Sunday, January 3, 2010

COP15: Did we make much of headway anyways?

There has been much ado about the recently concluded Copenhagen Climate Accord. Through this biggest gathering of world leaders in the history of United Nations it was being hoped that the world will move from the non-binding statements of Kyoto towards perhaps, a more meaningful and committed dialogue for creating a blueprint for change. However, what has resulted instead is a political maneuver for a deferred action. What is strikingly strange though is to see that in spite of the awareness towards the greatest threat that humanity faces and the associated costs of not acting soon, the Accord couldn’t overcome the bi-polarization that we find ourselves in, between the developed and the developing world (the new economic powerhouse, BASIC: Brazil, South Africa, India and China).

Discord in the BASIC Targets
Individual voluntary targets were announced by the BASIC nations for reducing the energy intensities of their economic growth. While China announced a target of 40-45 percent reduction in the emission intensity compared to 2005 levels by 2020, India went ahead with a target of 20-25 percent. However, setting of such individual targets has not really been taken in as sacrosanct and instead has formed a mere basis for a template for future negotiations.

Highlights of the Deal
The deal, however, has been able to reach to some consensus on the following points:
A global goal to reduce worldwide emissions by 50 percent by mid-century
v Developed countries to set their emission targets by February 2010 and developing countries to list their actions
v Adherence to targets by developed countries would be subject to international monitoring
v Actions of developing countries supported by external assistance would be subject to external monitoring and verification
v Actions of developing countries supported locally shall be monitored and verified locally in accordance with international consultations and analysis without impinging on the sovereignty of nations
v Long term funding to the tune of $100 million per year by 2020 and making available $10 million per year for short-term funding from 2010 to the poorest and the most vulnerable to climate change and
v A review of the overall agreement in 2006

So, while the US has undoubtedly been able to maneuver its way out unscathed with no targets being imposed on it from outside, it has also been able to put BASIC in line with the developed countries by accepting a climate discipline. However, the Accord also finds the BASIC as a contended lot as they have been able to retain the “differentiated responsibility” without much damage to their long-term energy plans and independence from outside agencies observant of their self-regulated actions.
The Developed nations, who have been historically responsible for the climate change and the world that we find ourselves in today, have offered the Developing nations a financial assistance of up to $100 billion annually by 2020, with priority to the vulnerable nations. However, there’s no guarantee that the Copenhagen Accord will even be implemented as it has not been formally adopted by the Conference of Parties (COP).
While China has been painted as the biggest hurdle to a comprehensive agreement, it cannot be overlooked that despite the fact that the US is the biggest polluter per capita in the world, it has to date only offered emission cuts of a paltry 3 percent based on 1990 levels. China, like India and Brazil still emits a relatively small proportion and millions of its citizens continue to live in poverty.
Thus, just as Greenpeace makes a point, living standards need not be compromised. Small steps like increased focus on energy efficiency, better use of renewable resources of energy, trimming of the hefty $250 billion annual subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, innovations in design etc. can perhaps go a long way in making renewable energy cheaper than the conventional energy and thus reduce our carbon footprint.
We might have a Plan B for everything but just as the demonstrators on the streets of Copenhagen had upheld, there is no Planet B. The planet cannot be overlooked on the pretext of advancing out national aspirations and commercial interests. So while the Copenhagen Accord may have been useful for taking notes for future parleys, it hasn’t yet been significant, as it was touted to be, in enforcing a legally binding mechanism upon the nations for preventing climate change and the apocalypse that faces humanity. It is therefore imperative and crucial that the developed countries pledge deep emission cuts within a month and sign a legally binding pact at the climate change talks in Bonn.