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The special climate summit convened by the UN Secretary General led to many initiatives, but could not bridge the gap between rich and poor nations on who should do how much

Speaking at the UN climate summit, Obama said, big countries like the United States and China “have a special responsibility to lead" on how to tackle climate change. (Image by UN Photo/ Kim Haughton)

Speaking at the UN climate summit, Obama said, big countries like the United States and China “have a special responsibility to lead” on how to tackle climate change. (Image by UN Photo/ Kim Haughton)

India reiterated its need to develop, China listed the steps it was taking and the US repeated that all countries should control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – despite notable advances in many areas, the special climate summit convened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday failed to bridge the gap between rich and poor nations.

Prakash Javadekar, India’s Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, told the informal summit, “Just as the fossil fuel led model of industrialization that began in the West a couple of centuries ago is seen responsible for the growing human impact on the climate, the other stark fact is that poverty remains a major polluter… Therefore, this talk about changed realities can only be misleading and motivated.”

The minister was referring to remarks made by leaders of many industrialised countries – including US President Barack Obama – that emerging economies like China and India should commit to tighter control on GHG emissions under a new global treaty scheduled to be ready by December 2015. Though the US President mentioned only China by name, his tenor was clear. So was Javadekar’s response.

GHG emissions – mainly of carbon dioxide – are warming the planet. This climate change is affecting farm output worldwide, making droughts, floods and storms more frequent and more severe, and raising the sea level. Most of the emissions have been caused by rich nations since the start of the Industrial Age, but now China is the largest polluter, US second and India third.

Rich nations want all countries – especially emerging economies – to take legally binding emission control pledges at the treaty, being negotiated under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Developing countries –especially India – remain steadfast in their opposition, on the grounds that such a move would be iniquitous.

At the same time, India has taken major steps to tackle climate change. Javadekar pointed them out at the special summit, saying, “The new government has doubled the Clean Energy Cess on coal to raise more revenue for clean energy technologies.At the same time, over $15 million have been allocated to the National Adaptation Fund; $80 million for setting up of ultra-mega solar projects; $100 million for a new scheme called ultra-modern super critical coal based thermal power technology; and $16 million for the development of 1 MW solar parks on the banks of canals.”

The clean energy cess has been doubled this budget from 50 paise to one rupee per ton – India’s way of putting a price on carbon emissions.

Javadekar listed other initiatives and then pointed out, “Evidence indicates that countries that have achieved a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.9 or more have per capita energy consumption of at least 2.5 tons oil equivalent per year. The current per capita energy consumption in India is about 0.6 per year, which is a fraction of the figures for the developed world. In other words, with today’s technologies and living standards, the energy consumption in India would need to increase by four times as India’s HDI increases from the current value of 0.5 to a value of 0.9.”

“The key challenge therefore is to enable this higher energy consumption at a cost that people are willing and able to pay, and with lower carbon intensity. We are fully committed to achieving our voluntary goal for reducing Emission Intensity of its GDP by 20-25% by 2020 over 2005 level.”

India has decided to double the installed wind energy capacity over the next five years, increase installed solar capacity to over 20,000 MW by 2020, and use energy efficiency to save 10,000 MW by 2020. Referring to these and other initiatives, Javadekar said, “It is self-evident that developing countries can do more if finance and technology support and capacity building is ensured. This must be a key focus of international cooperation. What is needed is political will.”

The demands for finance and technology support have been major stumbling blocks in UNFCCC negotiations, with rich countries failing to adequately deliver even on the few promises they have made. China, India, Brazil and South Africa have led the demand for better results.

China’s position

Speaking at the special UN summit, however, Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli stayed away from this, and confined himself to talking about what China had already done to tackle climate change.

Promising that “China will make more effort to tackle climate change out of our own will,” Zhang pointed out, “China has done remarkable work by publishing its National Climate Change Programme before this summit.”

The Vice Premier emphasised three targets of China:

  • Reduce carbon emission intensity;
  • Increase non-fossil fuel ratio and forest storage;
  • Try to achieve carbon (emission) peak as soon as possible.

Carbon emission intensity is the amount of carbon emissions per unit of GDP growth. At the 2009 Copenhagen summit of the UNFCCC, China made a voluntary commitment to reduce this intensity by 40-45% by 2020, compared to 2005 levels. India made a voluntary pledge of a 20-25% reduction, and Javadekar said the country was well on course to achieve that.

