Consensus and conflicts

Published : Nov 22, 2002 00:00 IST

The Eighth Conference of the Parties held in New Delhi achieves consensus on many contentious issues related to emissions of greenhouse gases, except the issue of future commitments by the Parties.

THE 10-day Eighth Conference of the Parties (COP-8) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), which concluded in New Delhi on November 1, was expected to move forward on substantive issues related to the Kyoto Protocol after the meetings in Bonn (Germany) and Marrakesh (Morocco) last year decided to go ahead without the United States (Frontline, November 8, 2002).

The Protocol provides the legally binding framework to limit quantitatively emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in order to arrest climate change and mitigate its effects. Had Russian ratification (following President Vladimir Putin's announcement in April) come in as had been widely, but unrealistically, expected, COP-8 would have been the First Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol as well. But that was not to be.

The newsletter of the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Climate Action Network (CAN) described the conference outcome as "Deadlock in Delhi", referring to the little progress made on issues relating to the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol. More significantly, the well-known differences between the developed and developing countries came to the fore at the conference, rather than issues on which there was unanimity. The much-touted Delhi Declaration on Climate Change and Sustainable Development (DD), which was to be issued as a consensus document, became the battleground with the groups locked over its contents.

On October 28, COP-8 President and India's Minister for Environment and Forests T.R. Baalu, informally proposed a draft document on DD which was rubbished by many Parties and environmental NGOs. The chief criticism of the draft declaration was that it had no reference at all to the Kyoto Protocol. The absence of a specific reference to the Protocol was seen to be the result of behind-the-scenes manoeuvres by the U.S. through its ally Saudi Arabia in the Group of 77 and China which, observers say, had prevailed upon the members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC ) except the Chair, Venezuela, to okay the draft. Indeed, the U.S. negotiator, Harlan L. Watson, had openly expressed his approval of the draft.

With a strength of 135, the G77/China group should normally have had a stronger say in the wording of the Declaration. A major demand of developing countries has been that developed countries meet the commitments under the Protocol.

While the Declaration had the word "sustainable development" in its title and seven times in the text, it did not state that the slow pace of emission reductions by developed countries represented one of the greatest threats to achieving it, critics argued. There were criticisms also on the grounds that it did not make any reference to the agreement reached at the recently concluded World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, to increase the global share of renewable energy sources. The draft also became the cause for further divide within G77/China as it had no reference to the specific impact of climate change on the most vulnerable, the least developed countries and small island states, and specific climate change problems arising out of poverty in African countries.

There was also criticism that the declaration, while it acknowledged the need for "urgent attention and action" on adaptation (to the effects of climate change), there was nothing in it that would result in enhanced capacity and financing necessary for such adaptation. A reference to mitigation too figured only marginally, perhaps in tune with the absence of reference to the Kyoto Protocol, the only mechanism in place to achieve mitigation. Indeed, the European Union openly voiced its rejection of the draft and came out with its own version of what the declaration ought to be. Besides the above issues, the E.U. pushed for action beyond 2008-2012, the first commitment period, in particular commitments on emissions by developing or non-Annex I countries. In this demand, the E.U. was joined by Annex-I countries like Japan, Canada and Australia. While E.U. spokesperson Thomas Becker said in public fora that the E.U. was only keen that the process and discussions begin, it was clear from its version of the draft that it wanted commitments from developing countries as well. The latter have consistently rejected this and accorded primacy to emissions reductions by the developed world, which is chiefly responsible for the huge anthropogenic emissions that lead to climate change.

In its draft, the E.U. called for the process to begin at the first COP after the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol, instead of 2005 as required by the Protocol, and "consider and explore possibilities for further action beyond 2012 consistent with the objectives of the Convention and the need for moving towards a globally equitable distributed GHG emissions". It sought to underscore this by demanding the inclusion in the draft of a reference to the Third Assessment Report (TAR) of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), issued last year, that further significant cuts in global emissions would be necessary to meet the ultimate objective of the Convention.

Baalu came up with a revised draft on October 31, in which some of the contentious issues were taken care of but which still did not have any reference to renewables, had only a passing reference to the Kyoto Protocol and, of course, had no statement on future commitments. The first two were still perceived by critics to be under the influence of the U.S.-Saudi Arabia-OPEC axis while, as regards the last contentious issue (of future commitments), there was unanimity among the G77/China countries and therefore their view prevailed.

