Durban Climate Change Deal: A Good Beginning to a Challenging Time Ahead

December 13, 2011, Jaipur
‘The commitment, to forge a comprehensive global treaty on climate change, by the countries meeting in Durban, South Africa, is a far sighted move in upholding consumers right to healthy environment. It is commendable that countries decided to keep aside respective objectives of their own, in order to achieve a greater common and long term solution to climate change, at a multilateral platform’, said Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International, on the outcome of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Durban 2011.

The agreement – dubbed the ‘Durban Platform’ is significant in terms that governments decided to adopt a universal legal agreement on climate change as soon as possible, but not later than 2015. Work is expected to begin on this immediately under a new group called the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. The implications can be significant as this would mean countries like China, India and USA will have a legal cap on their emissions from 2020 onwards.

It is noteworthy to recall that Kyoto Protocol sets binding targets for 37 industrialised nations including the EU to slash carbon emissions to 5% below the 1990 levels by 2012. Till now, China and India were exempted from any constraints because they are developing countries, while the US never signed the Kyoto Protocol.

Countries such as India & China, thus, had vehemently opposed the move on the pretext that the Durban Platform does away with the differentiation between developed and developing countries. In this context, a legally binding agreement is a redline for both India and China and by putting in the “legal outcome” option, in the deal, these two emerging economies, proclaimed to be two major emitters, are brought into the fold. Interestingly, the negotiations has resulted in India to forgo its insistence on equity as the cornerstone of climate agreements and the principle of common but differentiated responsibility – allowing for the differentiation between developing and developed countries.

Nevertheless, experts suggest that the deal may be successful in terms of moving forward but is a ‘greenwash’ and still weak for implementation. They argue that the deal still does not address the scale of emission cuts needed and leaves out much, especially what is desired by scientists and environmentalists, and what is sufficient to protect the environment. It is further unclear as to the mechanisms of facilitating transfer of technology and addressing some of the major issues involved such as the intellectual property rights in facilitation of trade and investment. One important issue that still needs to be answered is how the proposed agreement will translate into actual emission reductions and by when? This question is critical when considered in the context that the current emissions trend, if not reversed, could lead to a global temperature rise of 3.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

This trend may be crucial especially for Africa and South Asia. “These two regions, primarily constituted by developing and least developing countries could suffer badly because of delay in finalising the mechanism to achieve reduced carbon emission globally. Additionally, it also needs to be considered that the cost of cutting emission could increase substantially with every passing year”, said Mr Mehta. According to one estimate, the cost of cutting emissions will be four times higher beyond 2020 than they would cost today. It is in this context that the proposed agreement would be challenging in terms of implementation and would call for a greater commitment on the part of international community.
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