India, China may take centre-stage at Copenhagen climate talks

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New Delhi, Dec.17 (ANI): With global warming talks entering the final stretch on Thursday and Friday, all attention will shift to the two-day Heads of States meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark. The key personalities in focus would be US President Barack Obama, Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, the latter two in particular.

News coming out of Copenhagen suggests that chances of an agreement or a landmark deal between developed countries and developing countries on countering climate change are remote.

As Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said two days ago, the climate change process is entering "a very distinct and important moment" with top ministers and officials of 192 countries still searching for a way out of the impasse to ensure carbon emission/greenhouse gas control commitments over a period of time.

"There is still an enormous amount of ground to be covered if this conference is to deliver what people around the world expect it to deliver," de Boer told reporters then.

Negotiations that have taken place over the past ten days in the Danish capital can be described at best as being in the non-starter category, with neither developed nor developing countries willing to give an inch on stated positions.

India's Minister of State for Environment, Jairam Ramesh, is on record as saying that developed nations are being unreasonable and "that there is a degree of disappointment" in the developing nations camp, and what everybody can hope for at best is a "mandate for renewed negotiations."

He also said he expects only a "procedural outcome" from the eleven-day-long Conference of Parties-15 (COP15) meeting.

A joint statement released by the BASIC bloc (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) on Tuesday evening called on developed countries to commit to legally binding quantifiable targets and not to ignore or sideline the Kyoto Protocol.

Ministers of the four countries constituting the BASIC bloc have slammed developed countries for offering "less than ambitious targets" in technology transfer and finance as well as deliberately slowing down the process.

"We want the two track approach to yield results. We want an equitable and fair agreement. If the Copenhagen talks fail, then BASIC will not be to blame. We would have done our best to ensure a positive outcome," said Ramesh.

Prime Minister Singh's hop-in-hop-out visit to Copenhagen will attract attention. As of now, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has said that there is no meeting scheduled between Dr. Singh and Premier Wen Jiabao, though sources say India, China and the G-77 countries will be actively collaborating with each other to evolve a strategy to withstand the pressure brought on by the United States and other industrialized nations on the issue of international verification of greenhouse gas emissions cuts.

Dr. Singh and Premier Wen could also use the plenary session of the Heads of States forum to reiterate and emphasize a key demand of developing nations that rich nations will have to walk half-way on all issues relating to climate change and also provide the financing to the less deprived countries to meet ambitious climate targets commensurate with their historic responsibility for global warming.

As Connie Hedegaard, the Danish chairman of the COP15 conference, said: "The monitoring and verifying of future emissions cuts is one of the very difficult issues because major players have serious red lines" on it.

"One is waiting for the other [to move]. We must solve that problem," Hedgaard said, adding that too much time was being spent on repeating existing positions.

The United States has suggested that major developing countries like India and China need to put their domestic voluntary action under some sort of international scrutiny to ensure transparency.

India has rejected this, reiterating that it has already announced a willingness "to report on both its emissions reductions and future plans as part of an existing "national communication" countries will submit to the UNFCCC.

The Prime Ministers of China and India have been touch via telephone, keeping each other abreast of developments taking place in Copenhagen, and their possible meeting in the Danish capital could assume significance owing to the close interaction they have had in the run-up to the Heads of States meeting. Officials of both countries have reportedly been working on a joint strategy, the conclusions of which should see the light of day on Friday.

Two drafts prepared by the Ad-hoc Working Groups (AWG) on Kyoto Protocol (KP) and on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) are still being discussed, but in Hedgaard's and Ramesh's view, any conclusions reached will have a "multitude of blanks and brackets."

The first draft (AWG-KP) deals with the second commitment period for developed countries to extend their emission reduction targets from 2013, while the second draft (AWG-LCA) deals with long-term future action (at least up to the year 2050).

India has expressed its unhappiness with six of the 46 paragraphs of the AWG-LCA draft. Three of the six contentious paragraphs in New Delhi's view are non-negotiable - they being legally binding emission cuts for all, a global peaking year for emissions and the concept of an international review of voluntary domestic mitigation actions. As of now, the non-negotiable paragraphs have been erased, but the Indian negotiating team is clear that the Heads of States will not have the responsibility of negotiating drafts or texts.

India has set itself a Thursday morning (Copenhagen time) deadline for negotiation of both drafts, and added that once Prime Minister Singh arrives, all blanks and brackets will remain and be adopted as final. It has also said the final two drafts will be and should be converted into legal documents by the end of 2010.

India expects the Heads of States only to make a declaration supporting the two drafts.

The Danish declaration has been rejected as being too one sided, while the version being circulated by the BASIC bloc is reportedly being merged with a declaration circulated by African countries (ABASIC). Which one of them will find acceptance is anyone's guess?

As of now, the rancour is visible, but it is imperative for the world to take that important step to limit temperature rises to 1.5 or two degrees centigrade in the next five to ten years.

The UNFCCC and the Bali Action Plan, for all practical purposes, will continue to be the guiding force. Developing countries are unlikely to accept an imposed biased operationally binding political agreement by developed nations that could be converted into a legally binding document at an unspecified future date.

The former, it is expected, will continue to insist on "coordinated, not unilateral action" to ensure "global common good".

While the UPA Government-sponsored National Action Plan on Climate Change is ambitious, an editorial in one Indian daily says New Delhi would have to do much more, change track and internally "reorient itself towards a green path of economic growth." By Ashok Dixit (ANI)

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