Carping At Cancun

The government’s offer at the United Nations Climate Change Conference at Cancun – to submit India to international measurement, review and verification – makes for a welcome change after Japan’s decision last week not to extend the Kyoto Protocol. The only international treaty obliging rich countries to cut their emissions, Kyoto is not perfect. But it was a start to tackling a global problem. Unfortunately, Japan’s actions are indicative of the rich world’s attitude. Its most potent expression is the attempt to abscond from historic responsibilities. Carbon dioxide tells the story best. Between 1900 and 2004, India’s CO2 pollution was dwarfed by Western Europe and the US whose emissions were approximately seven and 12 times ours. Japan’s was only 1.7 times India’s, but China, with a comparable population, was about four times ours. The rich world’s share would rise dramatically if the records began earlier, to include the early years of Europe’s Industrial Revolution. Despite the skewed nature of emissions and the benefits it accorded to a tiny fraction of the world’s population, the costs are borne by us all. Hence, the Kyoto Protocol’s adoption of ‘common but differentiated responsibility’.

Yet the rich world does not appear willing to help developing countries avoid the errors of the wealthy. Though India’s Cancun offer demonstrates an ability to move beyond dominant paradigms and shoulder responsibility, climate change cannot be tackled unilaterally. Furthermore, India aims to provide a fraction of the opportunities enjoyed by the world’s richest to a sizeable chunk of the poorest. Doing this in an environmentally responsibly way requires both technology and aid. However, the EU and the US continue to prevaricate on how much money is to be made available. Copenhagen offered $30 billion by 2012, but much has not been released because the rich continue to bicker over how much aid should be new – rather than diverted from existing projects – and who should manage it.

Meanwhile, India’s proposal for centres facilitating the transfer, and development, of green technology is being discussed. The entire process would be helped if the rich made available the most efficient technologies at prices accounting for the historic pollution generated in their development. That India’s offers have been well received indicates a degree of coordinated thinking within the government and absent from the environment minister’s earlier negotiations. This development is to be commended. But if the planet is to be saved, coordination is required not just within but between governments.

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