November 17, 2013

  People’s Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of
India (Marxist)


No. 46

November 17,



From Outmanoeuvred at Durban
to Confusion at Warsaw


J Thiagarajan


AS the
next round of
climate negotiations opens in the Polish capital of Warsaw,
there is generally no expectation of
any dramatic development. This nineteenth Conference of
Parties (COP 19) of the
United Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) is not
the deadline for
any particular piece of negotiation to be finalised, finished
or simply wound
up. However despite the absence of such deadlines, there are a
number of
significant issues on the agenda. Of these, the most important
is the further
steps in taking forward the Durban Platform for Enhanced
Action that was
announced at the climate negotiations at Durban, South Africa,
two years ago.


Durban Platform (DPA)
was basically an agreement to have a global climate agreement,
by the year
2015, that would come into force by 2020, and would have
binding (in some form
or the other) commitments by all nations for emissions
reduction as an
essential part of its content. It is noteworthy that the
Durban Platform did
not contain any reference to such a global emissions agreement
being based on
equity or being in accordance with the principle of common but
responsibilities. In effect, the Durban Platform does not
contain any explicit
reference to any distinction between developed and developing
countries on the
subject of reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Concurrently
at Durban,
the second
commitment period to the Kyoto Protocol was accepted by the
developed countries.
However, this was something of an empty victory, since some
developed countries
have withdrawn from the Protocol and those remaining have not
increased their promised emissions reductions.


adoption of the Durban
Platform was spearheaded by the European Union with the active
support of many
developing nations, especially from the African Group,
including South Africa,
the Alliance of Small Island
States (AOSIS), and some Latin American nations, including Brazil.
The United States
while initially adopting a
negative posture, switched to supporting the Platform once it
was clear that
such an agreement opened the door to imposing binding
commitments on China
and India
in a few years. Regrettably, India,
and some other nations such as Malaysia,
were isolated, and were left in the unenviable position of
appearing to oppose
any positive global action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.




Why did
which had taken the lead twenty years ago
in setting up the UNFCCC at the first Earth Summit, find
itself eventually isolated
at Durban,
a split in the ranks of the developing countries? The crux of
the problem has
been that official India‘s
climate policy, especially in the last five to ten years, has
become a do-nothing policy without any concrete proposal that
would preserve
both the interests of developing countries such as itself, as
well as protect
the global environment. Developing countries had always
rightfully argued that
the lead in emissions reduction should be taken by the
developed nations and
they should be the first to begin massive reduction in
emissions, developing
nations would begin taking steps to ensure that their
development gradually
took a path of  low-carbon
development. However, given the need to protect the global
environment, this
could not mean that developing countries would do nothing or
not take any
binding commitment eventually to lower their share of
greenhouse gas  emissions.
Obviously such commitments by
developing countries must be based on equity and in accordance
with the
principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The
absence of such a
well-defined proposal from the developing countries has
allowed the developed
countries, especially the European Union, and their friends
among the G-77, to
portray India
and China,
those aligned with them on this issue, as playing an
obstructionist role in the
global climate negotiations.


In the
two years since Durban,
the pace of
negotiations under the Durban Platform (which of course is
part of the overall
UNFCCC negotiations) has picked up considerably. There is now
a demanding
schedule that requires that a draft text for a global
agreement be prepared at
the next COP 20, a heads of state conference is to be convened
by the UN secretary-general
next year in September and a final agreement is to be reached
at Paris
two years from now
at COP 21.  In the
meanwhile, there has
been little progress on the part of China and India in
particular in articulating
a new vision for a global agreement that would be based on
equity and yet
adequate in preserving the global environment.


this background, the
union cabinet’s guidelines to India‘s
to Warsaw marks a significant
deviation from what has been India‘s
established climate policy so far. While the long-standing
policy stance of India
has been for binding emission commitments
by developed countries, that are sufficient in terms of
climate science and
takes into account historical responsibility, New Delhi
has now opted to support the idea
of “voluntary commitments” for emissions reduction by all
nations. This
approach has been championed notably by the United States,
which claims that it
will only undertake as much emissions reduction as is
feasible. The UPA
government has opted to now turn its back on our long-standing
policy of
treating the atmosphere as a global commons that should be
equitably shared,
and shift to an approach that will allow the developed
countries to evade their
due share of the burden of emissions reduction.


