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India gets its way as climate summit in Durban closes

An impassioned speech by environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan capped the UN climate summit finale that ended early today with a Durban Package, after she warned that India "will never be intimidated by any threat or pressure". Key points | What climate talks agreed to

world Updated: Dec 11, 2011 14:41 IST
UN climate summit,Jayanthi Natarajan,environment minister

An impassioned speech by environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan capped the finale of the UN climate summit that ended in Durban early Sunday with a Durban Package, after she warned that India "will never be intimidated by any threat or pressure".

Natarajan's speech ensured that India's main concern - the inclusion of the concept of equity in the fight against climate change - became part of the package.

The package said all countries would be part of a global pact to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Natarajan ensured there was a third option -- "an agreed outcome with legal force" -- apart from protocol or a legal instrument.

The conference ended a day and a half behind schedule because of intense negotiations over contentious issues.

The third option was included after a dramatic huddle while the plenary session of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change summit came to a halt.

The two main actors were Natarajan and European union climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard, who started the row by objecting to the agreements reached behind closed doors.

India had wanted a "legal outcome" as the third option, but Hedegaard said this would put countries' sincerity in doubt.

That set off Natarajan, who roared: "We have shown more flexibility than virtually any other country. But equity is the centrepiece, it cannot be shifted. This is not about India.

"Does fighting climate change mean we have to give up on equity? We have agreed to protocol and legal instrument. What's the problem in having one more option?

"India will never be intimidated by any threat or any kind of pressure. What's this legal instrument? How do I give a blank cheque?

"We're talking of livelihoods and sustainability here. I'm not accusing anybody, but there are efforts to shift the (climate) problem to countries that have not contributed to it.

"If that is done, we're willing to reopen the entire Durban Package. We did not issue a threat. But are we being made into a scapegoat? Please don't hold us hostage."

As Natarajan finished her speech amid a thunderous ovation from a hall packed with thousands of delegates from 194 governments, observers and the media, some countries backed the EU but China strongly supported India.

Xie Zhenhua, the vice minister of the national development and reform commission, pointed out that the developing countries like India and China were "already doing much more than developed countries" against global warming.

"We should look at not what is said but what is done. Some countries have made (legal) commitments but are not meeting them," he said.

"We are doing whatever we should do. We are doing what you (rich nations) are not doing. What qualifies you to say all this? We are taking real actions. We want to see your actions."

Then some countries supported India and China, while others still supported EU.

Conference president and South Africa's foreign minister Maite Nkoane Mashabane then halted the session and asked EU and India to go into a huddle there and then.

Unprecedented scenes followed beyond midnight as negotiators from all countries mobbed Natarajan and Hedegaard and snapped photographs, with no sign of exhaustion even at 2 in the morning.

US and Chinese chief negotiators joined the huddle too. More frenzied applause indicated an agreement had finally been reached.

When the session reconvened, Natarajan announced that India had agreed to a change of wording in the third option "in a spirit of flexibility and accommodation". Hedegaard thanked India.

Under the four-pronged Durban Package, rich nations have now agreed to reduce their GHG emissions from 2013 under the Kyoto Protocol, a key demand of developing countries.

The end date of that commitment period has not been fixed, though. Negotiators will now have to choose between 2017 and 2020.

In return, all countries have agreed to be part of the global treaty, which is supposed to be negotiated by 2015 and to come into force in 2020.

The package included the birth of the Green Climate Fund, which had been conceived at the last summit in Cancun.

The fund is meant to help poor countries cope with climate change effects, though there is no money in it yet.

As dawn broke over this port city and tired negotiators rushed to catch flights home, US chief negotiator Todd Stern said: "I think in the end we did quite well."

First Published: Dec 11, 2011 14:21 IST