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Tackling Climate Change Is Unlikely

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Tackling climate change is unlikely while nations argue over responsibility

Siddharth Srivastava – SCMP – Updated on Jul 05, 2008

Tackling climate change is a concern that has divided developed and developing countries for some time. These differences will be at the fore during the G8 summit next week, with the US, European Union and Japan pushing for inclusive emission norms that should bring within its ambit the big emerging economies of Brazil, China and India.

Attempts are being made to classify these countries as “advanced developing countries”, to force them to adopt differential emission targets or face non-tariff trade barriers. Developing countries subscribe to “polluter pays” and “collective but differentiated” responsibility in checking greenhouse gas emissions. This means that developed nations bear the burden (financial and technological) of addressing environmental damage, while the rest can adapt accordingly.

The Kyoto Protocol currently exempts developing countries from reduction commitments that should continue after 2012, when the new regime has to be in place. It has been widely reported that Washington is blocking efforts of the Group of Eight industrialised nations to agree to targets for cutting carbon emissions, insisting that the onus be shared by the emerging economies. In an interview recently, US President George W. Bush said that any “binding emission targets [to tackle climate change] will have to include India and China to be workable”.

In a sign that US pressure might be telling on Japan, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda was quoted as saying that the G8 was not the appropriate forum for agreeing on mid-term goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which needed to be further qualified. For its part, the US has made it apparent that it will not be a signatory to any agreements if the two emerging Asian giants, China and India, are not on board.

Earlier, leaders of Japan and the EU underlined “highly ambitious and binding” global targets to fight climate change. Whatever the prior commitments, leaders said the G8 summit must offer concrete proposals on greenhouse gas emissions.

The Japanese plan, supported by the US, calls on nations to implement sector-specific carbon dioxide reduction targets via conservation methods in polluting industries. India fears the developed countries will use “sectoral norms” to impose protectionist tariffs on exports from developing countries. China has also opposed Japan’s proposal.

In a recent report, investment bank CIBC World Markets said that nations such as Canada and the US may impose a “carbon tariff” on goods from China, India and other developing countries, which have become the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

The Indian Institute of Foreign Trade recently submitted a report to the federal Commerce Ministry saying India should be prepared to deal with a possible carbon tax and other “arm-twisting tactics” such as nuclear energy concessions and a greater role in the UN being linked to the acceptance of environment “norms”. Indian goods exported to the EU may also face non-tariff barriers if the grouping imposes a carbon tax on goods imported from advanced developing countries, a category that India may be put into.

New Delhi’s views were recently echoed by Shyam Saran, the prime minister’s special envoy on climate change. In response to suggestions by Japan and the US, Mr Saran ruled out India adopting a “bottom-up, sectoral approach”, to control emissions. According to Mr Saran, any post-Kyoto framework should look at an “expanded commitment from developed countries to rein in carbon emissions”.

Nor is India happy about being clubbed with China on emission levels, as its contribution is far below the major emitters, the US and China. New Delhi has been quoting global carbon emission figures over the last century, in which the US leads, followed by the EU and China.

Recently, the International Monetary Fund said that any policy framework for multilateral action on climate change would be difficult without India, China, Brazil and Russia as, in the next 50 years, 70 per cent of emissions are projected to come from emerging and developing economies.

Backing India and China’s position, George Kell, executive director of the UN body, Global Compact, said, “You can’t deny emerging markets the right to the same living standards as OECD countries.”

Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and director general of the Energy Research Institute at New Delhi, recently made the case clearly: “I doubt whether any of the developing countries will make any commitments before they have seen the developed countries take a specific stand.”

Siddharth Srivastava is a New-Delhi based journalist. Copyright: OpinionAsia

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