has settled, it seems
unlikely that the Treaty will become a reality even by COP-9 to be held in Italy
next year. It also now appears that the entire process of global negotiations to
check if not reverse climate change has suffered a severe setback as a direct
outcome of COP-8. Of all the conferences, Delhi will be remembered for the
virtual derailment of the envisaged climate change Treaty.


Most of the 165 participating countries, and almost all commentators,
have blamed the Delhi disaster on the obvious candidate, the USA. It would be
laughable, if it were not so tragic, that the one country which has
single-mindedly led a campaign against the Treaty, walked out of the
negotiations, and refused to ratify it — “not now, not ever” in the words
of its spokesperson even in Delhi — was not only allowed to sit through the
whole of COP-8 but also to freely work towards sabotaging it. When all the 165
nations agreed at COP-7 at Marrakesh, Morocco, to go ahead with the Treaty
despite the US refusal to join, it was rightly hailed as a great victory,
perhaps even a sign of things to come. But it did not take long for the Bush
Administration to marshal its considerable resources and use its entire bag of
dirty tricks to reverse this trend. The bigger tragedy of Delhi was that the
main allies of the US in this sabotage were not its usual Western cronies but
certain leading developing countries who, some overtly and others less
obviously, worked in tandem with the US.


Not that the US was alone in damaging the negotiations and the prospects
of getting closer to a workable Treaty. The European Union countries, which see
themselves as the true champions of  the
climate change Treaty, while openly critical of the US, made their own important
contribution to the derailment at Delhi, consciously or otherwise, by raking up
a North-South divide on which broad consensus had been reached in recent


NORTH   Vs SOUTH        


countries, led by Denmark, aggressively demanded that developing countries begin
to spell out, if not actually start implementing, measures that they would take
to reduce their own greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Kyoto Protocol and the
negotiations upto COP-7 had stipulated that developed countries and former
Socialist countries in Europe (listed in Annexure-I of the Protocol) were to
stabilise GHG emissions at 1990 levels by 2005 and reduce emissions by 5.1 per
cent by 2012. Developing countries on the other hand were to have no obligations
during the same period but would be called upon to begin reductions in the next
phase after 2012 before which they would, obviously have to begin to make and
discuss plans for the same. In opening up the issue here at Delhi as early as
2002, the EU was not only pre-empting the question but also, by its aggressive
stance, pressuring the developing countries into spelling out reduction targets
by threatening to link it to EU fund flows promised in earlier conferences.


EU countries stressed that their intention was only to start a debate on
the issue and not to demand actual commitments or targets for reducing
emissions.  But the damage had been
done. Developing countries reacted strongly and the entire COP-8 discussions
came to be dominated by the old North-South debate which the US had for so many
years and so successfully used to divide the international community and
sabotage the climate change negotiations. The Bush Administration had indeed used the lack of developing country
targets in the Kyoto Protocol as a major excuse for walking out of the Treaty
and refusing to ratify it. It was truly ironic that this time at COP-8, while it
was the EU which raked up the issue, the US mischievously stoked the flames and
egged-on the developing countries not to accept any targets and indeed not even
to discuss the issue!


The EU is understandably furious at the US. An EU spokesperson said that
the US had deliberately misrepresented the EU position and that, given the
earlier US insistence on the need for developing countries to also be set
targets, the US tactics at COP-8 would “give cynicism a bad name”!


US prompting was quickly taken up by Saudi Arabia which led a bloc of OPEC
countries in vehemently opposing any discussion on the issue and in polarising
the conference discussions on North-South lines. The Saudi performance at COP-8
showed that this development had been anticipated, indeed prepared for. Saudi
delegates at COP-8 had come fully armed with discussion papers and fact-sheets,
a battery of American lawyers and were totally geared to take up leadership of
the G-77 countries. 





Meanwhile the “big three” developing countries, China, India and
Brazil, each did their bit in contributing to the derailment of COP-8 some by
silence and others, like India, by complicity. By virtue of being the host
country, India holds the presidency of the climate change Convention till COP-9
next year but, at COP-8, did nothing to suggest that the Indian government had
prepared itself for anything like a leadership role. On the contrary, there were
signs aplenty that, once again, the BJP-led government was toeing the US line.


The most charitable view of the performance of the official Indian
delegation would be that it went about its presidency as if its role was merely
to juggle with words, re-hash the previous conference declaration, put together
opinions expressed by different delegations and produce a so-called
“consensus” document full of platitudes and 
pious sentiments. The Draft
Declaration tabled by the president, India’s environment minister T R Baalu was,
to India’s shame, totally rejected by the conference and had to be completely
re-written. Some saw it as a typically bureaucratic attempt at drawing up a
commonly acceptable Draft while others saw some clever manipulation between the
seemingly innocuous lines.


