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Passing The Buck

This article was published on The Republica (9 April, 2013) 

This article was published on The Republica (9 April, 2013) 

A number of western news wires and climate pundits seem to be euphoric over the ‘declaration’ of some of the poorest countries to cut emissions of Green House Gases to tackle runaway climate change. We will soon know whether the group of least developed countries (LDCs) actually made the commitment, and if it is worth such a wide coverage, but let us first examine whether such a move from the LDCs will have any significance.

Scientific evidences suggest that the world is on the path to becoming 4 °C warmer within this century. It has already been verified that warming above 1.5 °C will cause serious threats to the development and even survival of communities in the most underprivileged parts of the world. A recent report by World Bank said, “A world in which warming reaches 4°C above preindustrial levels would be one of unprecedented heat waves, severe drought, and major floods in many regions, with serious impacts on human systems, ecosystems, and associated services.” But developed countries, which are primarily responsible for, and have the ability to avert, this catastrophe, remain nonchalant.

Twenty plus years have passed since negotiations started among the countries under United Nations to find ways to keep the temperatures rise under safe limits so as to stabilize the climate. In recent years, with countries like China, Brazil, South Africa and India catching up with the United States and European countries not only in economic development but also in Green House Gas emission, a debate over who should take the lead in reducing emissions has been started. The negotiating parties are at loggerheads, with developed countries unwilling to take actions without emerging economies agreeing to binding emission cuts, while emerging economies cite the historical responsibility of developed countries. Forced to remain in the sidelines, LDCs and small island developing states (SIDS) urged developing nations to take note of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC) acknowledged in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The 49 LDCs representing 12 percent of the world’s population are responsible for only four percent of global emissions, but are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. While it is obvious that the LDCs cannot adopt the same economic model of development followed by the rich countries in their course of development, it is a fundamental right of LDCs to strive for a decent and ecologically sustainable livelihood for their communities. LDCs by default are in a position to demand climate justice from developed countries for their survival and get support to pursue a low carbon development model. It would not make any difference even if the LDCs cut their emissions to zero, unless big emitters curb them to under 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 as demanded by LDCs.

The news of LDC group’s commitment to cut emission, which is going viral online with even UNFCCC chief Christina Figueres having joined the bandwagon by tweeting the news article, came a week after the conclusion of LDC strategy meeting held in Kathmandu from 22 to 23 March 2013. In the opening statement, Prakash Mathema, the new chair of the LDC group in UNFCCC and joint secretary of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment of Nepal, said, “We are the most vulnerable countries and we are tired of following others, tired of waiting for others to shape the agendas and decisions for us. From now on, our aim is to take the lead and invite others to follow us.” This was said with the aim of making LDCs the dealmakers for a new agreement to be decided at the 21st conference of parties to UNFCCC in 2015 in Paris, France. The ‘follow us’ mantra forwarded by Mathema has been perceived as LDC’s willingness to agree to legally binding emission cut, which is not the agreed position of LDCs. Our conversation with the core members of the LDC group revealed that there is no agreement to commit to emission cut.

Then the question arises, why did such news come out in the international media? To understand the reason, we have to delve into the politics of climate change negotiation. While developed and fast developing countries are at loggerheads with each other as to who should cut the emissions first, LDCs have been pushing for the application of CBDR-RC principle or the principle of equity as the guiding element of emission cuts. As countries like the US are known to be unwilling to cut their emission unless China and other emerging countries come on board, the fast developing countries’ reluctance to agree to make binding emission cut is seen by many observers within the developing world as the stumbling block in the negotiations. In some instances the LDCs have found the European Union to be more concerned about their plights, and it was the understanding between the LDCs, SIDS and EU that helped broker an agreement in Durban, South Africa in 2011 to negotiate for the 2015 deal.

Within UNFCCC, different groups frequently try to align with or use LDCs to amplify their voices. The recent development could be part of one such game plan to makes one’s agenda known from the mouth of others. Nonetheless, this can be a lesson for Nepal, the chair of the LDC group in UNFCCC for the year 2013-2014, which can now become a strategic player in the politics of climate change.

The article was jointly written with Sunil Acharaya 

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