By Joydeep Gupta, IANS,
Durban : China is ready to offer legally binding commitments to limit its emission of greenhouse gases (GHG). If the offer, to come into effect after 2020, is made and accepted, it may rescue stalled global climate negotiations but will also put immense pressure on India to make a similar offer.
Indian delegates at the climate summit that started here Monday are mulling whether to support the Chinese move. There is no agreement among them yet.
Senior members of the Chinese government delegation, gathered in this South African port city for the Nov 28-Dec 9 summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), confirmed that China was ready to offer that the voluntary pledge it made in 2009 be made legally binding under the UN auspices.
The pledge was to reduce the emission intensity of its economy by 40-45 percent by 2020, compared to 2005. The same year, India pledged a voluntary 20-25 percent reduction in its emission intensity - which is the amount of GHG emissions produced per unit of GDP.
Now India may come under global pressure to make that voluntary pledge legally binding from 2020.
Some Indian delegates think they should agree, or at least publicly support the Chinese offer, and thus revive the climate change talks. Others feel there is no point in making more concessions, because rich nations will refuse to do anything, whatever the emerging economies do.
One delegate told IANS, Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan may take the matter to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).
GHG emissions, mainly carbon dioxide produced by burning coal and oil, are raising global temperatures, and this is already affecting farm output, making droughts, floods and storms more severe and more frequent.
India is among the countries worst affected. These emissions rose by a record six percent in 2010 from 2009 as the world pumped an extra 564 million tonnes of carbon into the air, according to a calculation by the US Department of Energy.
Most of the extra carbon in the atmosphere has been put there by rich countries since the start of the Industrial Age. Under the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding compact on the subject, rich nations are supposed to reduce their GHG emissions by a little over five percent between 2008 and 2012, compared to 1990 levels.
Now many rich nations - including the US, which never signed the Protocol - are insisting that emerging economies like China and India take on legally binding commitments to limit their emissions, before they will sign on to anything for the post-2012 period.
Rich nations point out that China is the largest GHG emitter today, and India is fourth - with the US and Russia in between. So, they say, their signing on to anything will have little impact on combating climate change unless emerging economies "come on board", as US President Barak Obama put it.
Emerging economies point out that they are responsible for almost none of the total extra carbon in the air, that their per capita emissions are far lower than of rich nations, and that they must develop - almost half of India still does not have electricity. So they will not agree to reduce their emissions. The Lok Sabha has endorsed this position, though it has supported a reduction in emissions intensity.
Apart from the rich nations, the poorest countries and especially the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) - those most at risk as climate change raises sea levels - have been asking China and India to make some concession so that climate talks can go forward and they can get some money from rich countries to help adapt to climate change effects.
Now that China has sounded out India, the European Union (EU), AOSIS and the Africa Group of nations about this offer, delegates from these countries as well as EU say they see a ray of hope. So do delegates from Brazil and this year's summit hosts South Africa - the other members of the BASIC group with China and India.
As the offer was being discussed shortly after the summit opened, many delegates - who spoke on the condition of anonymity - told IANS that it may not be made in the initial days, but towards the end of the summit, if no other breakthrough was seen.
(Joydeep Gupta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)