Many delegations especially from EU countries, and most observers and
commentators, were shocked that the Draft Declaration did not even mention the
Kyoto Protocol! Not that there was any difficulty in doing so since Declarations
at the end of each of the previous conferences had done so and even as late as
the World Summit on Sustainable Development at Johannesburg consensus language
had been found enabling reconciliation of the many differences about the
relative importance of sustainable development and reduction of emissions to
check and reverse climate change. The
Draft Declaration did not even issue a clear call for ratification of the Kyoto
Protocol and its entry into force, despite the fact that 95 countries have
already ratified it.
The Draft prepared by the Indian presidency
deliberately played up “sustainable development” and down-played
reduction of GHG emissions making the Draft sound like a watered down version of
the disastrous WSSD Declaration.


No wonder that most commentators saw the US hand guiding the Presidency’s
Draft. Prime Minister Vajpayee himself, in his address to the conference, played
up the North-South debate, attacked attempts to impose emission reduction
targets on developing countries and added fuel to the diversionary fire lit by
the US and its allies.  It was no
surprise that an informal gathering of NGOs and other observers announced
“awards” for the worst performance at COP-8 and for having derailed it
to the US, Saudi Arabia and India!




the opinion of this writer, it was clear even before the COP-8 meeting that an
issue which might dominate discussions at the conference would be the relative 
importance to be given to mitigation (i.e. efforts to reduce emissions
and thus minimise climate change) and adaptation (i.e. activities to enable
vulnerable especially developing countries and communities to deal with the
impact of climate change and extreme weather events). This writer believed that
the emerging focus on adaptation at the
cost of mitigation
was poised to emerge as a major diversion from the main
goal. Developments at COP-8 have only vindicated this position.


Along with the North-South debate as it was conducted and the apparently
well-meaning attempts to focus on sustainable development as the main task
facing developing countries at this time, the discussions at COP-8 on providing
assistance to developing countries, especially the poorest and those most
vulnerable to climate impact such as small island states, to adapt to climate
change and extreme weather proved to be another red herring dragged across the
conference. During the run-up to the conference too, many poor developing
countries were led to believe that the new focus on adaptation would mean
greater flow of funds from industrialised world.


COP-8 the Indian presidency had thrown its weight behind a renewed thrust on
measures to support adaptation in developing countries. So pronounced was this
thrust that the Draft Declaration also omitted the word “mitigation”
just as it had banned “Kyoto”, both much to the delight of the US,
Saudi Arabia and other fossil-fuel champions in OPEC. However, despite the
stated objective of the Indian presidency to make adaptation the core issue for
COP-8, the discussions remained at the level of nice words and positive
sentiments but made no progress towards adequate, leave alone additional, and
transparent mechanisms for funding adaptation measures or increasing the
capacity of developing countries to adopt them. The Indian Draft clearly used
the issue of adaptation to distract attention away from emission reductions. No
one questions the importance of mitigation measures, but surely this cannot
replace or substitute for actually reducing emissions. This would be analogous
to dealing with the threat posed by cigarettes not by actions aimed at reducing
smoking but by providing funds to build more cancer hospitals!




 With all these efforts by
leading players, it comes as no surprise that COP-8 and the Delhi Declaration
adopted by it have not only made little advance over previous conferences but
have almost brought the climate change negotiations to a dead end.


eco-crusading polarised the conference along North-South lines opening old
wounds. The US fished adroitly in these troubled waters and Saudi Arabia played
its front man role to perfection. India emphasised adaptation instead of
emission reductions as the real goal. And Russia which was expected to ratify
the Treaty and bring it into force by so doing, has dug its heels in and now
says it may take at least another year before it does so, especially because
translating the documents into Russian is taking a long time. Meanwhile, Russia
wants to convene a special conference to re-discuss the science of climate
change, positioning to take the whole issue all the way back to its beginnings
more than a decade ago. India as conference president took credit for the
Declaration claiming that it had forced the EU to accept its developing country
orientation otherwise there would have been no Declaration at all which
“would have been a feather in the cap of the US.”


wonder that US negotiators were overjoyed at the outcome and declared that the
Delhi Declaration was “a balanced document for future course of action to
deal with climate change.” If the US,
which has declared that the Kyoto Protocol is totally flawed, that it would
never ratify it and has decided to opt out of it, feels COP-8 has been a
success, no better testimonial is required for its total failure. The planet’s
health, sustainable development and the future welfare particularly of
vulnerable societies and communities closely linked with natural resources will
be the biggest losers.