Even with climate negotiations, the more things change, the more they remain the same. The protracted debates at the UN conference in Bonn in March were reminiscent of North-South disputes on the environment that surfaced at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and have been popping up ever since.
The major hurdle is the meet in Copenhagen in December, when the Kyoto Protocol will be renegotiated. While former US President George Bush refused to sign the treaty on the ground that major developing economies like China and India didn’t have to commit to cutting their greenhouse gases, negotiators have welcomed the return of the US administration to the ongoing talks.
Even so, this may prove Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark — the US remains the most powerful economy (while China has become the largest emitter) — because President Barack Obama may not be able to get legislation through Congress by December. While the European Union has agreed to reduce emissions by 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, the US is only agreeing to return to 1990 levels by this date. Developing countries are demanding that rich nations cut their emissions by 40 per cent by 2020.
Indian negotiators point out that while the country is the third largest emitter, it contributes less than 4 per cent of the total, while China and the US account for 20-25 per cent. In the last few years, the country has been growing at 9 per cent with only a 4 per cent increase in energy consumption. It accounts for a third of the world’s poor, more than in sub-Saharan Africa. Some 700 million live without commercial energy and should receive at least 30 units of electricity and 6 kilograms of cooking gas per person every month. India should not be penalised by a global climate regime for meeting these legitimate aspirations of its people. They bristle at India, China and a few others being lumped together as ‘major developing countries’, which language doesn’t figure anywhere in the Kyoto treaty.
Indeed, some 2.5 per cent of its GDP is already being spent on adaptation measures: So far, the North has been more concerned with mitigating the impact of climate change than adapting to it, since that burden falls largely on the South. A breakthrough is required to get over the deadlock. Greenpeace, for instance, advocates that developing countries must reduce their emissions by 15-30 per cent by 2020, with the proviso that this transition is largely funded by industrial countries. At Bali, in 2007, countries agreed that developing nations had to bear common but differentiated responsibility and will have to take ‘nationally appropriate mitigation actions’ which were ‘measurable, reportable and verifiable’.
To the uninitiated, particularly in the West, the demands for funds may seem the proverbial begging bowl that the global South habitually extends. However, the science tells a different story. Rich countries have appropriated over some two centuries of industrialisation a disproportionate proportion of the global commons — in this instance, the atmosphere.
The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and three other organisations have worked out ‘Greenhouse Development Rights’, which address the trickiest issues in the climate change debate: Per capita versus total emissions, ‘historical’ emissions, as well as the energy consumption of elites within developing countries. It uses the more appropriate measure of $20 per person per day on a purchasing power parity index, greater than subsistence. Thus, only some 5 per cent of Indians exceed this development threshold of $7,300 a year, 20 per cent of Chinese and 100 per cent of Americans.
At Bonn, negotiators cited $1 trillion as the annual funding required to cope with climate change, amounting to 1.5 per cent of global GDP. Using the SEI’s index, in 2010, the US, with 33 per cent of the global ‘responsibility-capacity’ index, would have to bear $331 billion; the EU $257 billion (25 per cent); China $55 billion (5.5 per cent) and India $5 billion (0.5 per cent). This serves as the basis of a progressive global climate tax; not a carbon tax per se, but one based on responsibility and capacity.
Darryl D’Monte is the Chairperson, Forum of Environmental Journalists of India