India at Copenhagen


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THE curtain came down on the 15th Conference of Parties (CoP-15) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen on 19 December 2009, almost a full day beyond its scheduled closure. The conference had been preceded and accompanied by worldwide hype and exaggerated expectations, fuelled by governments and civil society groups alike. These expectations were further heightened by the presence of over 100 heads of state or government and the active participation of at least 20 of them in extended sessions, negotiating a draft outcome document, grandly christened as the Copenhagen Accord. The results proved to be meagre and remained contested to the bitter end. The leaders of the major countries, in particular, those from Europe, Japan, Australia and Canada and the U.S., had gambled on their presence catalyzing a significant outcome which could win them political credit at home. Instead, the heavily diluted political document triggered an unseemly blame game, as leader after leader scurried to cover his or her flanks before returning to their respective capitals with little to show for their extended labours at Copenhagen.

To understand why Copenhagen produced such modest results despite high-powered engagement at the summit level, it is necessary to consider the train of events leading up to the conference.

The saga began in Bali in December 2007, at the 13th Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC. That conference took place against the backdrop of the 4th Assessment Report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) whose Chairman was R.K. Pachauri. This report concluded that there was unequivocal evidence that global climate change was taking place as a result of anthropogenic (or man-made) accumulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the earth’s atmosphere. It further suggested that there was a 50% chance that if global warming went beyond the 2°c threshold, there could be irreversible and potentially catastrophic consequences for the planet’s life-sustaining ecosystems; and that the developed countries had to cut their emissions by at least 25-40% by 2020, with 1990 as the base year, in order to limit the rise of temperature to less than 2°c. Therefore, the Bali Conference decided, by consensus, that there was urgent need to enhance the implementation of the only existing climate change treaty which the world possesses, that is the UNFCCC.


The Bali Action Plan reaffirmed the principles and provisions of the UNFCCC, in particular the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.’ It gave a mandate to the UNFCCC parties to negotiate, in a two-year time frame, the ‘enhanced implementation’ of the convention. For this purpose the action plan identified four specific but interrelated climate change actions, viz. mitigation (the limitation and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions), adaptation (to build capacity to cope with the consequences of climate change), finance (to raise and deploy the resources required for mitigation and adaptation action by developing countries) and technology (to transfer and disseminate climate friendly technologies including capacity building) among developing countries. Enhanced implementation on these four pillars of the Bali Action Plan were to be incorporated into a long-term vision for cooperative action. An Ad Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) was set up for negotiations on the Bali track.


In addition to multilateral negotiations on the Bali Action Plan, it was agreed that the ongoing negotiations in the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) would also continue in parallel. These negotiations had begun a year earlier in 2006, to enable developed country partners to the protocol to inscribe their quantitative GHG emission reduction targets, both in the aggregate as well as individually for the second commitment period commencing 2013. The first commitment period covers the years 2009-2012, under which developed countries had committed to reduce their aggregate emissions by about 6% compared to 1990. This overall target was then divided among the different parties as individual commitments. To address the absence of the U.S. from the Kyoto Protocol, it was decided in Bali that non-parties to the protocol would take on commitments ‘comparable’ to those assumed by developed country parties to the protocol. This, too, would have to be negotiated as part of the Bali Action Plan.

The two year negotiating process on the Bali track was to conclude at the CoP-15 in Copenhagen (7-18 December 2009) with the adoption of an ‘Agreed Outcome’. The legal nature of the outcome, i.e. whether it would be a decision of the CoP, a new protocol to the UNFCCC, or a legally binding document, was left to be decided during the course of the negotiations itself. The Kyoto Protocol track was to follow its own processes but its outcome was to have coincided with the CoP-15.

Against this background, what did Copenhagen actually achieve? Negotiations in the AWG-LCA and AWG-KP continued at CoP-15, right up to 15 December 2009, on the eve of the High Level Segment commencing on 16 December. The chairs of the two groups submitted their respective reports, recording the status of the negotiations and including documents which registered both areas of convergence and difference.

