The United Nations, since the collapse of Soviet Russia (USSR) and the end of cold war was more or less functioning as an arm of United States of America. During the last 20 years this situation prevailed at the UN climate Change negotiations as well. Climate Change threatens all living species on earth. The climate negotiations started way back in 1990 and climate talks continued for a 20 year period across 17 climate summits without any significant progress. The United States of America was at the center of the climate negotiations as it was the main culprit contributing to climate change. Although the US is home to only 4 percent of the world’s population, the United States has been responsible for 29 percent of carbon emissions over the past 150 years. This is three times as much as China’s contribution. On average, each person in the US emitted 720 tons of CO2 per year from 1960 to 2005. That is almost 14 times India’s per capita emissions, 55 times Sri Lanka's per capita emissions and ninety times the per capita emissions of the people of Kenya during the same period. Even today the emission of an average American is about 27 times that of a Sri Lanka. Despite having only a 4 percent of global population America was the world's largest carbon emitter till 2006 and is still the second highest CO2 emitter in the world next to China which has 20 percent of the world population.
The principle agreed at the very beginning of the climate change negotiations is "common but differentiated responsibility". This means that all countries need to act to mitigate climate change but certain countries have a greater responsibility. Why is this? When the carbon in fossil fuels is released to the atmosphere while burning, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere increases. When carbon concentration increases the global temperature increases. If the global temperature increase is to be limited to 2 degrees centigrade against pre-industrial levels then the total amount that can be emitted needs to be limited. This limit is called 'the carbon budget'. As there is a limitation the issue of equity emerges. If it is a limited volume that can be emitted then all should have a fair share of it.
The developed countries had been burning fossil fuels and releasing carbon for a longer period than the developing countries and even at present the per capita emission level of developed countries is very high. Hence the developing countries should be allowed to occupy a larger share of the remaining carbon space over developed countries. That is why the developed countries have a greater responsibility to mitigate. Being the largest emitter, the US is the country that should lead the mitigation process from the front. Unfortunately it is not country that has a track record for fairness and justice and is the biggest climate terrorist in the world.
The United Nations has tried to curb this specific nation for the last 20 years. In 1997 the UN managed to tame America and convince them that they should take aggressive measures to reduce their carbon emissions by 17 percent during the period 2008-2012 against their 1997 level. However the expectations were short lived as Gorge W. Bush withdrew from Kyoto Protocol even before the start of the commitment period. Instead of reducing their emissions level by 17 percent as agreed at Kyoto, the US continued to increase its level by a further 5 percent by 2007. On the other hand, the 4th Assessment report of the IPCC published in 2007 highlighted that the US should reduce its carbon emissions by 30-50 percent by 2020 against its 2007 level if humankind is to limit global warming to 2 degrees centigrade and thereby have fighting chance for survival.
It is clear that the US is robbing the carbon space of developing countries in direct violation of UN climate change decisions. Fortunately due to the financial crisis that occurred in the US it could not further increase its emissions level since 2007. Now the US is using its veto power to avoid taking decisions at climate change conferences. This veto power is vested in them not due to being a member of Security Council of the UN but due to being the largest polluter in the world.
The developing world during this period continued their efforts and tried to negotiate with US at the UN conferences to protect their environmental space without much success. UN had a last try to get the commitment of US to agree to emission reduction target at the recently concluded Durban climate conference. The United States blocked these moves and undermined progressive countries from taking action. The US played the "quiet man" role at the Durban summit and refused to commit to set dates for legally binding emissions reduction targets.
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Towards a UN without US
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An extraordinary move was needed to prevent a climate catastrophe. At Durban, the European Union together with the Alliance of Small Island States (Aosis), the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and some other developing countries who are vulnerable to climate change tried their best to get a result at Durban. The emerging economies of Brazil and the host South Africa supported the move.
Canada which should have reduced its emissions by 6 percent against its 1990 level has by 2009 increased its emissions by 20 percent and acted contrary to what was agreed at Kyoto. Canada had no other option but to speak against a Kyoto second commitment period and to take most of the heat at the Durban conference on behalf of US as the US was barely visible, at the negotiating table. Without the active participation of America the climate talks reached its official deadline without any conclusion. It was clear then that UN climate talks cannot proceed any further with US.
It was the time to think of a UN without US. The developing world led by China and India took the bold decision of addressing the issue of climate change without the world's biggest polluter - the US at the expense of climate justice. Finally, thirty-six hours after the climate change conference official closing time, the developing countries together with the EU agreed to ignore US and to proceed towards climate compatible development.
At the end a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol was agreed upon even though the major polluters US, Japan, Canada and Russia were not participating. Further all developing countries led by China and India agreed to work towards a legally binding targets though they will miss the opportunity to have fair share of carbon emissions forever.
The European Union will place its current emission-cutting pledges inside the legally-binding Kyoto Protocol, a key demand of developing countries. Talks on a new legal deal covering all countries will begin next year and end by 2015, coming into effect by 2020. Management of a fund for climate aid to poor countries has also been agreed, though how to raise the money has not.
Is this a win for America? At a glance it is so; however in the long run it is defeat for US as it got geopolitically isolated on climate in Durban. Isolating the US does not mean giving them power but significantly suggests that the rest of the world can move without them. The US was demolishing the climate talks and continuing the blame game by pointing fingers at China and India. For America it’s an immense failure of leadership and loss of prestige as a leader in global attempts to deal with catastrophic global warming. President Barak Obama proved once again that for America "Change- No they can't": It is now clear that there is no future for America without a change.
Compromise made by the developing countries is not a weakness but it is going to be their strength. The developing world has realized that their development path is no more laid along emitting more and more carbon by burning fossil fuels. In the future the developing world will establish not the fossil fuel infrastructure but climate compatible infrastructure. The developing world will no more follow the footsteps of the developed world but bypass the fossil fuel route and will be pioneering the technologies of the new era. China has already started that and others will soon follow. Step by step it will become a battle between the US and the rest of the world where the weaker opponent will undoubtedly be the US. Imposing sanctions on the US compelling it to mitigate climate change may be a reality in the years to come. Durban is not the end but a beginning of a new era of climate talks.