The climate turned against India at Durban

N.R. KRISHNAN | Updated on December 14, 2011

The new emissions reduction deal, unlike Kyoto protocol, ropes in US, China and India.

“We have made history”, exulted the South African Chairperson of the 17th Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change at the conclusion of the conference in Durban in the early hours of December 10.

She had reason to, for she could forge a deal roping a sulking US and the new economic giants, China and India, into a new global regime to limit their emissions of the global warming Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) along with the developed nations. She could overcome a looming threat of the talks ending in a deadlock in much the same way as the preceding ones.

Developed countries, particularly the European Union (EU), could exult more for they achieved what they had campaigned for ever since the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 obliged them to effect time-bound emission reductions affecting their economies leaving out the current big emitters, China and India. Now they have to live with the rigours of the Protocol for a further period of 2013 to 2019 only. They can take comfort from the fact that from 2020, a new compact adding China, India and the other emerging major economies of Brazil and South Africa to its fold would kick in.


For the EU and other countries bound by the Protocol in its present form, the biggest prize in Durban, of course, was the reluctant acceptance of the US (the second biggest emitter of global warming gases after China) to join the new arrangement. Just to recapitulate, the US though covered by the Kyoto Protocol never ratified it and had thus stayed out.

For the EU, success in Durban doesn't appear to have come about easily. It had done its homework well and had come to the Conference hall with a game plan. The plan was to play on the fears — though not unreal — of the Small Island Nations (the Caribbean, Mauritius and a host of others) of the adverse impact of global warming, and encourage them to pressurise the newly emerging industrial economies to join a new emission control regime. Other smaller nations were convinced of their interests not being in common with those of the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China).

Durban also saw fissures emerging among the BASIC for the first time. South Africa and Brazil broke ranks by announcing their willingness to accept mandatory emission cuts, whereas China and India were still sticking to their stand of the cuts being voluntary only.


So what exactly was the decision in Durban on emission reductions? It was two-fold. First, countries that are currently parties to the Kyoto Protocol will, after the expiry of the first commitment period in 2012, enter into a second commitment period beginning from 2013 and going up to 2019.

The second and the highly debated part relates to the nature of the new compact that would include the current Kyoto parties, the US and new entrants such as the BASIC.

Talks on this new arrangement “will begin immediately” and “a universal legal agreement on climate change” adopted “as soon as possible, but not later than 2015”. The new agreement would come into force in 2020. It goes without saying that after 2020, the Kyoto Protocol would stand repealed.

The debate on the second issue related to the nature of the new agreement. The conference draft suggested that it could be a “new protocol, another legal instrument, or a legal outcome”. The vagueness of this text was enough to set the cat among the EU pigeons. They objected to the phrase “legal outcome”. Finally, the phrase “an agreed outcome with legal force” was adopted.


The Indian position ever since the COP in Bali, Indonesia (2007) when the Bali Action Plan was adopted, has been that it would abide by the Action Plan to follow “measurable, reportable and verifiable” measures to effect reductions in the emission intensity of its GDP growth but would not agree to being subjected to any legally binding instrument to do so.

With the decision in Durban, this position is no longer acceptable and hence emission reductions, either absolute or in the form of intensity reduction, will no longer be allowed to be voluntary but will be governed by some form of arrangement which will have legal force. This is a development that has gone against India.

The Durban outcome has not pleased the US either. The Chief US negotiator, Mr Todd Stern, is reported to have observed “This is a significant package. None of us likes everything in it. Believe me, there is plenty the United States is not thrilled about.” Mr Stern has enough reason to be apprehensive. President Obama's efforts to have energy and climate security legislation passed by the US Senate have yielded little results so far. Not only the Republicans but a good number of Democrats are opposed to pass any such measure for fear of loss of more jobs in an already job-hit economy.

India, now, has the unenviable task of reworking its entire energy strategy. In December 2005, the Planning Commission had released an expert committee report on India's Integrated Energy Policy (the finalised report was released in 2006). The report came out with projections of the country's energy requirements up to the year 2031-32 along with likely scenarios of energy generation from various fossil fuels, nuclear power stations (present and future ones) and renewable sources with GDP growth pegged at 8 per cent annually.

It came out that by 2031-32, primary energy supply would need to grow by “3 to 4 times and electricity supply by 5 to 7 times of today's consumption.” In all the scenarios of possible sources and their contributions towards satisfying this energy demand, coal predominates to the extent of over 40 per cent with oil hovering at 28-30 per cent. Gas, as fuel, would remain with a contribution of 7-12 per cent. Clean energy sources would account for about 16 per cent only. All these projections would now need to be revisited and that won't be an easy exercise.

According to studies commissioned by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, by 2031-32, India's annual emissions of GHGs are expected to go up from an estimated 1.5 to 2 billion tonnes in 2010 to 4-7 billion tonnes in 2031. The economic and social readjustments called for by any new agreement to limit emissions are difficult to imagine.

In the face of what India had to concede inevitably at Durban, the other decisions relating to adaptation to climate change, Climate Green Fund and Transfer of Technology offer little solace. In the final analysis, as John Donne said “No man is an island”. No country is either.

The author is former Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.

Published on December 12, 2011

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