In the normal course, the conference would have taken note of the reports of the two chairs and decided upon the continuation of negotiations on the two tracks in the post-Copenhagen period, with a view to reaching an agreed outcome at the 16th Conference of Parties, scheduled for Mexico City at the end of 2010. This would have been the procedurally correct, though admittedly tame, result of the conference, since consensus continued to elude the negotiators on key outstanding issues. However, given the fact that over a hundred heads of state or government had gathered in Copenhagen, it was inevitable that there would be pressure for some declaration or communiqué in their name. This then became the rationale for a political document from the conference. This was the genesis of the Copenhagen Accord.


Thus, there were three distinct results to emerge from the Copenhagen Conference. One, there was a consensus decision to continue multilateral negotiations under the UNFCCC on the elaboration of the Bali Action Plan, in a new ad hoc working group to be set up. Its mandate would be the same as before and it would have on its agenda, the various documents, with agreed as well as bracketed formulations, which had emerged from the negotiations in the previous working group.

Two, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Kyoto Protocol would continue its work on the same mandate as before, including on the inscription of emission reduction targets by developed country parties to the protocol, for the second commitment period commencing in 2013.

Three, there was a Copenhagen Accord issued on behalf of the heads of state/government, as a political document which was ‘taken note of’ by the conference. It could not be adopted as a decision of the conference because four or five countries refused to endorse it at the plenary. These included Bolivia, Cuba, Sudan and Venezuela. Therefore, it does not constitute a conference decision and has no legal status within the UNFCCC process. Nevertheless, it represents a broad international consensus and therefore has some political value.


What is the Copenhagen Accord? The Copenhagen Accord is in the nature of a political statement and incorporates the following noteworthy elements:

(i) It reaffirms the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, which is central to the UNFCCC.

(ii) It recognizes the scientific view that increases in global temperature must not exceed 2°c, but links action to ensure this to equity and sustainable development.

(iii) It incorporates the concept of peaking of global and national emissions, but this is predicated on two conditions critical to the interests of developing countries: (a) that the time-frame for peaking will be longer for developing countries; and (b) that the first and overriding priority for developing countries would be their social and economic development and the eradication of poverty.

(iv) It gives priority to support for adaptation to climate change among developing countries, particularly least developed countries and small island developing states.

(v) It reaffirms the commitment of developed countries, parties to the UNFCCC, to implement economy-wide, quantitative emission reduction targets.

(vi) It recognizes the difference between mitigation actions taken by developing countries, supported by international finance and technology and those which are based on their domestic resources. The former will be subject to international measurement, reporting and verification (MRV). The latter would be subject to international reporting through national communications to the UNFCCC but may be subject to consultation and analysis in accordance with guidelines to be negotiated and agreed upon among all parties.

(vii) For the purpose of the accord and to allow immediate operationalization, these mitigation commitments and actions will be recorded in separate annexes attached to the accord. However, there is no implication that this format will be in substitution for what is required of developed country parties to the Kyoto Protocol. As part of the continuing negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol track, they continue to have the obligation to inscribe their emission reduction targets in the format prescribed in the protocol.

(viii) With respect to financing, there is a provision of US$ 30 billion for the period 2010-2012 and US$ 100 billion annually by 2020, to support climate change action in developing countries. However, there is no clarity as to how such funds will be raised since multiple sources have been identified including public and private, bilateral as well as multilateral. This represents a significant departure from the provisions of the UNFCCC, where financial transfers from developed to developing countries are in the nature of public resources and different from overseas development assistance.

(ix) There is only a general reference to the need for development and transfer of technology through a technology mission, details of which still need to be worked out.

As will be apparent from even a cursory look at these elements, the Copenhagen Accord is more a statement of intent rather than a charter of action. It fails to address, in a comprehensive manner, the agenda set forth by the Bali Action Plan. Its focus is mitigation, but it falls woefully short on adaptation, finance and technology. Therefore, it can only serve as a point of reference in the post-Copenhagen process, not as a template.


From India’s point of view, how does one assess the Copenhagen Conference? For us, most importantly, the conference decided, by consensus, to continue multilateral negotiations on both the Bali track as well as the Kyoto Protocol track with no change in their mandates. This means that the UNFCCC continues to be the basis for negotiations and the mandates are derived from the Bali Action Plan and the Kyoto Protocol respectively. Therefore, we can take satisfaction from the fact that we have successfully forestalled the relentless effort on the part of certain developed countries to renegotiate the UNFCCC and to abandon the Kyoto Protocol. Now it will be up to us, together with other like-minded countries, to ensure that we are able to hold the line during the post-Copenhagen process.

