Month 12, Day 18: Homeopathic Solutions for Climate Change?

Sunita Narain, the Director of India’s Centre for Science and Environment, is less than thrilled about the Cancun accord.

The first agenda before Cancun was to decide on how much the industrialized countries – primarily responsible for this global problem – would cut. The target discussed at the Bali conference in 2007 was a reduction of 40% over 1990 levels by 2020. So, tough decisions were needed at Cancun.

The Cancun deal has been struck by letting these countries off the hook. There are no targets. Instead, it has been agreed that now these countries will take action based on what they “pledge” to do. Take the US. If the target was being set (as was decided in Bali) on the basis of its contribution to the stock of gases already in the atmosphere, then it would have to reduce 40% below 1990 levels by 2020. Now, US has “pledged” that it will reduce zero percentage points in the same period. Cancun legitimizes its right to pollute. It is no wonder that it worked hard to stitch the deal. It is no wonder that western media and leaders are ecstatic about the breakthrough. It is their victory.

What Cancun has done is to shift the burden of the transition to the developing countries. If the combined pledges of the developed world are compared to those of the developing (including India’s commitment to reduce energy intensity by 20% by 2020) then the sell-out character of the deal becomes clear. The industrialized countries, who till now were being asked to take on the burden, will end up cutting less emissions than the developing world. They cut roughly 0.8-1.8 billion tonnes, against developing country pledges of 2.8 billion tonnes.

She has a point.

As an American citizen, I heartily concur with Sunita Narain’s assessment of the Cancun agreement. The inability of the world’s biggest polluters to take responsibility for the disaster they have fostered is a moral outrage, an ecological nightmare, and an economic travesty. What does it say about our system of values that wealth is so strongly correlated with pollution and environmental destruction? Of course, there are reasons for optimism in the fact that an agreement of any sort was reached at all; the current accord is assuredly better than the contentious travesty that was last year’s Copenhagen summit. But it’s hard not to feel that we’ve slapped a tiny bandage on a huge wound; when humanity confronts a threat that may well destroy the lives of billions, we need robust, concerted and immediate action to end our dependence on fossil fuels if our species and our civilization are to survive.

Warren Senders

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