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Something rotten

The developed world led by America is openly playing politics with climate change. It’s our duty not to give in, writes Sitaram Yechury.

columns Updated: Dec 15, 2009 21:28 IST

The global negotiations on Climate Change at Copenhagen enters its final stage with the three-day Heads of States Summit starting today. Reports so far indicate the unfolding of the Shakespearean dilemma of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark: “To be or not to be...”

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that began in 1990 has by now established that the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is rapidly approaching levels beyond which irreversible and potentially catastrophic changes in global climate could occur. While these changes will affect all of humanity, the worst affected will be the poor, especially in the developing world. India is likely to suffer severe damages with the melting of Himalayan glaciers, drastic changes in rainfall patterns leading to floods, droughts, rising sea levels and displacement of millions of people.

Undoubtedly, there is an urgent need to act in limiting such emissions to ensure that global temperatures do not rise beyond 2°C. There is, however, another view that global warming may be happening due to factors much beyond human activities. Despite all scientific advances, the one area where little is known is what is happening under our feet on our planet. Drilling for 19 years to probe the depths of Earth, whose radius is over 6,000 km, the Soviets reached a depth of nearly 13 km before the Soviet Union collapsed. No one has ventured beyond this. Even this minuscule penetration revealed many surprises negating what scientists presumed on the basis of seismic waves and other indirect methods. For instance, at a depth of 10 km, the temperature was found to be 180°C, nearly twice the forecast level. These happenings may well be impacting on temperatures at the surface.

This nevertheless should not detract the efforts humanity must make to ensure that life breathes cleaner air and tangible changes that affect both livelihood and quality of life of billions are reversed. The last two decades of negotiations were aimed at achieving this. This was based on the inviolable principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’. This underlined the fact that the developed countries, having contributed the most to green house emissions, must undertake greater responsibility now in reducing them. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol set binding targets for the developed countries while exempting developing countries but calling upon the latter to take appropriate measures commensurate with their national capabilities. Developed countries, instead of reducing emissions by 5 per cent compared to 1990, increased their cumulative emissions by 10 per cent. The US, which refused to ratify the protocol, increased its emissions by 17 per cent. It is now being called to commit to mandatory emission cuts of 40 per cent by 2020 and 90 per cent by 2050.

It’s precisely this that they are resisting by calling upon all countries to announce voluntary internationally monitored
cuts. They are jettisoning the so-far accepted concept of ‘differentiated responsibility’ and imposing an unjust ‘common’ order. The US has offered to cut 17 per cent from 2005 levels, which reduces to just 3 percent from the 1990 levels — less than what was proposed at Kyoto. It’s virtually mocking at the world.

It is this that needs to be resisted at Copenhagen. The developed countries will have to accept internationally monitored mandatory cuts. The developing countries will announce voluntary reductions whose realisation is contingent upon the developed world fulfilling its commitments on transfer of finances and technology (without intellectual property rights royalty payments) as contained in Article 4 Paragraph 7 of the UNFCCC: “commitments under the convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country parties of their commitments under the Convention relating to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country parties.”

The two red lines drawn by the Indian Parliament — a) no binding emission cuts will be acceptable, and b) there shall be no deadline for peaking of emissions by the developing countries — will have to be adhered to. This remains non-negotiable.

The developed countries cannot negate their ‘historical responsibility’ and continue with their pillage of global climate at the expense of the vast majority of humanity. They need to be forced to continue to accept per capita emissions as the basis of energy equality as every human on Earth should have equal access to carbon space. Such inequality — per capita emissions in the US are 20 times greater than those in India — can’t persist.

Thus, Hamlet’s dilemma continues:
“To be or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes,
Or to take arms against the sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?”

Unlike in the play, humanity can ill-afford the tragic end in the hope of an eternal reunion in an ethereal world. Mortals need a just, equitable deal. In its absence, no deal is better than a bad deal.

Rajya Sabha MP and CPI(M) Politburo member Sitaram Yechury is attending the Copenhagen Summit as part of a five-member Indian parliamentary delegation

The views expressed by the author are personal

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