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Climate change portfolio from Kyoto to Copenhagen: is negotiation anywhere near sight?

Posted by NYCA Blogger on February 20, 2010


Jagadish C. Baral PhD, Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, Kathmandu, Nepal

Rough road
Even a cursory look at the UNFCCC negotiation process from its history to the latest Copenhagen Conference (COP15) suggests that it has gone through a rough road. Hesitant to reduce their GHG emission level, the parties were either reluctant to believe on the role of human on climate change or that they pointed fingers to the others for the problems that occurred. This tendency started even before the Kyoto Protocol (KP 1997) on which USA and a few other countries did not agree to sign. The KP, though being a landmark treaty in the climate, failed to bring the giant emitter, particularly the USA, on board. After a decade of signing of KP, the desperate world wishing to bring the USA also on the ambit of global agreement and wanting concomitantly to have a bigger global GHG emission cuts, during COP13, agreed on Bali Roadmap. The two working groups formed by the Roadmap (namely AWG-KP and AWG-LCA) were mandated to do necessary homework focusing mainly at a fair, adequate and binding (FAB) both long as well as short term target through an inclusive and deliberative consensus based process. Despite important headways made by the two mandated groups, to the dismay of majority, they did not simply have an opportunity to put the devised draft negotiation text to the convention during COP15 held during the last 7-18 December.

Copenhagen frustrated the world for having failed to bring a FAB deal for limiting world temperature to 2 degree Celsius (let alone the demand for the LDCs and small island states which urged for 1.5 Celsius) rise as compared to the pre-industrial era. There were simply the exchange of bitter words between the developed and the developing world where each party was pointing fingers to the others. The developing countries were passing their resentments to the developed countries and urged for taking major emission reduction burden owing to their historical responsibility. The developed countries in general (USA in particular) on the other hand, were adamant, which argued that emerging economies like China and India, the current lead-emitters, should first be prepared to take matching level of cut. EU promises remained conditional which was prepared to cut the emission by 30 per cent over the 1990 level only if rest of the world came forward with matching targets.  Failing this, they could only abide by a maximum of 20 per cent cut. There was also a big gap on quantum of finance the developed countries were ready to put on table and the demand developing world put forward for the cause of adaptation and mitigation. The developing counterparts, in vain, asked for a minimum of 200 billion dollar a year on top of what they have already pledged for developmental aid.  Such controversy lead to an impasse and during the last hours, US President Obama brokered a closed-door deal with a few powerful countries including China and India. This is how much controversial the so called ‘Copenhagen Accord’ did emerge which did not get legitimacy both on account of procedural matters as well as the outcome it produced. Obviously it failed to produce a target which was neither fair nor adequate and binding. Little wonder that the convention did not endorse it but simply ‘took note of’.

Climate skepticism fuelled controversy 
While the apparent reasons for this rather chaotic state of affair lay on stances the developed and developing countries (as a group or an individual) were taking, it was fuelled from some exterior quarter. Apparently the climate skepticism had played its role. The climate skeptics were resisting all major moves right during and after the establishment of IPCC in 1988 and the UNFCCC in 1992. Guided often by their parochial self or corporate interests, those actively lobbied in favor of the argument that climate change is unreal and; it may not have anthropogenic roots, even if it was otherwise. Aimed at influencing the decisions, the activities tended to be more conspicuous particularly before and during the annual COP meetings.  Some even assert that, inspired by an ill idea of diluting the climate issue, they did not even lag behind in discrediting the scientist who put a strong case in favour of climate change. A case in point is the blame put to Sir John Houghton, first co-chair of the IPCC, for having said something what, he claims, was never said. He is often ridiculed for unnecessarily flaring up the climate issue by saying “Unless we announce disasters no one will listen.” 

The more recent role of climate skeptics may be observed during the run-up of the Copenhagen. In a scandal what is popularly called ‘Climate Gate’, hackers successfully stole a portion of raw data from the UK based station in an alleged bid to prove that climate change scenario was not as bad as has been portrayed.  Just prior to this Binaya K. Raina, based on his research in Indian Himalayas, claimed that the glaciers in his research were not retreating but in fact advancing. Such cases have of course played role in essentially retarding the UNFCCC negotiation process.       
The other controversy is of much later origin. The Fourth Assessment Report (2007) of the IPCCC, which put 2035 as a deadline by when all the glacial of the Himalayas will be extinct, has met a severe backlash. Critiques found error in the forecast who blame that the conclusion of the report has drawn more from the verbatim of the environmentalist than from objective hard science data. The legitimacy of the IPCCC as a scientific multilateral body for revealing the facts and figures of climate change and its impacts has been seriously challenged and that moral pressure has been building for its chair Rajendra Pachouri to resign. This would obviously temper the future negotiation process which is passing through a rough terrain already.

