More than two-thirds of the way through, with Ministers having already joined their negotiating teams and with heads of government starting to arrive for the final three days supposedly to seal an accord to save humanity, the Copenhagen climate conference is heading nowhere. The negotiations, if one can call them that, are exactly where they were before the conference began.
The US and its allies have completely ignored the substantive offers tabled by China, India, Brazil, South Africa (the BASIC bloc), Mexico and Indonesia to reduce their emissions growth rates. These offers have gone a long way towards meeting US objections that the existing Kyoto framework does not call upon large developing countries with relatively high emissions to contribute to global mitigation efforts. Yet industrialized nations are pretending that nothing has changed. US chief negotiator Todd Stern — who attracted universal anger for his remark that while the US and other developed countries were indeed responsible for historical emissions but the US felt neither guilt nor the need to compensate for the damage caused — stated with a straight face that he could not envisage any agreement that did not include Chinese commitments and at the same time stressed that the US would not increase their low emission reduction commitment amounting to 3 percent below 1990 levels!
Developed countries led by the USA have not budged from their earlier positions and have shown no readiness to seriously discuss, let alone agree to, their commitments for deep emission cuts which are essential for tackling the imminent crisis and which was the key element to be finalized in Copenhagen. Instead, they have concentrated all their efforts on trying to kill or re-write the Kyoto Protocol which is at the very heart of the existing global Treaty on climate change and on pushing large developing countries to accept binding emission reduction targets on terms similar to those applicable to developed country parties.
Conference collapse This has brought the Conference to the point of collapse, bar some last minute miracle, and may well have spelt doom for millions of people especially in developing countries. As UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon put it, “Nature does not negotiate with us.” IPCC has warned that the window of opportunity to prevent runaway climate change and irreversible damage is small and narrowing with each passing day. Indeed, since the release of IPCC’s Fourth Report in mid-2007, evidence has been mounting that the situation is deteriorating even more rapidly than earlier believed.
With no concrete outcome in sight on emissions reduction, the agenda in Copenhagen has already shifted to a “political statement” expected to be issued by the more than 110 leaders gathering in Copenhagen as we go to press. Of course, nothing substantive can be expected from this statement either but, since the leaders cannot go back empty handed despite this grand assemblage, it does not take a genius to predict that the “political statement” will be full of lofty goals of saving the planet, promises to keep temperature rise within manageable limits and assurances that sufficient funds and technology will be made available by developed countries, and a decision to meet again in six months or a year to work out details. Such a statement may actually be dangerous rather than merely farcical since its wording can and will, given the track record of the US and other developed countries, be used later to justify their positions.
Will some or other grouping of countries take up the gauntlet, display the courage to call a spade a spade, and announces to the world that Copenhagen has been an utter failure because the rich countries of the global North have betrayed humanity? Given the shameless behaviour of the US and its allies in Copenhagen, unless firm ground rules are set in advance, what guarantee is there that the next conference will not meet the same fate as this one?
Yet the fight must go on beyond Copenhagen, globally as well as in different countries. So let us look at the salient developments and trends in Copenhagen thus far, at least to assist in a more detailed post-mortem next week, if not to give us some pointers for the future.
Killing Kyoto The Copenhagen conference discussions were supposed to be organized around two tracks, each led by an Ad-hoc Working Group set up under UN aegis and functioning since the Bali Conference in December 2007 to hold extensive consultations with all countries and prepare negotiating texts. The first Group or AWG-KP was to deal with enhanced emission reduction commitments by developed countries for the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol from 2013 onwards. The second Group, AWG-LCA, was to deliberate upon long-term cooperative action by all countries aimed at furthering the key goals of long-term mitigation, adaptation, technology and finance, keeping in mind and not independent of the short-term emissions reductions in the second commitment period decided upon in the parallel KP track. These two Drafts or negotiating texts with specific portions placed in square brackets signifying areas of disagreement or difference were to form the basis of negotiations in Copenhagen,
The sabotage of this entire process, and of the Copenhagen conference itself, was engineered by the US and its allies even before the conference began and at Copenhagen right off the bat. Various parallel texts started doing the rounds including the notorious Danish text. Denmark, which as host and Chair of the conference was expected to display neutrality and facilitate a democratic process reflecting the views of all delegate nations, steered almost all discussions towards the LCA track to the virtual exclusion of the KP track. This in effect meant that developed country obligations to substantially reduce emissions in the second commitment period was simply ignored while a single track involving all countries became the focus of all discussions.
This very same agenda, of imposing a single Treaty framework to replace the twin-pronged Kyoto framework of common but differentiated responsibility wherein developed countries would undertake legally binding emission cuts while developing countries would undertake mitigation and adaptation actions supported by finance and technology from the former, was simultaneously focused on by the US and its allies in their conference Plenary speeches as well as in press briefings. In fact this idea of replacing the Kyoto protocol with a single Treaty framework, in which developing countries especially large ones such as China and India would also take on binding cuts, has been the central cleft that has split the Copenhagen conference and shattered the international compact on which the entire global negotiations process has been based.
