Copenhagen cop out
It is apparent to everyone that the Copenhagen Accord is a travesty of what the world needs to avert climate change.
by Praful Bidwai
It is apparent to everyone that the Copenhagen Accord is a travesty of what the world needs to avert climate change. Instead of an ambitious, effective, equitable and binding treaty with stringent emissions-cut targets for developed nations, we have a hollow Accord without legal status. The North has offered a 16 per cent emissions-cut when 40-45 per cent is needed. Years of talks have been set at nought by a dirty collusive deal between the United States and Basic (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), extended to cover only 26 of the 193 countries represented in Copenhagen.
The Accord mocks the efforts of a majority of nations to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Climate science is unanimous that emissions must peak by 2020 and then fall by one-half by 2050 if catastrophic climate change is to be averted with a 50-percent probability. Many scientists now believe atmospheric greenhouse concentrations must be limited to 350 parts per million.
Under the Accord, concentrations will double to 600 ppm-plus, with warming rising to 4°C. This spells the near-extinction of 40-odd island states and consigns two billion people to growing hunger, dispossession and displacement through cyclones, floods and droughts, aggravated by glacier melting, deforestation and desertification. The worst victims will be vulnerable people, including half-a-billion-plus Indians.
The Accord couldn’t have materialised without the collusion of BASIC, led by China, with the US-led North. China cynically refused quantitative targets even for the North. Disgracefully, India went along. China and India want to expand their carbon space to maintain rapid emissions-intensive GDP growth in the name of defending their poor. But India’s poor will suffer grievously, next only to Africans, as the Accord accelerates climate change.
This reveals a gaping divide between India’s underprivileged and elite. The poor have a huge stake in an equitable, effective global climate regime. The elite wants a weak, ineffective, non-binding regime to feed its appetite for luxury goods, which is driving up India's emissions at twice the global rate. As I argue in my just-released book An India That Can Say Yes: A Climate-Responsible Development Agenda for Copenhagen and Beyond, a powerful strand among Indian policy-makers wants an ineffective deal which allows India’s elite to raise its emissions. Its influence is reflected in India’s climate policy, its denial of glacier-melting, and the National Climate Action Plan, which defines its priority not as combating climate change, but as maintaining high GDP growth.
This follows the discredited trickle-down hypothesis. But a quarter-century of rapid growth hasn’t reduced poverty or created food and water security. Forty years after the Rural Electrification Corporation’s existence, half our rural homes remain in darkness.
India’s climate policy is made in isolation from the people by a bureaucratic cabal, excluding independent experts and representatives of civil society, leave alone those most affected by climate change. So unbalanced is the 26-member Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change that it has only one civil society member; 25 members are from Delhi or its suburbs.
Yet, most opinion-shapers treat climate change not as a survival or development/equity issue, but as a diplomatic one, with sovereignty separated from the people. India’s complicity in the Accord is a far greater global failure than the crossing of one avowed Red Line-not subjecting voluntary domestic actions to international verification/review-via “consultation and analysis”. Our people need a strong, equitable climate deal. Their government has failed them. It must be brought to heel and made to demand that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process be resumed with a clear rich-poor differentiation of responsibility. This won't happen unless people’s movements seize the climate agenda.
Praful Bidwai is a New Delhi-based political commentator and environmental activist