Interestingly, it was also in 1992 when the world agreed on the new global trade pact, the opening up of economies to free trade has changed equations completely. But the peculiar nature of carbon dioxide and gases that fill the atmospheric space converts science into politics. Carbon dioxide has a long life in the atmosphere and its impact on climate is because of the “stock” of gases, once emitted but still present. In this way, China in cumulative terms still accounts for 11 per cent of the emissions, from 1950 onwards.
Similarly, India now adds 6 per cent to the annual global emissions, but is only responsible for 3 per cent of the stock. As a whole, rich countries, with less than a quarter of the world’s population, are responsible for some 70 per cent of this historical burden. The same stock is responsible for an average global temperature rise of 0.8°C and another 0.8°C, which is already in the works.
So, now the power equations really get difficult: the Annex 1 nations, differentiated for being the cause of the problem, have not reduced emissions; not made space for the emerging world to grow. But the world has run out of space and time. The next round of negotiations will be even more difficult.
Actions, Game-Changer Events and Coalitions
The game changer in climate change negotiations is the extreme weather events that are beginning to be seen across the globe. Climate change is a great equaliser – the rich and the poor are commonly affected. It is also true that climate change requires cooperation because if the rich emitted in the past, the poor will emit in future. There is still hope that the world will decide to take action and decide that it is better to develop a fair and equitable regime so that all participate.
But for this to happen, there are other realities that need to sink in.
First, there is the question of coalitions. Current coalitions are based on traditional groupings and/or on self-interest. Therefore, G77 and China, remains the group that speaks in one voice but it is hugely diverse in terms of its membership. Qatar, the host of the COP18, has the highest per capita emissions in the world, but is member of G77 and China.
Then to counter the group of BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), all big polluters of the developing world, we have the grouping of “vulnerable countries” also of the developing world. Now the poor are fighting the poor, as each country wants a piece of the cake, either as a “polluter” or as a “beggar”. It is time this grouping dissolved into something much more cohesive in terms of interests and ambitions.
But this will never happen till the world remains locked into denial of the basic differentiation between old polluters and new ones and the need to share common atmospheric space. In the current scenario, large and traditional coalitions are the protection against harm. Global distrust is on the rise. It is crippling action and ambition. Let us be clear, without overcoming distrust, nothing can move, whatever the provocation of science and weather.
About the Author:
Dr. Sunita Narain is an Indian environmentalist and writer, as well as a major proponent of the Green concept of sustainable development. Dr. Narain has been with the India-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) since 1982. She is currently the director general of the Centre, and the director of the Society for Environmental Communications and publisher of the fortnightly magazine, Down To Earth.
In 2005, and again in 2008 & 2009, she was included by U.S. journal Foreign Policy as one of the world’s 100 public intellectuals. In 2005, she was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India, and has also received the Stockholm Water Prize for her work on rainwater harvesting. In 2005, she chaired the Tiger Task Force. She is a member of the Prime Minister’s Council for Climate Change, as well as the National Ganga River Basin Authority, chaired by the Prime Minister, set up to implement strategies for cleaning the river and also a member of the National Security Advisory Board. Over the years, she has researched and authored many publications on different aspects of the climate regime.