Last fortnight, the final nail was driven into the action on climate-change coffin. In the US, a crucial vote in the house sub-committee decided that the country’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA) would no longer have the power to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. The committee voted we say that the threat from climate change was not real, urgent or even serious. They said that any steps to curtail emissions would impact manufacturing and energy industry in the US. This was not negotiable. In other words, the world is back to square one — where it started in 1992, at the Rio Conference and where US president George Bush said that his country’s lifestyle was not negotiable.
But this is also not surprising. Over the past many years, each forward shift in the position of the emerging world to resolve the climate change deadlock has only meant a backward slide and hardening of position in the rich countries. Worse, in this period, there has been aggressive and often clandestine movement to shift the very nature of the global climate agreement to suit the US. But even with all this done and the framework changed to suit the US, the country has walked away. Let us understand this climate chess game:
2007 Bali: The draft resolution asked for deep emission reduction cuts from the industrialised world — up to 20 per cent cuts by 2020. The US was hung up that it would not do anything within a legal framework and that it would not do anything unless China and India were similarly committed. There was much at stake as the world climate was clearly heating up. There was pressure to act. By now also, the global (western media) had successfully painted China and India as the villains in the climate pack. They had shifted public opinion away from the historical and increasing pollution of the US to the chimneys of Beijing. Growth in our world was black and bad.
The developing world made a huge shift in its position to bring the US on board. One, it agreed that there would be a separate regime for the US, which would be based on its domestic actions and these would not be legally binding. Two, it agreed to take on national actions to mitigate emissions. But underlined that these would have to be enabled by technology and funding. It also agreed that the supported actions would be subject to an international regime for monitoring and verification. The world was given two years to firm up this action plan.
2009: By now it was clear that the democratic government of Barack Obama was not different from its predecessor, Bush. It was only more visible and more determined to have its way in the negotiations. All at once, the bar of compromise was shifted again. The concession made by the developing world at Bali was brushed aside as too little. The shrill call went out: China and India and all the other renegade polluters in our part of the world should state their emission reduction targets. Nobody asked what was the target the US was willing to put on the table and if this would be anywhere close to its global contribution to the problem of climate change. The pressure was on us to respond. It was also said and repeated that we were the deal breakers. India and China were not doing their bit to cut emissions. They wanted growth at all costs. This line was fed and swallowed by many Indian commentators and politicians alike.
So, we caved in and complied once again. We put out our energy intensity reduction target; we put out a national action plan on climate change. China went aggressive in building a renewable energy portfolio. Brazil went on to cut its rates of deforestation. All this was done without any matching or even similar commitments from the US. The US continued to commission and build new coal-based power stations; increase its gas guzzling vehicle fleet and everything else.
2009 Copenhagen: By now, the goal posts had been shifted again. Now, the Obama administration made it clear: nothing or all. It also stitched up a coalition of the willing with the Bush-like moto: with us or against us.
2010 Cancun: The world capitulated to bring the US on board. The Cancun agreement is based on the US demand that there will be no legally-binding global agreements on the rich countries. Instead, there would be one agreement for all. This would be based on domestic actions, based not on historical emissions but on what each country was willing to do. But all these actions would be measured, reported and verified to ensure that countries were doing what they had agreed in their to domestic plans. There would be no promise of money or technology.
In other words, a weak, ineffective deal designed by, and for, polluters. The justification was that this regime change was needed to bring the US on board. But now the US has rejected even this weak agreement. How low will the world have to “sink”to bring the world’s largest historical polluters to book?