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Future of International Climate Regime

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  • March 15, 2010
    Round Table

    Climate change is on top of the international and national political and strategic agendas. Post Copenhagen climate conference of December 2009, this was the first event organised by the non-traditional security cluster at IDSA.
    Dr. Michael Köberlein, Director, Heinrich Böll Foundation (HBF), India gave a 30-minute presentation on "Future of International Climate Regime" on 15th March. The session was chaired by Dr. Arvind Gupta, Lal Bahadur Shastri Chair at IDSA.

    The speaker covered the following topics:
    a) Copenhagen Accord: A critical assessment
    b) The challenges and processes for 2010 climate negotiations
    c) The role and tasks of international institutions (IPCC, UNFCCC, G-20, MEF, IMF)
    d) The role and responsibility of the EU
    e) The approach of the German government
    f) The future: Ways out of the climate trap

    Dr. Köberlein gave an overview of the occurrences in Copenhagen and the outcomes of COP 15. On the negative side, he assessed that the Copenhagen meeting was poorly organised by host Denmark, while the UN was found wanting and incapable of moderating the event towards an effective and fair deal. AOSIS states and LDCs were ignored whereas China and the United States played a power game which finally led to the meagre output. The Group of 77 proved to be disunited and non-adept in addressing its negotiation position. Copenhagen did not deliver a legally binding treaty which addresses the comprehensiveness of the climate threat but only a political declaration that has little value. Equity was never an issue in Copenhagen and adaptation was totally neglected. No funding mechanism was introduced and no funds assured so that it is unclear how mitigation and adaptation measures are to be financed. On the positive side, a new grouping BASIC was established which also included the United States. Moreover the 2 degree Celsius benchmark for dangerous climate change was universally accepted, and the ongoing validity of the Bali Action Plan to be finalised in Mexico at COP 16 gives hope for more target-oriented action in 2010.

    Dr. Köberlein claimed that climate science is far ahead of climate politics. There is scope and urgency for IPCC to improve and re-establish the faith of people in its work after the inapposite debate on the errors in the glacier study. For achieving this, IPCC requires a better communication strategy, an independent body that monitors and creates an outside expertise for peer-review. The best institution to host climate negotiations is the UN and UNFCC. But it has to define anew its role and strategy. A new president after the resignation of Yvo de Boer as well as a new approach in consensus finding might be the answer. G 20 was used in the last year as an alternate forum for climate negotiations and certain issues were hijacked. Yet, as LCDs and AOSIS states are excluded from G-20, this platform will never be able to address the principles of the climate conventions. Major Economies Forum as well was introduced by the United States to undermine the UN process. But since it does not have any universal support or legitimacy it is only a competing platform to the UN process and hence shall be elided. The EU was sidelined at Copenhagen and there is lack of leadership as compared to earlier COPs. This was mainly due to the global economic and financial crisis and the disparities amongst the 27 member states. Yet, its present approach to reduce 20 per cent of its emission till 2020, increase energy efficiency by 20 per cent and have 20 per cent of renewable energy in its energy mix is still the most ambitious approach to combat climate change. As far as Germany is concerned, it leads in climate policy. German Chancellor Merkel played a leading role when introducing climate change in the G-8 process in Heiligendamm in 2008. It leads in the promotion of renewables and also has the highest ambitions in terms of CO2 emission reduction till 2020 (40 per cent as compared to 1990). Germany can be seen as the initiator of a green market economy which has created more than 250,000 jobs in green technologies. It is also the leader in creating ideas in order to transform its economy to a low carbon economy (Green Deal, Feed-in Tariffs, renewable energy technologies).

    The challenges are in reaching consensus in international politics. Hence the first preparatory meeting at Bonn in April 2010 would play a crucial role to overcome the climate impasse. There is a need to build international institutions for finance transfer, a so-called Reserve Bank of Climate Change which gives stimuli and monitors the flow of funds. There is also need for a compliance mechanism which deals with countries violating the climate treaty. In equity matters the speaker felt that there was a need to redefine the principle of equity and spell out the meaning of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’.

    It will be necessary to regroup the Annex 1 and Non-Annex 1 countries since there are vast differences between countries such as Bangladesh and South Korea for example which are non-comparable. At the national level also equity needs to be addressed and a concept of vulnerability developed (vulnerability index).

    The speaker also introduced three equity approaches by Think Tanks. He handed out a report by the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) titled “Solving the Dilemma: The budget approach” which was released by the German government prior to the Copenhagen meeting, the ‘Greenhouse Development Rights Approach’ which was published by HBF (Dr. Köberlein made the HBS paper of February 2010 on “Failure or Opportunity? A Regional Analysis of Copenhagen Climate Conference and How its Outcome Has Been Perceived” available). Besides, he distributed a report by HBF, India: Emerging Leadership on Climate Change written by Malini Mehra in December 2008.

    During the discussion it was brought out that equity and per capita emission rights will remain key issues. India’s contribution is the least and only flows are being highlighted and not the stocks. Impact of mitigation actions by India will be minimal as it is still low in per capita terms. Indian emissions are three times less compared to China’s, which is nearly at par with France on per capita terms. Ethics of over-consumption was also highlighted with the hope that the USA, the biggest polluter, will also be willing to be part of a deal. Issue that might create problems in future will be a compliance mechanism and a universally accepted definition of equity in the climate regime.

    Report prepared by P.K. Gautam