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Climate Accord Betrays The Vulnerable

By Bhaskar Goswami

23 December, 2009

Crunch times call for desperate measures. This time round, it demanded trusting politicians for reaching a deal on climate change. Well, they did reach a deal but not one on saving the climate but on betrayal of climate justice. The clinically depressing document has reaffirmed that none of the political leaders landed at Copenhagen with a heart to do good.

After burning midnight oil, some hung-over from feasting at the Danish Queen’s do, and some sober heads produced a please-the-rich-countries draft. It allows these countries to continue polluting, ensures that some, if not all, vulnerable island nations will submerge, and postpones a deal by a year till a meeting at Mexico happens next November. By that time, citizens of Tuvalu, Kiribati and Maldives, among others, would be on their knees desperately seeking rehabilitation and citizenship in distant nations.

The deal is a document drafted by developed countries in consultation with India, China, Brazil and South Africa – the BASIC bloc. It is a reflection of how farcical norms rule the roost at multilateral negotiations, be it the WTO, WIPO or, in this case, UNFCCC. The UN has completely failed to uphold democratic norms and has instead allowed itself to be dictated by countries that control its purse strings.

The UN Secretary General said that the “finishing line is in sight”. For the island nations and billions of farmers in the developing world, this finishing line translates to an endgame for their livelihood and culture. President Obama calls it a “meaningful” agreement that will serve as a roadmap to future wherein all countries will have to figure out how best to serve the cause of the planet. Sorry Mr. President, what the deal does is to uphold the right of the mighty United States to continue polluting the planet.

But then President Obama presides over a nation that is unwilling to pay heed to his personal calls to reduce emissions. The US Congress and Senate have steadfastly blocked all attempts to put in place a climate change and emission control regime, so he might be a bit hamstrung. Nothing similar of this nature prevails in the case of the EU where, barring Poland, most nations were open to undertake deeper emission cuts. But then, once the US set the trend, why would the EU volunteer to shoulder the burden of its transatlantic brethren?

What about the other major polluters – China and India? Both can vie with each other when it comes to flaunting weak environmental norms – some of the so-called banana republics have a better record of protecting the environment than these two. Here’s a rain check on what the Indian delegation is peddling as a pyrrhic victory engineered by the BASIC bloc:

Emission Cuts: The US gets away with 14-17% reduction on 2005 levels i.e. 3-4% of the 1990 levels; EU, Japan and Russia agree to predetermined 1990 level cuts (Europeans now are the only binding carbon regime in the world). Target for 2050 suddenly goes missing from the text! Further, these emission cuts are not binding.

Temperature: Cap at 2 degrees. So what if more than 100 nations (a majority, if it were ever put to vote at UNFCCC) wanted it capped at 1.5 degrees or the fact that many island nations will go under at this higher level of temperature increase.

Peaking of Carbon Emission: No dates set. This is to please the BASIC bloc at the expense of the rest of the developing economies. Don’t believe it? Well, this is how the text goes: “We should co-operate in achieving the peaking of global and national emissions as soon as possible, recognising that the time frame for peaking will be longer in developing countries”. Can anything get vaguer than this?

Finally, the Moolah! Don’t read much into the $100bn announcement by Hillary Clinton; she herself is not sure how and where from this money will be raised in the first place. While promises of climate adaptation funds have been made in the past and gone undelivered, this deal is offering $30 billion over the next three years. Now, was this not what Gordon Brown was working on for the past few days at Bella Centre? Brown must realise that while he may have achieved partial success in leading the revival of the world banking system, climate change is an entirely different ballgame. A closer look at the annexure reveals that not only the contributions of Japan, EU and US do not add up to $30 billion, the US’ offer is a paltry $3.6 billion!

Ostensibly on Clinton’s announcement, the text says, “Developed countries set a goal of mobilising jointly $100bn a year by 2020 to address needs of developing countries.” Nicely put, but exactly how many US’ corporations will stand to benefit from this?

President Obama along with the BASIC bloc lackeys turned the negotiations into a wrestling bout. Not only will the US be legally allowed to continue polluting the planet, they will not have to pay any significant penalties for it either. The industrial domination of rich countries will continue while the planet will pay the price for it.

December 2010, Mexico City is where this sell-off deal will be granted legitimacy. This is yet another multilateral deal that overlooked the legitimate demands of more than 100 developing countries and muzzled dissent. Democracy was never at play during the two weeks of COP 15 negotiations and a deal brokered between the US and four BASIC bloc nations was thrust on the world as a consensus. Thankfully, even with a fractured coalition, the G77 refused to endorse the deal.

Yet again India played up to the politics of rich nations and deserted the developing countries. It actively participated in allowing an eraser to be run over unresolved issues in square brackets of the text. Today it stands responsible for the cracks in the G77 and at a later date may have to pay a heavy price at other multilateral platforms of negotiations, especially the WTO. While Jairam Ramesh and Mamohan Singh might gloat over their achievement at this disastrous summit, the truth is otherwise and the world knows. By endorsing this deal, India has sleepwalked into a global disaster.

Bhaskar Goswami researches and writes on agriculture and trade related issues. He has worked with several national and international development agencies. Presently he is associated with the Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security, New Delhi.


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