Are we being too obsessed by hard data?
It is very obvious that countries are somehow reluctant to reduce their GHG level. Fair, adequate and binding targets are nowhere near the scene.  Also the developed countries are not ready to put adequate additional and reliable funds on the table for climate change adaptation, of which they are already victims. While this may be largely attributed to the reluctance of the parties for doing something concrete on account of their own parochial interests, it seem to have hindered considerably due to climate skepticism which would first would like see a better and more objective proof of climate change.

The reality however is that constant rise in global temperature might not even require any further proof. The pile of data collated and as analyzed by the IPCC from a number of meteorological stations around the glove demonstrate that 19th century witnessed a 0.74 degree rise in temperature as compared to the pre-industrial rise which was merely 0.13 degree Celsius. Projection for the feature could be as high as 4 degree Celsius. Though the Himalayan region lacks rigorous climate data owing to paucity of reliable meteorological records, the Nepalese climate scientists assert that rate of temperature rise in the Himalayas is as high as 0.06 Celsius a year, a rate eight times higher than the global average. These are the figures that have been already accepted. Based on these and other complementary evidence IPCC has concluded that, unless acted promptly and adequately, the world would see a climate catastrophe beyond recovery. IPCC and US ex-vice president of the Al Gore were jointly awarded with the Nobel Prize for revealing a number of such facts and figures and for suggesting how the world needs to urgently deal with the impending climate catastrophe.

Here comes the latest critique of the IPCC (and more particularly its Chair Dr. Rajendra Pachouri) in which  it is claimed that the 4th IPCC report (2007) bases its conclusion on a limited range of data or on the verbatim of the environmentalists than on a more solid factual data. Here is something to ponder about. While, science provides room for skepticism, the critiques concerned must be very careful when they bring their insights into public domain. This is particularly true when they poke their heads into an area associated with the question of ‘life and death’ of the entire human race in the planet earth.   Accepting the global rise in temperature (and the higher rate of rise in the higher altitude) and at the same time denying its logical corollary that glaciers in the Himalayas are melting very fast would not go together. The alarming rate of receding Himalayan glaciers is essentially based on the first order climate data which unequivocally shows that there is sharp rise in temperature in the Himalayas than anywhere else. Higher temperatures, by axiom, are associated with higher rate of de-glaciations process and that elongated controversy might only delay the necessary intervention process which requires a concerted effort from all around the globe.

While might sound an antithesis, it might even be argued that the world cannot wait for the proof from the expensive and time consuming process of collecting and collating data from such difficult terrain of the world. Why not ask the local people whether they have witnessed a change in the extent of snow in the Himalayas? Why not, for example, ask the mountaineers like Appa Sherpa who has scaled Everest for record 19th time. The latter groups of people, in particular, have in fact been pointing out to the current problems and have urged the world to address the problem with a matter of top most priority. Sad of having experienced with disappearing snow and swelling glacial lakes in the Himalayas Appa had given the “stop climate change-let the Himalayas live” alarm. 

This however is not to say that meteorological based data are superfluous and might be ignored. The message, on the other hand, is why wait until you get a full ‘scientific’ proof if the contemporary evidences are already enough to indicate the impending catastrophe?  Let me conclude by an anonymous quote:  “The sad reality is this whole manufactured climate controversy is like arguing over the dinner menu on the Titanic as it sinks. The fact is, the climate is warming. Do we want to deal with this problem or not? Do we owe anything to future generations who are not here today to be part of the decision-making process? Science and the IPCC cannot answer these questions.”

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3 Responses to “Climate change portfolio from Kyoto to Copenhagen: is negotiation anywhere near sight?”

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  2. Artesian said

    Eric Hoffer, 1951 – “The True Believer – Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements”
    P.11
    “When hopes and dreams are loose in the streets, it is well for the timid to lock doors , shutter windows and lie low until the wrath has passed. For there is often a monstrous incongruity between the hopes, however noble and tender, and the actions that follows them. It is as if ivied maidens and garlanded youths were to herald the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
    And p.12
    “People who see their lives as irremediably spoiled cannot find a worth-while purpose in self-advancement…Their innermost craving is for a new life – a rebirth – or failing this, a chance to acquire new elements of pride, confidence, hope, a sense of purpose and worth by an identification with a holy cause. An active mass movement offers them opportunities for both…”
    and P. 13
    “ It is true that in the early adherents of a mass movement there are also adventurers who join in the hope that that the movement will give a spin to their wheel of fortune and whirl them to fame and power.”
    And

    Eric Hoffer, 1979 – “Before the Sabbath”
    p. 7
    “ I am curious about Pechorin, a Russian intellectual of the mid-nineteenth century who wrote a poem on “How sweet it is to hate one’s native land and eagerly await its annihilation.”

  3. Srinish k said

    […] Climate shift portfolio from Kyoto to Copenhagen: is traffic … […]

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