Flop-8: Climate Conference In Delhi

NOT 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 conferences.


EU 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”!

The 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!


In 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.

At 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.

Europe’s 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.”

Little 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.

10th November