Monday, December 17, 2007

More Chest Beating About Climate Change

Finally what has been and has not been achieved at the recently concluded climate change conference in Bali? Going by the infantile jingoistic Indian media, this was the place where India stepped up to the plate and saved the world from a global meltdown perhaps literally. The Times of India has a lot of space devoted to how India lead by knight in shining armor Kapil Sibal forced the U.S to change its position and cornered Europe into supporting the Indian position.

Some excerpts from the Times of India:

"India beams as climate deal clinched"

"India led by science and technology minister
Kapil Sibal, clinched an almost impossible deal at the UN conference on climate change in Bali"

"At this point,
Sibal intervened to put forth the Indian position yet again. It's unusual at such a forum and the aggressiveness of the minister shocked many.....America had been cornered"

" It was a hard-fought win, but we have secured India's position....."

Infantile stuff, more like what you see in England's gutter press after that rare football victory against Germany. So what is this deal that the Indian media is crowing about?

Apparently now further talks will take place on two tracks, one comprising those countries who have agreed to mandatory emission reductions, essentially building on the talks of the Kyoto protocol, and the second track comprising those countries who have not agreed to emission reductions. This two track formula is important as it leaves the door open for countries to join mandatory reductions. Agreeing to this formula, prevented a total collapse of talks. This means that negotiations would now continue beyond the Bush administration and hopefully will deal with a new, more cooperative U.S. administration.

Reading plainly it means that no binding agreement was reached on any issue! Its like that old joke about the four procrastinators who after a long meeting agree unanimously to meet again.

What does this mean for India?

No binding targets in reducing emissions

Vague promises to transfer subsidized new clean technology to India and other developing nations

But India has agreed to seek ways to make "measurable, reportable and verifiable emission cuts"

No money to upkeep forests using clean development mechanisms such as carbon credits.

Doesn't sound like too much of a victory to me. Sunita Narain the director of Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi in an interview with CNN-IBN was also pessimistic stating that technology transfer is an old issue being rehashed at this conference. So far 15 years of talks and not a dollar has been transferred. We still have to at some point start making those emission cuts. And that bit about no money to upkeep forests sounds very foreboding.

Some thoughts on human behavior. Can we really think that U.S negotiators are that stupid and ill prepared or even allowed to "change their minds" at the last minute? The clouds of discontent have been brewing for a long time internationally and lately within the U.S. The Bush administration is in its last year. Does one really think that U.S negotiators were oblivious to all this and came to the conference really believing that they could swing everything in their favor? I suspect they were ready to support the consensus all along but held on to see how much their luck lasts. Sure some pressure works, but this pressure has been building for a long time both internally and most notably the threat from EU to boycott a U.S sponsored meeting on climate change in Hawaii. A country which declares war against the wishes of the entire world is not going to be bothered by a few boos and shouts. Negotiators do have some latitude but it is naive to believe that they will be pressured at the last minute into taking a position that is not allowed by the brief given to them. But the Indian media will have us believe that Kapil Sibal changed all this. I don't mean to disparage the efforts of Mr. Sibal. By all accounts he did a stellar job. But a little more balanced reporting please.

Finally and more importantly than the antics at Bali, is India going to base future emissions policy on technology transfer promises, something that still needs painful long negotiations to achieve? Would that mean a neglectful attitude from the government towards alternative renewable energy? Does that mean a surge in coal plants to generate electricity on the premise that clean technology is on its way but may not happen at all or for some time? Does that mean more tracts of our forests to be given to commercial exploitation on the pretext that we are not receiving funds to protect them? We should not deceive ourselves into thinking that Bali was a great victory. If anything it might lull us into a complacency that might prove disastrous.

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