People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 51

December 20, 2009

On Copenhagen Summit

 Sitaram Yechury

THE global negotiations on climate change at Copenhagen enters its final stage with the three-day summit of the heads of states beginning today. Leaders have started pouring in and more than one hundred heads of states/ governments are expected to participate. By the time of writing these lines, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has already taken floor. In the meanwhile key ministerial meetings are being held today.

Inspite of the expectation so far, all the important statements and gestures coming from Obama and Hillary Clinton to UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon, suggest that there is a concerted move from the side of developed world to jettison the Kyoto protocol and Bali action plan.

Efforts are on to pressurise the developing world to accept  the universal approach and allow the developed countries to get away without accepting their historical responsibility for climatic change and hence overwhelming share of burden for repairing the damage to environment.

All this reminds one of unfolding of the tragic Shakespearean dilemma of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark: �To be or not to be.....�

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that began in 1990 has by now established that the concentration of green house gases in the atmosphere is rapidly approaching levels beyond which irreversible and potentially catastrophic changes in global climate could occur. While these changes will affect all of humanity, the worst affected will be the poor especially in the developing world. India is likely to suffer severe damages with the melting of Himalayan glaciers, drastic changes in rainfall patterns leading to floods, droughts, rising sea levels and displacement of millions of people.

Undoubtedly, there is an urgent need to act in limiting such emissions to ensure that global temperatures do not rise beyond 2oc. There is however another view that global warming may be happening due to factors much beyond human activities. Despite all scientific advances the one area where little is known is what is happening under our feet on our planet. Drilling for 19 years to probe the depths of Earth, whose radius is over 6000 kilometers, the Soviets reached a depth of nearly 13 kilometers before the Soviet Union collapsed. No one has ever ventured beyond this. Even this minuscule penetration revealed many surprises negating what scientists presumed on the basis of seismic wave and other indirect methods. For instance at a depth of 10 kilometers the temperature was found to be 180oc, nearly twice the forecast level. These happenings may well be impacting on temperatures at the surface.

This nevertheless should not detract the efforts humanity must make to ensure that life breathes cleaner air and tangible changes that affect both livelihood and quality of life of billions are reversed. Last two decades of negotiations were aimed at achieving this. This was based on the inviolable principle of �common but differentiated responsibility�, underling the fact that the developed countries, having contributed the most to Green House emissions must undertake greater responsibility now in reducing them. The Kyoto Protocol 1997 set binding targets for the developed countries while exempting developing countries but calling upon them to take appropriate measures commensurate with their national capabilities. Developed countries, instead of reducing emissions by five per cent compared to 1990, increased their cumulative emissions by ten percent while the USA, which refused to ratify the protocol, increased its emissions by a massive 17 per cent. Given this, they are now being called to commit to mandatory emission cuts of 40 per cent by 2020 and 90 per cent by 2050.

It is precisely this that they are resisting by calling upon all countries, including themselves,  to announce voluntary internationally monitored cuts. They are thus, jettisoning the so far accepted concept of `differentiated responsibility' and imposing an unjust `common' order. The USA has offered, to cut 17 per cent from 2005 levels which reduces to just three percent from the 1990 levels, i.e. less than what was proposed at Kyoto. It is virtually mocking at the world.

It is this that needs to be resisted at Copenhagen. The developed countries will have to accept internationally monitored mandatory cuts and the developing countries will announce voluntary reductions whose realisation is contingent upon the developed world fulfilling its commitments on transfer of finances and technology (without intellectual property rights royalty payments) as contained in Article 4 para 7 of the UNFCC, �commitments under the convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country parties of their commitments under the Convention relating to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country parties.�

The two red lines drawn by the Indian parliament -- a) no binding emission cuts will be acceptable and b) there shall be no deadline for peaking of emissions by the developing countries � will have to be adhered to.

This remains non-negotiable. The developed countries cannot negate their `historical responsibility' and continue with their pillage of global climate at the expense of the vast majority of humanity. They need to be forced to continue to accept per capita emissions as the basis of energy equality as every human being on the planet, should have equal access to carbon space. Such inequality � per capita emissions in USA are 20 times greater than per capita emissions in India � cannot be allowed to persist.

Thus, Hamlet's dilemma continues.

�To be or not to be: that is the question:

Whether `tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes,

Or to take arms against the sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them?�


Unlike in the play humanity can ill afford the tragic end in the hope of an eternal reunion in an ethereal world. Mortals need a just equitable deal. In its absence, no deal is better than a bad deal.


The author is attending the summit as part of the five member Indian parliamentary delegation

(December 16, 2009)