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Durban stalemate is unfair to small countries

For two weeks beginning Monday, the focus of the world will be on the South African city of Durban hosting the global climate change summit in the quest to save the world.

As the world meets for the 17th time in as many years, there is a dark cloud hovering over the expectations from the summit. Experts predict nothing substantive to come out of the summit despite the world running out of time.
The Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley has declared that the Durban summit is unlikely to yield “any earth-shaking result,” and thus, Bhutan will be going to South Africa without much hope.

Addressing the four participant countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and India at the Climate Summit for A Living Himalayas in Thimphu last week, Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley said that in absence of a concrete result from Durban, the hope of the world is now pinned on the Conference on Sustainable Development at the Rio +20 to be held in June in Rio de Janeiro.

Bringing the global negotiations to an immediate deadlock is the focus on the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. This agreement requires 37 industrialized countries to reduce carbon emission to 5% below 1990 level by 2012. The countries have a binding target and failure to commit come with penalties.

While it brought commendable results, the success of the Kyoto Protocol was always dented with the US refusing to sign it.

The US, which is the world’s largest polluter per capita, reasoned (and still maintains it) its refusal to join the Protocol saying it did not impose emission cut obligations to other large polluters mainly China.

With the deadline day of 2012 just a calendar away, poor countries spearheaded by India, China and Brazil want the industrialized counties to commit to new emission targets in a second commitment period running at least up to 2017.
Now, other industrialized countries are also toeing the US line. They maintain that they would accept further commitments to cut emissions only if the major polluters, most of which are developing countries like China and India, also accept binding commitments. Among others, Kyoto signatories Japan, Canada and Russia have already announced that they will not sign for a second commitment period.

The 27-nation European Union has also declared that it will sign a second commitment only if other major polluters also agree to sign a legally binding global deal. EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard has said the EU will not move ahead otherwise.

China maintains that emission cuts for developing countries should be voluntary. India says industrialized countries should do more because they have polluted the world much more in the past. Under the stalemate, climate change activists are worried that COP 17 in Durban could turn out to be the graveyard for the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto idea of only the industrialized counties having to pledge binding commitments follows the general agreement that these countries were primarily responsible for emitting carbon for the past 200 years.
Developing countries, thus, say that the industrialized nations should commit more. It is morally right to do so.
The latter believe that developing countries, some of whom are emitting much more than developed countries, should also be subject to binding commitments.

In the end, the world has been divided into two groups of poor and rich countries with each crying foul over the other. This debate has made saving the world a much trickier issue than can be envisaged.

At the negotiation table of the annual meeting, called the Conference of Parties (COP), the world has been further subdivided into many blocs including the 41 Annex I countries (industrialized countries and countries in transition), 23 Annex II countries (developed countries which pay for costs of developing countries), group of island nations, developing countries bloc called the G77 and China, BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) etc.
With each bloc pushing their own priorities at each COP and conflicting economic interests dictating the priorities, world leaders are entangled in a matrix of complexities which at times outshines the basic need to save the world.
For small countries like Bhutan, its voice is, more often than not, lost in the jungle of negotiations.

Two year ago, Bhutan took its homemade declaration to remain carbon neutral for all time to come to COP 15 in Copenhagen. Apart from the local media coverage, the initiative was hardly recognized.

This year, Bhutan will be taking to South Africa its week-long experience of successfully penning down a regional deal to combat climate change with three of its South Asian neighbors. Under the deal, major regional adaptation initiatives have been identified and the scope of the deal is immense. It could well be described as the Himalayan contribution to save the world.

In such a scenario, the direction of negotiations as it stands before the Durban summit is completely unfair to countries like Bhutan which has virtually contributed nothing to aid climate change.

It is an irony for us to see developed countries headed by the US and European giants trying to fork out a license to pollute more. It is equally amusing to see developing economic giants like China and India arguing (involuntarily for us too) to do the same.


The above article was published in Business Bhutan on November 25, 2011


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