CLIMATE CHANGE: Asians Find their Collective Voice

Posted on 16 December 2009 by editor

By Athar Parvaiz

COPENHAGEN  (IPS/TerraViva) – If some Asian states appeared to be disunited in the lead-up to the climate change talks currently underway in Copenhagen, now they are rising in unison to get the developed world to accede to their demands.

Asian countries had shown least cooperation in the past, but climate change seems to have united them,” said Rajesh Mehta, a climate campaigner from India, who works with Action Aid International, a global anti-poverty organisation.

Developing countries want a firm commitment from rich nations to undertake a strong greenhouse gas emission (GHG) target and assist them in addressing the impacts of this global phenomenon. Still another contentious issue that has emerged in the final round of climate talks in the Danish capital and which appeared to have deepened the discord between the two groups of countries is when poor nations should start cutting emissions.

“The developed countries are reluctant to recognise the right of developing countries to emission space,” charged Chinese ambassador and negotiator Qingtai Yu during a panel discussion organised late last week by the independent media group Climate Change Media Partnership, where delegates from industrialised and poor countries were invited.

The discussion focused on the vastly contrasting positions of the rich and poor countries on the issue of climate change agreement. For instance, representatives of major emerging economies in Asia, China and India, asserted that they should get a chance at economic development, expressing their disfavor of binding emission cuts. The industrialised nations have insisted that major developing countries must also assume emission obligations.

“What they say to us is this: What is mine is mine; what I have taken from you, I have got a right to keep it. But you have no such right,” said Qingtai, addressing representatives from rich nations during the forum. “Our emission space is occupied and we want it back.”

Indian negotiator Chandershakher Dasgupta could not agree more, saying developing countries were demanding “climate justice” to allow their economies to grow. He added that despite the Convention on Climate Change having been ratified by close to 200 countries, it had been ineffective.

“The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCC) required the Annex 1 (or industrialised) countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by (an average of) 5.2 percent from the 1990 level, but we could see nothing of that sort happening even as the Convention is in place for over a decade (now),” he said.

“We the people of different Asian countries are suffering almost similarly, so how can we afford to have differences,” Nepalese negotiator Purushottam Ghimire told IPS. He added South Asians were all united on the issue of climate

He could not have been talking about the evident lack of cooperation among South Asian states when a regional climate conference for South Asia was held just three months ago in Kathmandu in Nepal. The low turnout of official delegates dismayed those who came. “Out of the eight participating countries from the region, only three sent their environment ministers while the rest sent only their representatives such as their secretaries deputy secretaries and undersecretaries,” said a South Asian official, who declined to be named, in an earlier interview with IPS.

The event, dubbed, ‘From Kathmandu to Copenhagen: A Vision for Addressing Climate Change Risks and Opportunities in the Himalaya Region’, sought to hammer out a regional position on the impacts of climate change and how these be addressed.

At Copenhagen delegations from smaller and poorer Asian states also appear to be forging a consensus that India and China should take the lead in ensuring that the developing world gets a fair and equitable commitment from the developed states.

More then 100 world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, are expected to assemble at Copenhagen late this week for the climate summit.

“India is a major country in the region. Therefore, it has a responsibility to its neighbours as well,” said Manzoor-ul-Hanan Khan, a delegate from Bangladesh, in an interview with IPS.

India and China refuse to be bound by a legally binding GHG reduction targets. Such a stance has put them on collision course with industrialised countries and even smaller developing countries across Asia, which are eager to see a legally binding treaty come out of Copenhagen.

“You are talking about the right to pollute the atmosphere,” said Karl Falkenberg, a delegate from the European Commission, who participated in the forum. “The bottom line is that I don’t know (if there’s) any right to pollute either for developed or developing countries. We need to make sure that cleaner technology is used for development.”

But Bangladeshi chief negotiator, Qaumurl Islam Chowdhary, said the apparent disagreement between India and China on one side and other developing nations on the other did not mean there was a division within the Asian ranks.

“The G77/China block of developing countries is quite united and rock- solid,” he said, adding that the “differences were not even at the regional levels.” Chowdhary added the developing countries would not be able to cope with climate change without a legally binding instrument that would allow their collective concerns to be addressed properly. We, especially the least developed countries, can’t build the coping capacity unless there is a robust agreement.”

He cited the need to amend the Long-Term Cooperating Action, which spells out the level of emission cuts that the developed world is expected to meet, and produce a new agreement “that fixes the responsibilities of the polluters,” he said.

Notwithstanding the raging debates among nations big and small at Copenhagen, he said he was still hoping that a “consensus would be reached”.

Indian negotiator Chandershakher Dasgupta shared Chowdhary’s cautious optimism. “Progress has been rather disappointing in the first week, but we are hopeful that good sense will prevail for reaching an agreement.”

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