Climate talks deepen North-South divide

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Delegates at COP-8 in Delhi

Sharp divisions between rich and poor nations on how to cope with climate change deepened last week at international climate change talks in Delhi, with developing countries rejecting Western demands to set targets to limit their emissions of greenhouse gases.

Developing nations such as India, which hosted last week's eighth Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-8), attempted to shift the focus of the negotiations away from emissions targets towards adaptation and capacity-building strategies to cope with extreme weather events.

But many developed countries felt that top priority should continue to be given to mitigating climate change by reducing greenhouse gases, rather than to adaptation strategies. The European Union (EU), for example, stressed that mitigation was key to sustainable development. “No development can be sustainable in a warmer climate of extreme and catastrophic changes,” it warned in a statement.

Disagreements between the developed and developing countries also occurred over the ministerial declaration. A preliminary draft omitted all mention of the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement that commits ratifying countries to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. But the United States — which has pulled out of the Protocol — praised the draft, strengthening the suspicions of some observers that the United States was putting pressure on India to derail the Kyoto Protocol.

The simmering differences exploded into the open when the European Union attempted to kick-start a dialogue on commitments and strategies beyond 2012. This is the date when the first commitment period for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol ends.

Under the Protocol, developed nations have to reduce their overall emissions by 5 per cent between 2008 and 2012 compared to their 1990 levels. No targets have been set for developing countries during this period in view of their lower emissions and growing economies.

The EU, however, wanted to begin to include developing countries with relatively fast economic growth and increasing industrialisation, such as China, India and Brazil, into discussions on reducing future greenhouse gas emissions.

But the G-77 group of developing countries and China rejected the proposal, saying their contribution to global pollution — including carbon emissions — remained relatively low by Western standards, and that any curb on their industrialisation efforts would lead to major economic losses and unemployment. They instead sought evidence of a commitment by rich nations to cut their own emissions, and to the funding and transfer cleaner technologies in poor countries.

The deadlock led to an exasperated COP-8 President and India’s environment Minister T R Baalu threatening to end the meeting without a declaration.

Eventually the EU backed down. But it also criticised the Delhi declaration as lacking in any long-term vision.

The declaration, which was signed by representatives from 185 countries, stresses adaptation and capacity building in poor countries, poverty alleviation, sustainable development and renewable energies but omits future commitments.

The deadlock, however, suited two major anti-Protocol countries, the United States and Saudi Arabia, as the North-South clash eased the pressure on them to conform to the Kyoto Protocol.

Disagreements apart, there was some technical progress. COP-8 framed rules to operationalise the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which allows industrialised nations to obtain 'carbon credits' for investing in clean energy technologies in developing countries. Approval for the first CDM project is expected early next year.

The conference also agreed procedures for reporting and reviewing greenhouse gas emissions from developed countries, established guidelines on emissions reporting from developing countries, and finalised priorities for the Special Climate Change Fund and Least Developed Countries Fund agreed at COP-7 in Marrakech last year.

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Delhi Ministerial Declaration on Climate Change and Sustainable Development

Photo credit: IISD/ENB-Leila Mead