Climate Summit Reaches Agreement - Without Commitments

By Joydeep Gupta

Cancun (Mexico), Dec 11 (IANS) The UN climate summit reached the Cancun Agreement in the early hours of Saturday at the end of fortnight-long tortuous negotiations at this Caribbean beach resort. After the fiasco of last year's Copenhagen summit, it brought 193 countries back on the road to tackle global warming, but with so many compromises that it could take only the first baby step down that road.

There was no mention of the extent to which industrialized countries would commit to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) - which are warming the earth - after 2012, at the end of the current commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding agreement for the purpose. Nor was there any agreement on a second commitment period of the protocol, only a decision to keep talking about it.

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh declared that "India's interests had been fully protected and enhanced" in the Cancun Agreement and pointed to paragraphs in the agreement that had been drafted by the ministry, as well as clauses that had been dropped at the Indian delegates' insistence.

India's environmental NGO Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) was not satisfied with either the agreement or the position in which it had placed the country. "The agreement is bad for climate change action," said a CSE spokesperson. "There is no global emission reduction target for 2050; nor is there a target for peaking year. No targets have been set for emissions reduction for developed countries.

"There is no mention of equitable access to carbon space, instead a weak and meaningless language of 'equitable access to sustainable development' has been inserted, which will compromise India's right to development."

Ramesh had insisted that India's right to development had been safeguarded by the deletion of the clause which wanted global GHG emissions to be reduced by half by 2050. Overall, he said, "the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) are very happy with the agreement."

The months-long negotiations that had intensified during the Nov 29-Dec 10 summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change did not end without a controversy. The delegation of Bolivia objected to the agreement on many counts, the country's chief negotiator Pablo Solon saying it was not "ambitious enough to halt the climate change that will lead to genocide and ecocide".

But the conference president, Mexico's Foreign Minister Patricia Espinoza, gaveled the agreement through, despite the UN convention that all decisions must be taken by consensus. Espinoza's decision was greeted with a standing and thunderous applause by the thousands of delegates present through the night. A delegate from Colombia justified the decision by saying: "consensus does not mean one country has the right to veto".

As the final plenary sessions of the conference were postponed again and again on Friday, it became clear that all countries except Bolivia had reached compromise in closed-door negotiations to reach what UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres has called "a balanced package".

The highlight of the package was the creation of a Global Climate Fund to help poor countries move to green technologies and deal with the effects of climate change, which is reducing farm output, making droughts, floods and storms more frequent and more severe and raising the sea level. The fund is supposed to have $100 billion a year by 2020, though no one is sure how such a sum will be raised.

The Cancun Agreement did place more emphasis than before on adaptation to climate change effects, a key demand of African countries, small island states and least developed countries.

Ramesh pointed out that industrialized countries would now have their actions to reduce their GHG emissions subject to measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) by developing countries, while the emerging economies like India and China would "only have to have their (GHG emission) mitigation actions subject to international consultation and analysis, while their MRV would be domestic".

But without any new numbers from rich countries to reduce their emissions, Cancun Agreement effectively legitimized the voluntary pledges made in the Copenhagen Accord. The UN Environment Programme has recently calculated that these pledges will go only 60 percent of the way to reach the goal of keeping global temperature rise within two degrees Celsius, another key aim of the accord.

There were small advances during this summit on how to help stop deforestation and transfer green technologies to poor countries, though one of India's key demands - to continue discussions on how to handle patented technologies - was dropped.

The Cancun Agreement spoke of the need to build capacity for green technologies in the poorest and most vulnerable countries. India announced an initiative in this area here - every year it will give scholarships to two students from each of the 43 countries in the Association of Small Island States to help these countries build expertise in such technologies and climate-smart agriculture.

Reacting to the agreement immediately afterwards, Tara Rao of WWF said: "There is a longer road to come but we now have the tentative groundwork." She called for "significant leadership from India, China and the European Union to strengthen the agreement before next year's climate summit", scheduled in Durban, South Africa.



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