"There has to be consensus and I am working with all the parties and groups concerned to achieve it. It is a difficult job and each group wishes that its own priorities be reflected in the document. A declaration is not a must and if there is no consensus, so be it," said Baalu in an informal chat with mediapersons.

One was led to believe this because in his address at the start of the conference he had said, "We must bring into force the Protocol without delay." According to the Indian delegation, the reference to Kyoto was not as much of a contention to the E.U. as the mention of future commitments was. "All this noise is for that," said one delegate. The E.U., however, felt that it had worked a lot towards making the Kyoto Protocol a reality by talking to Parties, and that the E.U. itself was well on course towards meeting its Kyoto targets, having already achieved 3.5 per cent reduction from the 1990 GHG emission levels against the target of 8 per cent by 2008-2012.

Indeed, the issue of future commitments by developing countries after the first commitment period of 2008-2012 became a bargaining chip for developed countries to commit money to the various funding mechanisms established under the Convention the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF), the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) and the Adaptation Fund (AF). Even though only the AF is dependent on the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol, little money has been committed to the other two either. In COP-6 in Bonn in July 2001, the European Commission and its member-states, together with Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland had pledged a funding of $410 million for developing countries into the SCCF. However, the pledge remains to be realised, except for some paltry sum given to the LDCF.

The chairman of the Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI), Raul Estrada-Oiyuela of Argentina, stated at a press briefing that developed countries were blocking any progress in the funding mechanism, particularly that relating to the guidelines to operationalise the AF, without naming any country in particular. The developed countries were harping on the orchestrated theme of "future commitments by developing countries" as a condition for funding.

THE undercurrent of the issue of future commitments seems to have been so strong that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee felt it necessary to mention of it in his speech at the inauguration of the high-level segment of COP-8, including ministerial round-table meetings. He said that recent suggestions that developing countries should enhance their commitments to mitigate climate change beyond those included in the Protocol was misplaced mainly for three reasons. One, the per capita GHG emissions in those countries were of a magnitude below that of many developed countries, and this situation was unlikely to change for many decades. "We do not believe that the ethos of democracy can support any norm other than equal per capita rights to global environmental resources," Vajpayee said. Secondly, he said that developing countries' per capita incomes were a small fraction of those of industralised countries and that their resources were not enough to meet basic human needs, let alone the additional costs involved in mitigating climate change which "will bring additional strain to the already fragile economies". Thirdly, the GHG intensity of the economies of developing countries at purchasing power parity (PPP) is low. "Thus the assertion," he said, "that developing countries generate GHG emissions which are unnecessary for their economies is not based on facts."

The final Delhi Declaration, which came in the late hours of November 1, did manage to achieve a consensus on most of the contentious issues except on the issue of future commitments. "The New Delhi conference has achieved its main goals of further strengthening international collaboration on climate change while meeting the requirements of sustainable development," said Joke Waller-Hunter, the Convention's Executive Secretary.

"Now the spotlight must focus on action to accelerate the transition to climate-friendly economies. Industrialised countries have only 10 years to meet their Kyoto emissions targets and the evidence today is that most of them still have a great deal of work to do to reduce their greenhouse gases," she added.

WHILE many issues of Protocol implementation, particularly the funding mechanism, remained to be negotiated to completion, given the largely technical character of the conference (arising out of the Marrakesh Accords on finalising definitions, procedures and guidelines), the conference can be said to have achieved real progress in terms of some of the technical issues. Most important among them is that all mechanisms for implementing the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) by which developed countries can invest in emission-saving projects in developing countries and thereby earn carbon credits have been put in place.

Other positives include finalisation of the system of reporting national emission and registry of GHG emissions. The system and methodologies for national communications to the UNFCCC Secretariat have also been finalised. While AF still remains to be operationalised, implementation of the LDCF and the SCCF (which do not depend on the Kyoto Protocol) have been finalised.

It was a historic conference by any yardstick, and certainly an organisational success. Whether it was a success in terms of meeting the objectives of the Convention, is a question that will perhaps be answered in the meetings up to COP-9 in December 2003.

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