Historic Capitulation to Imperialism at Cancun

Radhika Krishnan

Yet another round of climate change negotiations ended in Cancun, Mexico earlier this month. And yet again, the talks have resulted in a shameful betrayal of the interests of the environment and the poor across the world. The much-touted Cancun agreement, which is being hailed by all countries barring Bolivia, essentially represents compromises of epic proportions for the poor and developing countries. Right from the beginning, the imperialist forces of the world led by an arrogant and stubborn United States have been dictating terms at the climate change negotiations; time and again, they have stalled any effective steps to address the crucial issue of global warming. And at Cancun, they have once again succeeded in browbeating the world to accept their proposals – as reflected by Jairam Ramesh’s statement that all countries of the world including India should agree to legally binding emission reductions. Even as Jairam Ramesh and the UPA Government join the global chorus in hailing the Cancun agreement, Cancun has clearly exposed the shameful inequity and sheer injustice inherent in these multilateral talks (see Box: What the Cancun Agreement Says).
The most significant and in fact fatal loss at the Cancun talks is that the final agreement completely erases historical debts. The developing countries have till recently held a principled position that the rich, industrialized countries are primarily responsible for mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, because of the historic role they have played in causing the global warming crisis. Today, the industrialized countries, led by the US, argue that countries like India and China contribute as much to greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere as they do. What they deliberately do not point out is the fact that if one were to calculate the total greenhouse emissions in history (all of which lead to global warming), the US alone is responsible for a whopping 26.4% of the total emissions – while India and China account for a mere 2% and 7% respectively. Conveniently ignoring this, and projecting India and China as ‘major contributors’ to the climate change problem by citing the present emission levels of these two countries, the imperialist powers are attempting to do away with having to make reparations for their historic role in endangering the very future of life on earth. 
By shifting the focus of the debate from the total greenhouse gas emissions to the current emission levels, they hope to remove the crucial distinction between developed and developing nations, and to avoid having to promise money and technology to poor and developing nations without strings attached.  
More appalling is the attempts of the US-led imperialist powers to circumvent the question of per-capita greenhouse gas emissions. Developing countries have always argued that for any negotiations to be democratic and meaningful, they have to be based on per capita emissions rather than the total emissions of a country, and a clear distinction has to be made between survival emissions and luxury emissions. However, the US has always opposed per-capita emissions becoming the basis of the negotiations. As a result, the climate change talks operate on an absurdly undemocratic and biased premise that an American, British, Australian or Russian citizen is allowed to pollute the atmosphere more than an Indian or a Chinese! In other words, a person’s geographical location and citizenship decide their rights over the atmosphere. Emissions Chart
The other major loss of the Cancun talks was the complete breakdown of G-77 unity on the crucial issue of legally binding emissions for developing and poor countries. While a solid unity of these countries, led possibly by the BASIC countries (India, China, Brazil and South Africa) could have put pressure on the imperialist powers, this unity was conspicuous by its very absence. At Cancun, Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh has shamefully sold out India’s interests and betrayed third-world unity by stating that India is now willing to take on legally binding emissions! In doing so, he incidentally went beyond his written text; while also ignoring assurances to the contrary made by the UPA to the parliament prior to the Cancun summit, raising important questions of constitutional ethics, accountability and responsibility. Ramesh’s statement was exactly what industrialized and rich countries, particularly the US, have been demanding from India.
Even before the negotiations began, it was clear that the US desperately wants to dissolve the Kyoto Protocol, which makes a clear distinction between the responsibilities of developing and developed countries based on the historic debt of the industrialized countries towards contributing to the climate crisis. The Kyoto Protocol also specifies that developing countries would also take actions, but these would be supported and enabled through money and technology provided by developed countries without any strings attached. The US has been aggressively pushing for a new model, wherein all countries will be held equally responsible, and wherein even the poorest or the poor countries will be forced to accept legally binding emission standards. And at the beginning of the Cancun talks, Japan and Russia (later supported by Australia, Canada and some European nations) also joined the bandwagon supporting dismantling of the Kyoto Protocol.

What the Cancun Agreement Says:

The Cancun Agreement essentially operationalises the highly problematic US-driven Copenhagen Accord. And in this process, the Kyoto Protocol, which was firmly based on ‘differentiated’ responsibilities for various countries in tacking climate change has been effectively buried. Cancun has paved the way for a post-Kyoto scenario where the responsibilities of developed and developing countries will be treated at par.
Developed countries will voluntarily ‘pledge’ to reduce emissions; these pledges will not be legally binding. These voluntary pledges in the past have been, not surprisingly, way below the efforts needed to effectively tackle the climate crisis. Moreover, developed countries can continue their existing practice of offloading their responsibilities to poor and developing countries by purchasing carbon credits to meet their emission targets.
The Cancun agreement also ensures a continuation of the existing market-based mechanism for tackling climate change – a mechanism that has clearly failed over the past two decades. Therefore, CDM and other market-based mechanisms are here to stay, and companies in countries like India will be able to make money by selling carbon credits under the garb of mitigating climate change.
Developed countries have agreed to transfer funds to developing countries – fast-track funding of $30 billion by 2012 and $100 billion dollars a years by 2020. However, this funding package (which sees the funds not as historical reparations on part of the developed countries for having created the climate crisis, but as some kind of a ‘dole’) is riddled with enough loopholes and ambiguities to severely restrict its scope and potential.
Developing countries like India will have to report their emissions and reduction strategies for international verification, even though they have not been assured finance or technology.

The Cancun Agreement ensures that the REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) scheme will be implemented, under which rich countries and their companies can pay developing countries to preserve forests and ‘capture’ carbon in these ‘carbon sinks’. This scheme has already come under a lot of opposition, since it will inevitably lead to land grab and alienation across forest and adivasi belts, as well as heightened corporate control over forestland and a consequent reduction in the access of tribals to their traditional sources of livelihood.

India’s U-Turn at Cancun is nothing an open and shameful ‘yes’ to this imperialist agenda. And as result, Cancun has seen a virtual end to the Kyoto Protocol. Jairam Ramesh’s statement is however not surprising, coming as it does in the wake of a series of shameful capitulations to US imperialism. And as the defenders of this capitulation to imperial diktats go to town pointing out that countries like India will now receive ample funds for mitigation projects, it is necessary to read between the lines. Firstly, to put this ‘dole’ in perspective, the EU’s contribution (which is the largest) is approximately 0.5% of global entertainment and media spending, 0.7% of the US military expenditure for 2008 and 1.4% of the bailout package that richest corporations of the world received following the economic recession!
Secondly, the Cancun agreement does not specify whether the funds will be in the form of grants or loans. Much of this funding can therefore be routed through institutions like the World Bank and can be treated as ‘soft’ loans! Thirdly, while developed countries have agreed to technology transfer to developing and poor countries, this transfer will happen under the IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) regime. This essentially means that the funds received by developing nations will be neatly flushed back to the donor nations! Fourthly, the funding can be withheld if the developed nations and the institutions dominated by them (like the UNFCCC) claim that they are not satisfied with the manner in which mitigation projects are being implemented. Finally, even as developed countries demand ‘transparency’ from poor and developing countries in the utilization of funds, the Cancun agreement does not propose any transparent mechanism to penalize developed countries who renege upon their promises.

In short, the Cancun negotiations have ended in a historic loss for the poor and developing countries of the world. As the UPA Government tries to justify this shameful sell-out of India’s interests at the climate change negotiations, it is necessary that the democratic and progressive voices in the country strongly oppose this abject capitulation to imperialist interests.