Will Kyoto get a green signal this time around?
Pandit Gobar Ganesh: Ah, here we are! It is time to raise the curtain on yet another round of international talks on climate change.
Neetu: But Panditji, I don’t understand! You told us about climate change talks last year and the year before that too. Right Vinay?
Vinay: Yes, you are right. We heard a lot about how so many countries gathered at Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancun in 2010. Isn’t that so, Panditji?
Panditji: Yes, Vinay. You are correct. Let’s brush up a little on what transpired in those conferences, shall we? But before we do that, let me tell you why 2012 has a special significance. This year, the first commitment period of Kyoto protocol (ratified by all major countries except US in 1997) ends. And this year, the world’s leading economies, together with developing nations like India, will decide whether the Kyoto agreement would be renewed.
The 2009 Copenhagen meet was widely considered lukewarm because leaders from the developed world didn’t commit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Countries like US refused to sign any agreement that would compel them to curtail their industrialisation The 2010 Cancun meet was perceived to be a little more successful. The developed nations agreed to reduce emissions but not enough to make a difference. They also decided to extend financial aid to poorer nations to save them from the consequences of climate change. But what we must note is that none of these countries has yet signed a legal agreement though they have made verbal promises.
Neetu: Seems to me that they can’t walk the talk Panditji! What do these countries plan to do this year?
Panditji: Yes Neetu, sounds like that, doesn’t it? Let me tell you what points we can see on the discussion table this year. Importantly, almost all nations have agreed, either on paper or in spirit, to actively participate in turning around the climate change issue. But there are still bones of contention that are acting like speed breakers.
The first issue is that countries like US, Russia and the European Union want nations like India and China to promise that they would implement stringent emission cuts on paper. But they themselves haven’t signed any such deal! Extremely unfair, I would say. They have already polluted more than their share of the environment but don’t want to impose emission cuts on their own industries. This tug of war has been going on ever since the inception of the climate talks and will have to be resolved before anyone can hope for any kind of progress. The next point of deadlock is the transfer of technology – the richer nations will have to flesh out the process of technology transfer to developing nations.
Vinay: Panditji, what kind of technology transfer do you mean?
Panditji: Vinay, in today’s fast-progressing world driven by industries and factories, it is really important that we don’t squander our resources, especially the ones we can’t renew, such as oil and coal. If we use up all our resources, what will our future generations live on? Have you thought about that? That’s where technology transfer comes into the picture. It means that richer countries such as US and Russia will provide India with technology which is cleaner, improves efficiency in energy use and introduces less carbon-intensive sources of energy. Do you understand?
Vinay: Yes, I think so! And you are saying that the rich nations have to do this because now it’s their turn to help the climate – somewhat like paying back for having used up their share of the environment?
Panditji: (Smiles) Yes, somewhat like that. (Sighs) But it’s not as simple as that Vinay. Along with technology transfer comes the very tough issue of intellectual property rights or IPR.
Neetu: That sounds complex! What is that Panditji?
Panditji: Neetu, imagine you created a new type of energy through some experiments that leaves absolutely no residue nor does it pollute. Something no one else has done before. Now, tell me, would you like it if someone said it was their creation and took all the credit for the great work you did?
Neetu: Of course not! I would be terribly upset!
Panditji: Exactly, so you would want to put a seal on your creation which makes it clear it was you who created it, right? That seal, in a way, is a patent and you possess the intellectual property rights to it. The problem is that many developing nations do not have legal or financial infrastructure to access these technologies. And unless developed nations are assured that their property rights are secure in these nations, they won’t begin the transfer of technology.
Vinay: So you are saying that India, for example, must protect the IPR of foreign technology to get it?
Panditji: Spot on Vinay! But it sounds simpler than it really is. Unfortunately, India is still at a nascent stage as far as intellectual property rights are concerned. That’s what needs to be discussed in Durban this year! That leaves us with the very first thing I told you about climate talks - does anyone remember?
Neetu: It’s the year Kyoto protocol must be renewed, right?
Panditji: Yes Neetu, very good. Countries around the world have worked hard to get this legally binding agreement in place and it will be a shame if it lapses! Getting so many nations to ratify it again would be nothing short of a herculean task and it will bring us back to square one. Our leaders have to work very hard and ensure that the Kyoto Protocol is reinforced this year in Durban. Especially because of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Do you know what that is?
The CDM allows countries to reduce emissions by investing in projects in developing nations. It lets the richer nations fund “green” projects in countries like India with clean technology.
Neetu: But how would that help developed nations, Panditji?
Panditji: You see, the developed nation’s government gets a carbon offset when it invests in a green project in India, for instance. A carbon offset is like a credit for preventing emissions in the developing nation. And do you know something else? More than 75 per cent of CDM projects certified since 2005 are in India and China. The problem with these projects, however, is that no one has been able to show that carbon emission has been cut down. And that’s another point of contention that will have to be talked about in Durban. Should the process be scrapped or should it be continued and reviewed more closely?
Vinay: Wow! Seems like they have their work cut out Panditji! From what you have told us it looks very likely that the richer nations of the world are simply delaying what they should have begun years ago.
Panditji: Yes Vinay, they really should make concrete decisions this time. Mother Nature isn’t going to wait for us and if we don’t hurry, our efforts may be too little and too late. Fingers crossed!