Despite enormous pressure generated by developed countries, particularly the U.S., we managed to uphold the clear distinction between the responsibilities of the developed countries, on the one hand and developing countries, on the other. We were able to obtain a categorical reaffirmation of the important principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.’ There is also an unambiguous endorsement of the right to development of developing countries, including the recognition that our developmental goals and poverty eradication are ‘first and overriding priorities.’ This is important. Our prime minister has repeatedly stated that climate change action cannot be sustained through the perpetuation of poverty.

The results on the financial side are disappointing and on technology transfer, sketchy. These are the two areas where we will need to focus our attention in subsequent negotiations.


On the mitigation side, we will need to clarify our own thinking on what precisely the concept of MRV will mean in actual practice. The exact procedures will be the subject of further negotiations. Similarly, we will need to be careful that the ‘agreed guidelines’ for consultation and analysis of our voluntary and unsupported mitigation actions do not become unduly intrusive or onerous. This will require close consultation and coordination with other developing countries, in particular China, Brazil and South Africa, when we get down to negotiating the details.

But the significance of Copenhagen goes beyond the issue of climate change. This was the first recent international conference where heads of state or government of over 100 countries gathered in one place. This reflected the importance attached to the issues under negotiation. While climate change may have been the theme, the issues involved went much beyond it. There were the inextricably related challenges of energy access and security, of trade and economic competitiveness and of sharing the costs of transitioning from a global economy based on fossil fuels to one based on renewables and clean sources of energy such as nuclear energy.

A large number of leaders were at Copenhagen precisely because critical economic interests were at stake. These were, in substance, economic negotiations and only incidentally about climate change. Copenhagen has forced a degree of honesty on the process. There can no longer be the pretence, through lofty-sounding rhetoric, that we are seeking a collaborative response to a compelling global challenge. It must now be acknowledged that, in reality, the competitive defence of economic interests has to be reconciled with the requirements of tackling global climate change.


Copenhagen was also the stage where new and emerging geopolitical realities were on display. The BASIC countries – Brazil, South Africa, India and China – met for the first time together at the summit level and their impact on the proceedings was visible throughout the day on 18 December. The leaders agreed to keep in close touch and act in accordance with a coordinated strategy. They were able to withstand mounting pressure from the leaders of the developed world to concede on several key issues. If they showed flexibility in certain areas, this too was done through prior agreement. It is no accident that closure on the few remaining formulations in the Copenhagen Accord was accomplished in a late evening meeting between President Obama and the BASIC leaders. This was an acknowledgement of the influence that the group exercised, not only in their own behalf, but also as countries that helped shape positions of the larger group of G77 plus China.

Copenhagen also marked a turning point in India’s relations with China, though it remains to be seen how enduring this proves to be. The early morning meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on 18 December, was undoubtedly a significant event. It was unusually friendly and cordial with China acknowledging that without India at its side, it would be difficult to fend off mounting pressures from the developed countries at the negotiations. It was India and China that agreed at the meeting to initiate the BASIC Summit later that morning. It was India and China which were able to ensure that the red lines for developing countries did not get erased. What is important to note is that the India-China Summit at Copenhagen provided an opportunity to halt the recent slide towards mutual distrust and resentment and pick up the more positive strands in our relations.


The Chinese Premier went out of his way to assure our PM of China’s friendly intentions and said that China had no intention of interfering in India-Pakistan relations or in South Asia in general. Our PM responded by recalling Sino-Indian strategic and cooperative partnership established in April 2005. He emphasized the need for the two countries to maintain peace and tranquillity on our borders. The strategic significance of India-China relations was fully apparent at Copenhagen and it is hoped that this will also impact favourably on how the two countries handle the more contentious issues in our relations.

As we head towards Mexico City for the 16th Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC, it is these geopolitical realities that will no doubt influence the outcome of our continuing negotiations.