Remembering Gandhi in Durban : Climate talks on equity

Remembering Gandhi in Durban : Climate talks on equity

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I do not want to sound dramatic, but it is amusing that Indian official stand ( and also that of some of the developing countries)  in Durban today is strikingly similar. It is based ‘equity’ principle. This principle of ‘equity ‘ has been groomed and strengthened by the developing countries for last 20 years and apparently seems very logical and even morally relevant .

I was part of similar negotiations that took place in 1989-1990 under the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the Ozone Layer. Interestingly, that worked at that time. It does not seem tobe working this time. In todays computer language we call this phenomenon as ‘ bug somewhere in the system!’

The argument on “Climate Change Equity” , as was in case of the Montreal Protocol, starts with historical man-made Green House Gas (  GHG)  emissions since the industrial revolution. As man-made GHGs are closely related to the modern industrial development ( more the development more is the use of fossil fuel for the industry, transport  and electricity),the accumulated stock of GHGs in the atmosphere is mainly the result of carbon-based industrial activity in developed countries over the past two centuries and more.

In the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol therefore , based on common but differentiated responsibility , the cuts in the emissions have been agreed first in the industrialized countries as fulfilment of their historic responsibility and no emission cuts for the developing countries, atleast to start with.

Current emissions, from India and China and other developing countries  are, of course, adding to the problem incrementally. But that is because, as the argument from India goes,  economies of these  countries are in  the process of development. Developing  countries are striving to eliminate the  poverty and making decent life available to their citizens. Even if India is fourth  in terms of total volume of emissions( third if we do not consider emissions from  European block ) , India’s per capita CO2 emissions are currently around  1.1 tonnes, China’s about 5 tonnes,  when compared to over 20 tonnes for the US and in excess of 10 tonnes for most of the developed countries. India says that “ India’s , and other developing countries poor societies  need ‘ carbon-space’ for their own economic and social development,  the way developed countries had theirs for last 20 years”  the argument   goes.

The argument even builds further. India is a country which is and will continue to be severely impacted by Climate Change precisely at a time when it is confronted with huge development imperatives. Hence India  would, therefore, require the space and time for accelerated social and economic development, in order to eradicate widespread poverty, but also create a global regime which is supportive of India’s  national endeavours for ecologically sustainable development.

India’s second pillar of the argument is that there has to be disciplined compliance with the legally binding emission reduction targets already  undertaken by the developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol i.e. 5.2 percent reduction as compared to 1990 level. In reality the emissions from the developed countries increased except Russia ( mainly due to economic slow down) and  probably UK.  Further, funding has been promised by the developed countries for the developing countries for the mitigation and adaptation, which  has not been provided . “ Where are  those promises? Where is the money promised?” is the tone of the Indian camp.

At the same time, India has also shown some progressive stand under the climate change. India , though not required to take any legally binding targets , has taken up moral responsibility. India is one of the first developing countries to unveil ‘ National Action Plan on Climate Change” . It was developed and launched at the highest level i.e. by the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. India says it is their own demostic plan with eight clearly marked and targeted national missions. Further India is already spending large amount ( one reference shows 2 per cent of its GDP!) for the Climate Change adaptation. So, while India takes up equality battle and promise-fulfilling reminders to the developed countries , it has also moved forward.

So, where do we go from here? What do we derive from this equity principle and reminders that promise is not kept?

There are no logical answers to logical questions posed by India and other developing  countries, though there is sympathy for all those arguments in Durban . There is hardly any scenario in the present global and even in national politics where promises are kept, and where equity issue is leverage to get the things done. Some times we have to have lateral solutions and give up logical solutions. There is need to follow the ‘ forward principle’ i.e. ‘ we  have to move on’.

Mahatma Gandhi’s movement was undoubtedly  effective . But it took time to fructify. Under Climate Change the world has no time. The damage has already been done due to GHG emission. Carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have increased by half in the last 20 years, giving the world much less chance of avoiding dangerous consequances. In future, the GHG emissions will continue to rise by 3 per cent per year as per one estimate.

South African President Jacob Zuma, while inuagrating the conference last week said, “We are welcoming you to a province which was home to some of the greatest leaders, our country’s first Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Chief Albert Luthuli and also at some point, the legendary Mahatma Gandhi,” He said both Gandhi and Mandela fought for freedom, justice and human rights for all and taught the world the power of reaching out to people who think differently in order to find solutions to complex political problems.”. Mr Zuma set the tone and set the meeting on ‘ solution finding ‘ path.

India should now take lead to suggest the forward looking solutions and become leader in the international negotiations, the way it did in early 1990s for shaping the Montreal Protocol , the most successful global environmental treaty so far.  The world around us changing very fast.  Logical solutions are difficult to find, and lateral thinking may just work well.

As a side drama, interestingly, the Supreme Court in Durban ,on 2 December 2011, ordered the municipality to replace the new street names with the old ones within three months, because of the city’s failure to conduct proper consultations in line with legislation in the renaming of the streets.One of the nice streets was ‘ Mahatma Gandhi Road’. That road will now be named to its original name “ Point Road’.

This lateral event in Durban to revert back to the original names of the streets has no relation with the global Climate Change meeting taking place in the same town. But it may point towards the ‘changing climate’ of the lateral thinking and need for more consultation among developing as well as developed countries.


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