A notable positive outcome of the Durban Climate Change Conference is the fixing of a second commitment period for rich countries to cut carbon emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, beyond the first that expires next year. The emerging economies led by India and China fought commendably to press the equity principle that underpins burden sharing when it comes to mitigation of emissions. They also finally contributed to a medium-term deal. It must be emphasised that equity is the cornerstone of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It acknowledges that developing countries did not significantly contribute to the carbon stock that is driving climate change and must therefore not be penalised. Article 3.1 of the UNFCCC clearly distinguishes common but differentiated responsibilities in specifying the obligations of the developed and developing worlds. This principle should continue to guide the allocation of carbon space to developing countries under any new treaty. Union Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan rightly argued at the Durban conference that the 20-year old principle could not be cast aside and the burden of climate change mitigation shifted to the poor. In the event, the emerging nations have accepted a trade-off that commits them to a future agreement with legal force under which they must all reduce their carbon flows. That is now the challenge before India and other emerging economies – to prepare for measurable emissions cuts under a new treaty to take effect by 2020.
The Durban conference also witnessed agreement on the structure of the Green Climate Fund, a vehicle of assistance for the developing world to adopt environment-friendly technologies and adapt to climate change. Industrialised nations must now match rhetoric with solid action to raise the $ 100 billion that will be needed yearly for the fund from 2020. Similarly, protection of forests and incentives for clean development must get active support. At the level of individual countries, what is crucially important is the manner in which carbon space is used while pursuing development. It would defeat the goal of equity, if national emissions keep rising mainly due to profligate consumption of fossil fuels by a privileged minority. India’s position on emissions was for some time rooted in the “contract and converge” principle, by which per capita greenhouse gases would gradually rise, to converge with reducing carbon flow from the developed bloc. But the concern today is equally about cumulative emissions and their effect on climate. The national carbon space must therefore be used wisely through green development pathways. For a start, the Centre must present a white paper on the progress achieved thus far with the National Action Plan on Climate Change.