Blowin’ in the wind

Published: January 6, 2010 - 12:35 Updated: January 6, 2010 - 12:41

Obama has read the writing on the wall. The real outcome of the Copenhagen summit is the progressive devaluation of the EU and emergence of a new global architecture
Sanjay Kapoor Delhi

The logic of these statistics is quite compelling. India and China share a population of about 2.5 billion people. If one adds the other countries under the rubric of BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), 40 per cent of the world's population live in these parts. In comparison, western powers led by the US, Canada and European Union do not even have one billion population. Most of the young (below 35) live in the BASIC countries. If we go by the utilitarian logic of the 'greatest good of the greatest number' then the interests of India, China and other emerging countries should have sway over western powers.

All these years, the numbers have seldom determined the global power architecture. That is, till the climate change summit in Copenhagen in December 2009 changed the way the world conducted business.

The interests of the emerging powers were not visible in the various draft agreements that were put together by host Denmark, or Australia. The European powers were keen that a legally binding agreement should be put in place and the carbon emission cuts should be subjected to verifiability.

The Indian government was uncomfortable with devaluation of the Kyoto Protocol, allowing any international body to verify mitigation efforts and making the agreement legally binding. Despite the fact that the Indian government had succumbed to western pressure in the G-20 summit in L'aquila in Italy early this year, to bring down the temperature by two degrees Celsius by limiting carbon emission, there was disquiet in the country about the compromises that we were being forced to make to satisfy the West.

The argument in favour of accommodating the demands of countries like the UK and France was that since we were being seated on the high table with world powers, we will have to dispense with the G-77 third world narrative and take some tough decisions. Due to these reasons, Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh was found to be speaking in two voices. No one was really clear whether his obfuscation was tactical or an expression of his own confusion about which side the government of India stands.

A meeting in Beijing called by the Chinese just before the Copenhagen summit allowed India to clear its confusion and come to the safe conclusion that on this issue, at least, India and China were on the same side. The drift of the China initiative cobbled together in Beijing was to take a joint stand on climate change and ensure that the western countries, that had shown great desperation to clinch a deal, do not succeed in their endeavour.

The full implications of this understanding showed up in Copenhagen when Prime Minister Wen Jiabao met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. According to highly placed sources, Jiabao was angry with the western powers for pushing them into an agreement that they did not want. He reportedly told Singh that he had respect for him as an upright leader and that is why he came to tell him that the West was trying to split India and China on different issues.

Singh seized this opportunity and told him that he believed that China and India have a great role to play 'together' in creating a new global financial architecture and it was important to work together. He also mentioned about the joint declaration between the US and China where a role for Beijing was envisaged for resolving the conflict in South Asia. Wen Jiabao reportedly made light of this declaration and assured Singh that China had no intention to play such a role.

The Indian delegation saw in the new Chinese attitude an attempt to re-script its ties with its neighbour. There was a suggestion from 'China hands' in the Indian delegation like Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, to allow Beijing to take the lead on this issue.

With this general understanding in place, the leaders of the BASIC countries went in a huddle in a room at the Bella Convention Centre. Drama unfolded when US President Barack Obama knocked and wanted to take part in the meeting. His contention was that he was trying to meet the leaders of these countries separately and when he got to know that they were all in the room, then he could not let this chance pass by.

Informed sources told Hardnews that the Chinese were not happy with Obama and his submission. A key climate change negotiator from China cautioned his leader from accepting any of the proposals put forward by the American leader. Obama was keen on making emission cuts legally binding. Singh reportedly told Obama that it was not his mandate and he can't sell this to his people. Obama rubbished this 'excuse' by stating that Singh had won a second term, while he was still struggling with his first.

Obama, who was desperate to attain success and head back to the US before the snowstorm hits Washington, agreed with the Chinese and Indian positions. The verifiability clause was thrown out of the window and so was the legally binding aspect. Ramesh later said: "President Obama said some European countries wanted to negotiate a new legal treaty (to fight climate change). Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made it very clear that no new legal treaty could be negotiated, since we already have the Kyoto Protocol."

The real outcome of the Copenhagen summit is the progressive devaluation of the EU and the emergence of a new global architecture. Obama has read the writing on the wall and chosen to be with the emerging Asian community, rather than with the Europeans who were desperate to seal the climate change deal in the Pittsburgh G-20 summit. Both British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicholas Sarkozy said in their closed door meeting with other heads of states that 'they should seal the deal now as nothing will happen in Copenhagen'. To their detriment, they proved to be prophetic.

This new year, this pause after Copenhagen, will give a chance to India and China, and other countries, to get a bigger perspective, look at some of the questions raised by climate change deniers, and re-work their own studies about its exact impact. In that sense, 2010 can really move from pessimism to optimism. Despite Copenhagen.


Obama has read the writing on the wall. The real outcome of the Copenhagen summit is the progressive devaluation of the EU and emergence of a new global architecture
Sanjay Kapoor Delhi

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