understand the dangers
of this shift in India‘s
policy, we need to grasp the reason why such an approach is
inimical to
There can be no doubt that India needs an
early climate
agreement for two reasons. 
On the one
hand, there is increasing evidence that unchecked global
warming would lead to
increasingly severe effects in several sectors, especially
agriculture and
water, apart from the increased frequency of extreme climate
events. The enhanced
climate variability that accompanies global warming will have
serious impacts
on Indian farmers, the bulk of whom are small-holders who even
today suffer the
consequences of weather and climate shocks, 
before the effects of global warming have risen to more
alarming levels.
An early climate agreement with the potential to restrict
global average
temperature rise to at least 2 degrees Centigrade, if not
lower, is certainly a
necessity. An early and effective limit on greenhouse gas
emissions will also
contribute to lowering the need, and associated costs, for
climate change
adaptation, which otherwise could be considerable.


At the
same time, India
adequate atmospheric “space” in terms of allowed carbon
emissions to pursue its
development. Even in a highly optimistic scenario in which
renewable energy
rapidly takes up the bulk of the requirements for sectors such
as domestic
lighting and heating, agriculture, and all energy needs of
establishments, India will still need fossil fuels for a
considerable time
until reliable sources of clean energy become available for
large-scale use in
the expansion of industry, transportation and the like, all of
which are needed
for development. Even infrastructure needs for adaptation will
require such


IPCC’s AR5 report has
brought to the centre-stage of 
discussion the notion of 
a global
carbon budget, referring to the cumulative carbon dioxide
emissions into the
atmosphere, from the beginning of the industrial era till the
end of the 21st
century, that are permissible, if the global temperature rise
is to be kept
below 2 degree Centigrade. For a 66% probability of keeping
the rise in global
average temperature below this limit, the world is allowed
approximately 1000
billion tonnes of carbon emissions (taking account solely of
carbon dioxide).
But the nub of the issue is the equitable distribution of this
space. In per
capita terms, or indeed by several other measures of equitable
distribution as
well, the developed countries have already substantially
exceeded their fair
share of this global budget. As a consequence, a large number
of developing
countries, including China
but especially India,
will have to make do with less than their fair share of the
global carbon space
as their national carbon budgets for the future, if indeed
global warming has
to be kept in check.




maximise the developing
countries access to the global carbon budget, an early
“top-down” agreement to
impose constraints on the developed nations’ consumption of
carbon “space” in
the atmosphere is an obvious necessity. Even more obviously,
an approach based
on “voluntary” commitments to emissions reduction by developed
and developing
countries would not address India‘s


But as
media reports
indicate, this policy shift has already run into trouble, even
before it has
been articulated at the ministerial level in Warsaw.
The European Union is of course fully
aware of the global carbon budget and hence demands that the
gap between the
sum of all voluntary commitments and the allowed global budget
has to be made
up by further emissions reductions that all nations have to
agree to. This
demand as well as India’s response that the gap must be made
up by the
developed nations based on historical responsibility for
emissions, brings us
squarely back to what is indeed a “top-down” approach.


At the
end of the day,
India’s official position at Warsaw is 
marked by confusion precisely when a carefully
articulated position has
become even more of a necessity. Nothing illustrates more
starkly the
inadequacy of India’s current official line than the fact that
it has allowed
the term “equity reference framework” in the context of the
ADP negotiations to
be hijacked by other nations including nations of the African
Group as well as
the EU. India and its like-minded friends are left in the
unenviable position
of opposing this term, claiming that developing nations need
not have to
undertake any binding commitment, but in effect appearing to
the world as opposing
even an equitable global agreement.


from this key issue,
the other major issue under discussion is the question of loss
and damage due
to the impact of climate change and adequate support to
regions and nations
that suffer such damage. The idea, that undoubtedly has merit,
is that
humanitarian assistance to countries, such as Philippines most
recently, should
not be on an ad hoc basis but that there should be an adequate
and proper
mechanism to ensure assistance to those who suffer such
impacts. Unfortunately,
it has not been widely noticed that this issue is something of
a double edged
weapon. The danger is that this mechanism may come in time to
subvert the
UNFCCC’s articles that mandate that developing countries are
to be supported
for climate adaptation. Paying for the damage to the current
assets of
developing countries will obviously come cheaper, in fact the
poorer the
country the lower the value of its assets, than assisting them
with their
development which is what climate adaptation support will
entail. Even here
India does not appear to have thought through its policy
stance effectively.


democratic opinion
needs to pay close attention to the nation’s official climate
policy. The
current trends in its evolution do not lend confidence that
our vital
interests, especially our people’s interests, are being
adequately safeguarded.