If the great Scott Fitzgerald were to have walked into the grand plenary hall of the Durban climate conference in 2011 to announce once again, “show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy,” all fingers would have pointed to the tiny Indian contingent in the room. There, Fitzgerald would have caught a glimpse of the feisty Jayanthi Natarajan, Union Minister for Environment and Forests, holding the fort against attempts by developed countries to impose binding emission cuts on the global South. The “greatest tragedy of all time,” Ms Natarajan would herself acknowledge, would be for negotiators to abandon the principles of equity and Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR). Two years later, this tragedy is imminent — only India’s heroism remains.
The first signs of this tragic denouement were visible a few minutes after the Durban plenary closed. Negotiators from the European Union, the United States and the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) countries simply huddled together and struck a deal to negotiate an international agreement with legal force on, inter alia, emission cuts by 2015. In this arrangement, known now as the ‘Durban Platform,’ equity and CBDR principles struggled to find relevance. India somehow claimed victory in helping resuscitate the Kyoto Protocol — a treaty rendered worthless without its engagement with the world’s largest carbon emitters, China and the U.S. Throw in a vacuous institution like the Green Climate Fund to save face, and India’s message was clear: we will live to fight another day.
That day is nowhere near the horizon. What is, though, is a perfect storm of international and domestic politics that threatens not only to produce an agreement which fails the imperative to tackle climate change, but also derail India’s core concerns in the process.
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