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Half time in Copenhagen shows unclear horizon

By Pallavi Aiyar
December 14, 2009 10:14 IST
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The day after tens of thousands of protestors took to the street to express frustration over the deadlock at the ongoing United Nations climate negotiations, a lull hung over this city, with the conference site, the Bella Centre, closed to business. Yet, it was the kind of lull that holds within it the promise of an impending storm.

On Monday, the final push to secure a global deal kicks off. Environment ministers will have their work cut out as they try to hammer out a workable document for their leaders to endorse to the backdrop of a relentlessly ticking clock.

The heads of state and governments of over 110 countries will begin to arrive in the Danish capital from Wednesday.

But, at the end of an acrimonious week of talks, there are scant signs of any softening of the sharply divergent positions the world's developed and developing countries came to Copenhagen with. And the fault lines do not only run between these two blocs but within them as well.

The least developed countries (LDCs), in particular small island-tates like Tuvalu,have broken ranks with the G-77 and China grouping to demand a radical new treaty,that would force far deeper cuts in greenhouse gases than those under consideration for both developed and major developing countries.

Meanwhile, the European Union - which, on Friday,became the first bloc to put money on the table, with an offer of Euro 2 billion (Rs 13,730 crore) in fast-start climate aid for LDCs -- is walking a fine line between censuring a recalcitrant United States for its paltry commitments so far and supporting the US strategy of demanding an entirely new protocol to supplant Kyoto.

An ongoing war of words between China and the US has further muddied the waters.

But despite the twists and turns of the first week, negotiators finally have two, formal, draft proposals to work on, one building on the Kyoto protocol and the other on "long-term cooperative action", that would likely see a new protocol to run alongside Kyoto, allowing for the entry of the US.

One of India's chief negotiators, Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, told Business Standard on Sunday that while India "did not agree with everything" in the draft texts, they were a "good basis for the negotiations," and a "good attempt to distill the various positions and produce a balanced draft".

The drafts have been attacked by the US and other developed nations, who would prefer to see a single new agreement, with more stringent requirements of the major emerging economies.

The drafts currently under consideration maintain the distinction between the differential responsibilities of developed and developing countries.

There are, however, references in the "long term cooperative action" draft to a peaking year for the emissions of developing countries, as well as an international review of the domestic voluntary mitigation actions of these countries, references that India opposes.

The drafts offer very little by way of precise numbers, featuring instead a series of bracketed figures, indicating text that negotiators have not agreed to. The outcome of the final form of the drafts will be dramatically different, depending on how the blanks are filled in.

Thus, rich countries, it is suggested, should 'cut emissions by at least (25-40) (in the order of 30) (40) (45) per cent by 1990 levels by 2020'. Similarly, the draft states that parties should collectively reduce global emissions by 'at least (50) (85) (95) per cent from 1990 levels by 2020'.

Even the overarching ambition of the drafts is bracketed off, stating an agreement to limit the increase in global average temperatures to (2 degrees C) (1.5 degrees C).

Further, the release of the two formal drafts has not put an end to the slew of other informal drafts that have been making the rounds and stirring the pot this last week in Copenhagen.

Even as the Danish government has distanced itself somewhat from the so-called Danish text, that caused much uproar amongst the G-77 plus China camp, rich countries are likely to continue to push for a single treaty that would impose specific commitments on major developing countries.

India, China, South Africa and Brazil are also believed to be working on a refinement of their counter BASIC proposal, expected to be circulated on Tuesday.

Dasgupta clarified that India had not come to the negotiations with a begging bowl. The outcome New Delhi really wants from the talks is not simply a cash handout but "enhanced implementation of existing climate agreements". In other words, for the rich countries to act swiftly to meet the commitments they are already signed up to.

Alternative proposals for new protocols at this juncture, he said, were "red herrings that distract attention from the urgent task at hand". India wants industrialised countries to commit to at least a 40 percent reduction in their greenhouse gas emissions over 1990 levels. At the moment, the commitments on the table amount to a paltry reduction of between five and 20 per cent, depending on whose figures you rely on.

Ahead of round-two of the conference, negotiators from all camps privately admit that the optimism of the early days of the talks, when a raft of countries including the US, China and India had made concrete climate-related pledges, is dimming.

It now looks increasingly likely that unless world leaders are able to pull a last-minute rabbit out of the negotiations' hat, the agreement they announce at the end of the week will be a feeble, non-binding, political statement, strong on intentions and weak on deliverables.

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Pallavi Aiyar in Copenhagen
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Related News: Kyoto, India, United States, China, BASIC

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