Tuesday 11 October 2011

Durban Climate Talks On Slippery Ground

With widespread changes in weather patterns – record high temperatures, unprecedented floods, droughts, cyclones and typhoons in many countries this year itself, the effects of climate change are getting more pronouncedClimate science is still evolving and there is growing evidence that associates such erratic weather events to climate change effects. 

Skeptics who still prefer to deny the existence of the global warming phenomena, seek solace in ignoring the facts. However, this denial-ism pales before the age old wisdom of a peasant in the drought hit Horn of Africa who has experienced the gradual but consistent shift in weather pattern.

Society, at large, still lags behind in terms of awareness of the implications of these environmental changes. It is only when the magnitude of impact reaches disproportionate levels that they get heightened media attention. Even those communities that have witnessed or are aware of the severity of such disturbing climatic shifts do not have the wherewithal to take action, leaving the realm of decision making to a handful of politicians to negotiate their fate.

The climate negotiation process is tempered more by obvious political and business considerations, than by a clear vision to take bold action in the context of a sustainable future. Currently, the negotiations are underway and the next big summit would take place soon at Durban in December this year. The progress is very slow and needs to gain momentum so as to enact appropriate policy and take action in time. However, this seems to be a far fetched idea.

The discord between the developing nations and developed nations over the fate of Kyoto Protocol seems to emerge more strongly as the first commitment period approaches to an end in 2012. With US still a non-signatory to the Kyoto Protocol and Japan, Russia and Canada hardening their stance against further extension, the Durban climate talks hold little promise to maintain equity. US, the largest historical polluter, wants emerging economies like India and China also to be brought under the ambit of mandatory emission cuts without funding commitments. The developing nations argue that they cannot be equated at par with countries like the US that has polluted the environment more than any nation, on its way to development.

Another issue that would hamper negotiations is the 'funding' that was pledged by the developed world at Cancun summit last year. With national treasures under pressure in the US and most of EU, it is hard to find how the $100 billion fund to help vulnerable countries to adopt low carbon technology would be mobilized. 

This top-down approach needs to be complimented by a bottom-up approach, in terms of increased public awareness. It is time that general public begins to factor in climate change as an important agenda in electing their political representatives. Political parties need to clarify their stand on climate issues that would in turn pave the way for other national policies pertaining to industry and other, developmental activities. Media and rights activists have a major role in disseminating accurate information and mobilizing pressure on  governments.

Steps taken by the Australian government to introduce carbon tax are bold initiatives and are very much needed to hasten action to reduce emissions. The introduction of aviation tax by the EU is another bold step that would help in internalizing the costs of polluting the environment. It would be premature to comment on the success or effectiveness of these policies, but what is important is that such initiatives are needed to stir people to act quickly.

The author is Vice President (Sustainable Strategy) at ThinktoSustain and can be reached at rajan@thinktosustain.com.

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