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Moving from Delhi to Copenhagen

Feb 20, 2009

The recently concluded Delhi Sustainable Development Summit created enough momentum for the Copenhagen round of climate change negotiations. But for it to succeed, countries must intensify global cooperation and redefine clear responsibilities, says Dr D K Giri, Director, Schumacher Centre for Development.

We might not all be aware of it, but every citizen of the world is currently being taken on a vital journey from Delhi to Denmark. The journey began at the ninth Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) organised by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), which was held from February 5-7, 2009.

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This major climate change-focused event appears, initially at least, to have been a success for both India and the entire international community. A host of world leaders including the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made graced the occasion. The distinguished host was Nobel Prize-winning environmental expert Dr. R.K. Pachauri. A significant amount of global attention was generated for the event which was subtitled “Towards Copenhagen.”

The Danish capital will, in October 2009, host a UN Climate Summit that hopes to further develop the world’s response to the climate change crisis. The stakes could not be higher.

According to Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “the agreements to be signed in October have the potential to decide the fate of the human race”. It remains to be seen whether the apparent mood of international co-operation fostered at the preparatory Delhi event will remain present for Copenhagen.

Global warming is more serious and more universal in its impact than the “financial meltdown” now or any other international crisis before

But more than any other multilateral negotiations, the Delhi summit and other such discussions on climate change do seem genuine. This is because climate change will not impact specific societies, polities, or economies. It will affect the whole globe. Global warming is more serious and more universal in its impact than the “financial meltdown” now or any other international crisis before.

But what are these international climate change negotiations about? They are primarily about how to reduce the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, about fixing responsibilities, and about evolving a shared understanding and road map to address the causes and handle the consequences. 

Everybody’s stake

That said; let us look at the parties to the negotiations. Theoretically speaking, every single human being inhabiting this planet is a stakeholder. Like in any multilateral forum, we have the popular categorisation of the countries - developed, fast developing, less developed and under developed - this is no longer relevant.

In fact, a better categorisation as we move towards the Copenhagen summit would be: movers, challengers, followers, and by-standers. The big movers are the US, the EU and Japan who vary in how they cause and how they would prevent GHG emissions. The challengers are India and China, the fast developing economies, who also are at variance in response to climate change.

Without undermining any other country and pro-active players, one can put them as followers or by-standers who are caught between denial and despair.

Obama represents a country which needs to relearn multilateralism in international affairs

The US is the climate-renegade country. With about five per cent of world’s population, it has 25% of total emissions and gets away by pointing a finger at others. President Barack Obama may bring about a shift in the US approach, as he has hinted at 80% reductions of GHG emissions by 2050, and reductions to the level of 1990 by 2020.

The world is hoping that Obama will genuinely turn a new ‘green’ leaf for the US, and John Kerry’s video-link appearance at the Delhi summit appeared positive. Kerry said emphatically: “America is back. America intends to lead on these issues.” However, the hopes may be exaggerated as Obama represents a country which needs to relearn multilateralism in international affairs.

As for the other two ‘movers,’ Japan is seen as the guru of energy efficiency but its options are usually meant to be win-win for its own industries. The European Union, supposedly the champion of anything ‘green’, blows hot and cold, and caves in at strategic moments.

In the ‘challengers’ category China is busy quietly making money in the carbon market believing in the ever winning principle of “make hay while sun shines”. Meanwhile India revs and rants about ethics, equity, support to the poor, differentiated approach to countries and so on. With a huge population, many of them poor, and a low rate of emissions, India argues for a fair deal between emitters and sequesters. 

No sitting back

At the Delhi summit we witnessed, certainly not for the first time, nations trapped in the ‘bystanders’ category showing their exasperation. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia said that climate change issues could never be properly addressed in issues such as his without financial support from the richest. Such desperate cries will grow even louder in Copenhagen.

Groups such as the indigenous tribals in India are again left on the margins of climate change programmes

Ironically, the least polluters will be the worst victims of climate change. As Jeffrey D Sachs of the Earth Institute said on the last day of the Delhi summit, “the poor are the most vulnerable to ecological pressures as they have no buffers, are relatively voiceless in politics, and have no capital for resilience.” Hence the majority of countries, including India, cannot afford to sit back with the excuse that their pollution rate is low.

The December 2008 climate change summit in Poznan saw the establishment of the Adaptation Fund – which channels cash for combating the effects of climate change from richer to poorer nations. This is a welcome step and the needy and deserving countries must begin to tap into it.

But there are still major deficits in the current international agenda on climate change that must be seriously addressed before world leaders meet again in Copenhagen. Groups such as the indigenous tribals in India (above 84 million) are again left on the margins of climate change programmes.

The trade-offs between carbon reduction and people’s livelihoods are ignored. The differences between nations in output growth, emission growth and industrial structures have to be taken on board for a fairer deal on climate change in Copenhagen.

Climate change cannot be combated by a single country however powerful it may be. It has to be a global project as the problem is called ‘global warming’. For the sake of our survival, we must hope that the international community moves from Delhi to Copenhagen with a sense of shared purpose and shared urgency.

The author is the Director, Schumacher Centre for Development and can be contacted at

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