Contention of Liability at the UN COP17

We have the responsibility for mitigation, but we also have a right to develop...

Liability was a huge issue discussed at the COP17.  Many developing nations are rallying for it to take as much importance as other issues discussed, such as Adaptation and Mitigation. I went to a talk by the South Centre organization with India’s Environmental Minister, where they were promoting this initiative. At this talk they spoke about equitable sharing of the atmospheric carbon space.  Where they argued that the Cancun agreement did not represent the principle of common but differentiated action by nations.  They urged that historical emissions by nations must be taken into account for fair sharing of the carbon space. It became clear to me that the slow progress and building deadlock on Climate Change policy is an inherited problem passed on to us by history.

India’s perspective is that developing nations have the responsibility to mitigate climate change, but also have the right to develop. South Centre panelists argued that Non-Annex countries such as India entered industrialization much later than Annex-1 countries.  For India and many countries, this was due to unjust Colonization.  Therefore, Non-Annex countries have not contributed to the emissions problem to the same degree as Annex-1, and they are still taking on the majority of the emissions reductions.  Sunita Narayan stated, that Annex-1 countries are only taking on 40% of the reductions, when they were the original contributors of the problem.  They suggest that the remaining emissions space should be delineated based on historical emissions and the equity principle to have a secure energy future, says India’s Minister of Environment.  The Equity Sharing Principle suggests dividing emissions by per capita and taking in account the emissions that Annex-1 nations disseminated from 1850, at the start of industrial revolution, or from 1960, the peak of the industrial revolution.  Annex-1 countries are against the per capita criteria and suggest that 1990 may be a more practical number to start from.

Though this contention lasts, Annex-1 nations have decided to support the developing world through a Green Climate Fund (GCF).  This fund would be raised by developed nations and to be distributed to developing nations to support the development of low carbon technology, adaptation, and mitigation. An agreed upon amount of US  $100 Billion will be placed in the fund. However, there is much agreement that even this amount is not close to enough. The logistics of the GCF are to be decided at the COP17.  Many non-Annex nations are criticizing this fund as cop out by the Annex-1 nations to avoid liability and responsibility to cut their own emissions.

It was really interesting to hear the point of view of the many of the developing countries in person. It was refreshing to hear such direct conversation, but the politics were also evident. Granted, I sympathize with the developing nations point of view – that they were not the main contributors of this problem, and they are yet again suffering the consequences of western development. I do see an issue – that ego will rarely let a person put their hands up and say yes, sorry, it was my fault, I will fix it.  So as Vikram mentioned in his last post, it becomes a game of pointing fingers and evading responsibility.  Although, in discussion the Minister of Environment did note that India is not avoiding its responsibility and is taking serious measures to promote sustainable development.  For example, India has a goal to have 20,000 MW of solar by 2020 and they have put in strong Feed-in-Tariffs for Wind and Biomass.  Regardless of aggressive policy, they are worried that their emissions will continue to increase. However, the Minister of Environment did not mention that India has very low coal reserves and with growth comes an increasing demand of energy, and thus a need for alternative energy sources.  That made me realize that may be the U.S is apathetic at this point because they have a lot of coal left, as compared to other nations? “Out of sight, out of mind?” Let’s hope our nation does not continue to take that perspective.

Even though the GCF, if implemented, could help the developing world, Annex-1 nations must not stop at that. They must take on binding emissions cuts to fuel mitigation, else, the problem will just continue.  If they take on binding emission cuts, there is a chance that the developing nations such as China and India will also do so.  This is becoming increasingly important as we near the end of the Kyoto Protocol.

~Chandni (Director of Business Affairs at Vort Port International)


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  1. Durban – Africa, India, or America? | Eyes Wide Open - December 14, 2011

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