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Climate, International, Politics

Copenhagen – in a nutshell

It’s over !! After 2 weeks of intense negotiations, debates, drama, protests and diplomacy the Bella Center Hotel in Copenhagen, Denmark must be busy getting ready for the next event to happen there.
It was THE event of the year in terms of expectation but sadly turned out to be one of the largest disappointments of 2009 as far as the global community is concerned. With the help of their oratory skills and charismatic persona world leaders have been trying to make us believe that this is the best possible outcome and they did their best.

At the same time, in spite of all these verbose it  is a well known fact that the summit did not reach even closer to where it was expected to some months prior to the summit. But by the time the delegates reached Copenhagen it was almost certain that the best case scenario will be a ‘political declaration’ which is NOT legally binding. Another fundamental issue was that of  “Common But Differentiated Responsibilities” which was predicted to be the bottlenecks in negotiations.

High profile diplomacy resulted in a last minute understanding – what term should be used to describe it is still debated though officially it is an ‘Accord’ – on which the conference later decided to ” take note of “.

The accord’s highlights:

The accord has not much freshness in terms of commitments. Unilateral announcements made a few weeks back were reiterated in an international conference, that’s all to the most part of it. The major outcome from the conference is the agreement to raise a fund of  US$ 30 billion in the next 3 years and to increase this to an annual fund of US$100 bn by year 2020. But the details are yet to be finalized.

The real issue of emission cuts did not reach a consensus and what we have in front of us is almost the same commitments made in a ‘political statement’ at La Aquila, Italy in July 2009 i.e. the 2 degree rise in temperature should be prevented. In addition to that almost all major emitters affirmed their unilateral emission cut plans. But the sad part of all this is none of the announced plans are sufficient to contain the GHG in the atmosphere from reaching a density of 450 ppm which is the estimated upper limit to keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees. More over the game of mathematics is being played a lot. When the estimations are based upon a 1990 level as denominator for % cut in emissions, many countries including India are talking about 2005 thereby conveniently ignoring the huge increase in emissions during those 15 years. Thought this is not much of a value for the scientists in IPCC, for the general public when debating the emission cuts this helps only to create confusion.

Technology transfer and IP Rights

Success of any global effort of mitigation and adaptation must require extensive use of technology, not the conventional ones but radically innovative.  But if we see it merely as a business opportunity to impose a monopoly through intellectual property rights and thereby ensuring a market in the future the chances of success are gloomy.  If the global community goes by a TRIPS like IPR regime, then it would be leading to a catastrophe much larger than the impact of TRIPS in the health care sector of many third world countries. After all if Issac Newton had filed a patent for discovering gravity, he would have become the richest person on earth.. (Just an analogy for the sake of an argument..  😀 )

The estimated additional cost required for following a low-carbon trajectory of energy development is way higher than what most people think.
A nuclear power plant costs 6 times than a coal fueled one. Similarly the capital cost for producing power from Solar energy is 25 times when compared to coal based production. (Courtesy: Prabir Purkayasta, Frontline  Dec 5 2009)

The above two cases throw light into the extremely large cost of implementation of the low-carbon path. Also it highlights the need to emphasize the unfettered technology transfer apart from the financial assistance from the developed few to the under-developed lot. There is no surprise that this was not there in the top priorities there – the idea of re distribution was always suppressed.

Nevertheless to say, the conference was a failure in addressing this crucial and basic requirement.

The rise of BASIC:

The so called ’emerging’ powers – India, China, Brazil and South Africa – worked so closely that none of them were ready to break that cohesion even under extreme diplomatic pressure from the United States. President Obama made several attempts to get a one on one with these leaders but they were firm on their stand of  “all or none”. BASIC has lots of strategic significance but at the same time it is yet another proof of how divided the developing world is. Alliances are formed on a case by case basis alone and not on the basis of a wider international understanding. The drawback of this type of stop-gap associations is a sense of disbelief even when sitting together for a common cause. For instance, South Africa is not a party in BRIC.  India, Brazil and South Africa shares a trilateral platform called IBSA. There is SCO, there is G-77 and lot more. In spite of this BASIC was successful in being a powerful block which managed to check the developed world’s agenda of a deal based on equity put forward by Denmark but composed and orchestrated by US and UK.

What next?

It’s time to repeat this question which was asked many times in the history of International Climate Control efforts during the past 17 years right from the Earth Summit at Rio de Genero in 1992. Many historical junctures has been surpassed and the only promising step by the international community was the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 (which the US accepted but later refused to ratify as Bush failed to get  Congressional support). Having said this history, the scene is almost back to square one.  The Kyoto protocol is almost near its death though it was not butchered in Copenhagen as it was planned. Mankind can just hope that the accord will turn out to be the platform for ‘many aspects’ of the future talks. And more importantly some one has to constantly remind our leadership that there are not much time to talk. And that some one is every one among us. Before pointing the fingers to the leaders we are bound to ask ourselves the question: “How much am I contributing to this climate change and what portion of it is avoidable.”

And finally  if anyone ask me who really won the game in Copenhagen, I would answer “it is for sure the Earth is continuously losing though I don’t know of anyone winning”



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