The prospect of having no regime of emission cuts till the next accord is worked out, has been averted.

“…frustration is a renewable resource, but frustration does not reduce emissions”, remarked a wistful Connie Hedegaard, EU’s Commissioner for Climate Action, while summing up the outcome of the UN climate change conference held in Doha a month ago.

Her frustration, however, was not shared by the Executive Director of the Climate Secretariat, Christiana Figuerres, who claimed the talks were a success. That neither of the two perceptions was wholly correct would be the conclusion of those following the course of the negotiations.

To dismiss Doha as sterile in results would be passing a harsh judgment. Let’s look at the brighter side first. For starters, a major gain was the acceptance of the developed countries to enter into a second commitment period for reduction of emission of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) starting from 2013 and ending in 2020.

The aim of many of the developed countries was for COP18 to give a clean burial to the Protocol and instead await the adoption of a new global compact that would rope in the BASIC. The new agreement on which work is supposed to be completed by 2015 would take effect from 2020, and with its adoption the Kyoto Protocol would come to a natural end.

GAINS FROM MEET

Therefore, the game plan of the developed countries was to make the Protocol inoperative by not extending it over a second commitment period starting from 2013, and thus avoid any further obligation to reduce their emission of GHGs till 2020.

Developing countries, particularly India and China, had put much insistence on the continuation of the Protocol and made this a condition precedent to their acceptance of emission intensity reductions and entering into a common global compact.

With this divergence between the developed and developing countries, a big gap of eight years starting from 2013 (during which the world will have to do without any fetters being put on anyone on their releases of GHS and thereby resulting in greater global warming stood) out as a distinct possibility.

Therefore, the agreement at Doha to extend the Kyoto Protocol over a second commitment period for eight years was not an insignificant gain, either to the developing countries or to the Climate Secretariat or to the hosts of the meet or to global climate security.

CARBON CREDIT FARCE

The second gain for the existing climate change regime was over the issue of continuing the validity of carbon credits (called Assigned Amount Units or AAUs) that had accrued to the Russian Federation and other countries of Eastern Europe under the Kyoto Protocol. The accrual of this huge cache of credits resulted from the closure of a large number of state-owned industrial enterprises in the former command economies, and not through any special efforts on their part to reduce their GHG emissions.

This whopping asset of almost 13 billion carbon credits that could be transferred to any other country governed by Kyoto Protocol to reduce the latter’s emission reduction obligations for a monetary consideration was sought to be carried over to the Second Commitment Period by Russia and other countries of eastern Europe, notably Poland.

This sale of “hot air” would have helped the transferor to earn money and at the same time helped the transferee to meet any reduction obligations under the second commitment without much domestic effort. Worse, the transaction would have negated any gains the Protocol sought to achieve in the second period.

As things turned out, in the decision taken at Doha, only a part of these credits was allowed to be carried over to the second period. Thus an issue that had the potential of wrecking the Conference was sorted out successfully.

FINANCIAL MECHANISM

The third and perhaps an important gain for India was the renewed commitment by developed countries to contribute to the Green Climate Fund, which would provide financial assistance to the developing countries to meet the costs of implementing their climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. Similarly, a strong commitment was expressed to facilitate transfer of mitigation and adaptation related technologies to developing countries, which addresses the issue of Intellectual Property Rights that often come in the way of such transfers.

With such gains, why should there be gloom over the climate scene? First and foremost, one senses a diminishing ardour for serious action on the part of developed countries to reduce their GHG emissions. Barring the EU, there is little sign of others taking the warnings of climate scientists seriously. According to the Intergovernmental Panel of Scientists on Climate Change, the average global temperature would surely go up by 2 degrees Celsius by 2050 compared to pre-industrial days with the present levels of carbon dioxide and other GHGs in the atmosphere. A recent World Bank report warns of a 4 degree rise. The reluctance of developed countries, barring the EU, to reduce their emissions is therefore a cause for worry.

Without the US pulling its weight, no global agreement would be of much effect. Others like Canada, which have exited the Kyoto Protocol, and Russia, Japan, New Zealand and Ukraine that have come out openly against the Protocol, need to be brought back into the fold.

With the continuing sluggishness in the global economy, the danger of emergence of protectionism in the form of environmental barriers to trade masquerading as affirmative climate action is a real possibility.

For example, the competitiveness of energy intensive industries like steel, cement, metals and glass is sharply in the sights of US law makers who would like to throw a protective wall around them by imposing levies on imports from, say, China and India. EU has already introduced an aviation tax on airlines operating in European skies.

Lastly, if the past is any indication, the next three years that would be spent in shaping a new global compact on climate control, encompassing both developed and developing countries, promise to be rough and stormy. This would call for a nuanced approach, as Jairam Ramesh would put it, on everyone’s part in the negotiations.

(The author is former Secretary, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests.)

(This article was published on January 2, 2013)
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