Even at this late stage, efforts are underway to “parachute in” a Danish text known to be a surrogate for US views, by-passing the two AWG Drafts. When developing countries protested, Denmark’s Prime Minister, who has taken over as the Conference Chair from his environment minister, remarked that “the global outcome should not be hostage to procedure.” Apart from the fact that crucial substantive issues are at stake, no drafts or texts other than the AWG-KP and LCA Drafts have any locus standi in Copenhagen and should not be countenanced in any form.
Poor tactics, wrong strategy It is a matter of some surprise why these moves by the US and its allies, actively aided by the Danish Chair, were not nipped in the bud at the very outset in the opening days of the Conference rather than being allowed to overwhelm the Conference to the point of completely undermining it. The official and often reiterated Indian position that it did not want to take issues with anybody but would adopt a constructive role offers some clue. It took two walk-outs by African delegates, with India playing intermediary in the second instance (Indian negotiators were at pains to point out that they had not actually joined), for the Conference Chair to even nominally restore the twin-track discussions. In Copenhagen, cooperation has been taken for, and has translated into, acquiescence.
In fact, if one looks back to developments over the past two years and more going back to even before Bali, it would seem that India and other large developing countries have paid a heavy price for going along with supposedly “consensus” formulations of the US and other G7 countries in earlier meetings of the G8 plus G5. This is not just hindsight, as regular readers of these columns would know that this had been noted even at the time in reviews of the climate discussions at these Meetings. Joint statements of the G8 plus G5 on aspirational goals and collaborative efforts to combat climate change were issued at the G8 Summit at Heiligendamm in Germany in mid 2007, at Toyako in Japan in 2008 and at the so-called “Major Economies Forum” in L’Aquila, Italy earlier this year. While India basked in the supposed glory of dining at the high table of global powers, and others thought these had brought about a gradual shift in the US position, these Statements implicitly put forward the idea that the US, other developed countries and India along with other large developing countries were all sailing in the same boat.
US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, in a signed op-ed article published during the Copenhagen conference (International Herald Tribune, 15 December, 2009) made clear that the US position in Copenhagen was no aberration and represented continuity from the Bush era, and that US indeed saw India and China as part of one club along with itself and therefore wanted a single climate Treaty framework for all together. Clinton wrote that success at Copenhagen required that “all major economies, developed and developing, need to take robust action to reduce their carbon emissions”, that “they agree to a system that enables full transparency” (i.e. that commitments by India and China too should be subject to verification as with developed country targets), and that the US had taken the lead to bring developed and key developing countries to tackle climate change together through initiatives such as the “Major Economies Forum… and agreements at the G-20 and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation” meets.
The dangers of yet another “political statement” at Copenhagen should be obvious!
Need for introspection Other large developing countries would no doubt draw their own lessons, but India certainly needs to do a great deal of introspection. We have earlier commented in these columns on India’s defensive posture and reactive positions on climate change, all with an eye on developed country audiences. We had also noted last week the severe problems in India’s unilateralist position, all of which were very much in evidence in Copenhagen. Leader of the Indian delegation, India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh repeatedly declared that India had come “to defend its own interests, not anybody else’s”. Does the Indian government think they are in Copenhagen for trade talks where each country is engaged only in defending its own turf, and where only forces of imperialist globalization think global interests are at stake? In the climate crisis, national interests are inextricably intertwined with global climate change and therefore with the actions of other nations. All the red lines the Minister drew upon arrival in Copenhagen referred only to the LCA track, not one referred to the KP track and developed country emissions. Does the Indian government think it can address national interests without addressing the need to tackle climate change itself which is a global phenomenon and for which developed country emission cuts are essential?
India also needs to think seriously about another depressing new trend that emerged in Copenhagen, one that is scarcely being noted by commentators even though it has been simmering for some time now, perhaps for fear that doing so would also bring other worms too of the woodwork. Small island nations grouped under the umbrella Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), latterly joined by Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and together accounting for over 85 nations, have developed and strongly expressed their own distinctive position and negotiating stance, different from that of the mainstream grouping of G77 plus China comprising 130 countries. While this has not led to any acrimony or disputes, or even to any specific demand on the floor of the Conference, it has brought to the surface several issues hitherto brushed under the carpet. The Island nations and the LDCs are, with good reason deeply concerned about climate change, the former because they are about to disappear under rising sea levels and the latter because they are hugely vulnerable and threatened, and without the resources to cope or survive. These countries see China and India with huge economic growth rates and with high emissions, and do want some definitive action on this front from nations with the financial and technological capacity to do so. There is also a deep sense of disquiet among these countries at parleys taking place among the “big five” developing countries or between them and the developed nations, fearing a mutually accommodative deal that would leave them to fend for themselves. Yet it was only on Tuesday of the second week in Copenhagen that China, and not yet India, declared that it would not take even a single penny of any finances made available by developed countries under the climate agreement.
There is much to think about after Copenhagen.