All eyes towards Copenhagen...

  • 28/08/2009

There is no doubting that climate change will be a major issue – if not THE major issue – in the 21st century.  Given the scale and scope of the issue, and the wide range of stakeholders with disparate, sometimes diverging, interests, it is no surprise that “solving” the problem is turning out be so challenging.  As we all look towards towards Copenhagen, in my view, at least three issue need to be resolved to help move us forward:

1.  Progress:  How do we define progress?  Do we focus just on climate change or do we give equal (if not greater) attention to sustainable development?  Article 2.4 of the Convention states that “The Parties have a right to, and should, promote sustainable development.”  Given the choice between two actions, the one that promotes sustainable development to a greater extent must receive preference.  While integrating sustainable development into measures of success (rather than only tons of carbon or equivalent saved) seems obvious, it still is not given the attention it deserves.  At the same time, even within the climate arena, the relative imbalance between the attention on mitigation and adaptation needs to be addressed.

2.  Pace and participation: How far do we go and how fast?  This obviously is a key issue in the negotiations.  But this cannot be decoupled from the issue of who mitigates how much and when.  One of the key reasons that the 2°C target raises concern is that it is being discussed in conjunction with relatively-anemic short-term mitigation targets by industrialized countries which will greatly limit the carbon space available to non-Annex-I countries for their development, a point made eloquently by the Indian energy/climate expert and negotiator, Surya Sethi.  Thus proposals of tight global targets that are seen as necessary to avoid “dangerous” climate change must be coupled with bolder commitments by Annex-I countries.

3.  Phasing of actions:  How do we phase actions under the UNFCCC?  Since the issue of targets, timetables, and commitments are complex and difficult, should we put unrealistic expectations on the time needed for their resolution?  Is a “global deal” at Copenhagen the only measure of success? There is no doubt that a global agreement will be very welcome but let us not paint ourselves into a corner where we declare the Copenhagen summit a bust if it does not meet this specific expectation.

Why should we not also simultaneously think about confidence-building measures (CBMs) that help overcome the lack of trust between Annex-I and non-Annex-I countries?  Such measures could involve activities that will help lay the foundation for future mitigation activities (for example, “Climate Technology Innovation Centers” proposed by India in the negotiations) or those that give primacy to sustainable development while offering some climate co-benefits (such as developing clean energy technologies for providing energy services to the poor)?  I actually would (and do) argue that we have an obligation to engage in the latter set of activities:  so far, the focus has been on getting potential GHG polluters to not pollute, while ignoring the (non-polluting) poor because they do not pose a threat of rising emissions and therefore allow the rest of us greater carbon space.  Justice requires correcting this mindset.

And we must not forget the Kyoto obligations.  Let’s make sure the process doesn't fall off the rails in the first step itself and ensure that countries meet the obligations they have agreed to undertake.  Maybe we can give these countries a grace period, say 2 years, but with punitive measures for non-compliance.

In the end, I believe that we need to move away from the prevailing view that developing countries need to brought onboard as a pre-condition to a climate deal, and once that happens, we will craft a “fair” deal.  I would contend that if Annex-I countries put together a fair & just deal, developing countries automatically will come onboard, since they realize that progress on the climate front is in everyone’s interest.  Justice should be valued not only as a matter of principle but also for its practical utility in breaking the climate logjam.


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