Zhang also said China would provide $6 million to support South-South cooperation on tackling climate change.

US position

The Chinese and Indian speeches came after the US President had said, “No nation can meet this global threat alone… Nobody gets a pass.”

Obama also listed domestic efforts by the US to tackle climate change, at the same time pointing out the ravages caused by extreme weather events in the country. “The climate is changing faster than our ability to address it,” he said. “The alarm bells keep ringing.”

Coming to the issue of negotiations, Obama said, big countries like the United States and China “have a special responsibility to lead” on how to tackle climate change.

Climate change legislation is controversial in the US, but Obama promised, “We will do our part.”While right-wing organizations said the US President had gone too far in his speech, some NGOs including Oxfam and Greenpeace felt he had not gone far enough.

All in all, there was little indication that the negotiations logjam would be broken, and there is little time. A draft of the treaty – expected to be signed at December 2015 UNFCCC summit in Paris – is supposed to be ready by the next UNFCCC summit this December, which will be held in the Peruvian capital Lima.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, said, “The only way to make Paris a success is to make a success of Lima – of the markers on the road to Paris.”

Trying to make governments take a more holistic view, the UN Secretary General told the summit, “We must cut emissions. Science says they must peak by 2020, and decline sharply thereafter. By the end of this century we must be carbon neutral.”

“No one is immune from climate change.  Not even these United Nations Headquarters, which were flooded during Superstorm Sandy. I ask all governments to commit to a meaningful, universal climate agreement in Paris in 2015, and to do their fair share to limit global temperature rise to less than two degrees Celsius.”

By the end of the day, Ban was more optimistic, largely because the special summit had come up with a series of initiatives. He listed them at the closing session, saying, “I asked for bold announcements from governments, business, finance and civil society in five key areas. The summit delivered.”

“First, we heard strong commitment for a meaningful, universal climate agreement in Paris next year, with a first draft to be presented in Lima in December… We heard commitments to cut emissions from many countries.”

“Second, on finance, public and private sources showed the way forward for mobilizing the finance we need. Leaders expressed strong support for the Green Climate Fund. Many leaders called for the fund’s initial capitalization at an amount no less than $10 billion. A total of $2.3 billion was pledged towards the fund’s initial capitalization today, and others committed contributions by November 2014.A new coalition of governments, business, finance, multilateral development banks and civil society leaders announced their commitment to mobilize upwards of $200 billion for financing low-carbon and climate-resilient development.Private banks announced they would issue $20 billion of green bonds and that they would double the market to $50 billion by 2015, next year. The insurance industry committed to double its green investments to $82 billion by the same date, by next year.”

“Third:  carbon pricing. This is one of the most powerful tools available for reducing emissions and generating sustainable development and growth. Many leaders from government and business supported putting a price on carbon through various instruments and called for intensified efforts to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.Thirty companies announced their alignment with the Caring for Climate Business Leadership Criteria on Carbon Pricing.  And, a number of leaders agreed to join a new Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition to drive action aimed at strengthening carbon pricing policies and redirecting investment.”

“Fourth, we heard how strengthening resilience – both climate and financial – is a smart and essential investment. Adaptation needs are growing, particularly for the least developed countries and small island developing states, which are most at risk and need most international support.”

“Fifth, new coalitions are forming to meet the full scope of the climate challenge. The first Global Agricultural Alliance was launched to enable 500 million farmers worldwide to practice climate-smart agriculture by 2030.Leaders of the oil and gas industry, along with national governments and civil society organizations, made a historic commitment to identify and reduce methane emissions by 2020.A new Compact of Mayors, representing 200 cities with a combined population of 400 million people, pledged new commitments to reduce annual emissions by between 12.4 and 16.4%.Leaders from pension funds committed to de-carbonizing investments worth $100 billion and disclosing the carbon footprint of investments worth $500 billion.”

Climate smart agriculture came under prompt attack from some NGOs, who fear the takeover of this initiative by firms manufacturing genetically modified seeds. Most NGOs were also sceptical about the commitment made by oil firms – for long the biggest deniers of climate change.

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