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Demolishing the differentiation risk of climate terrorism in Paris

Demolishing the differentiation risk of climate terrorism in Paris

As the world approaches the beginning of the much awaited climate summit in Paris, the trail and trajectory of recent and potential terrorist attacks are looming large. The climate summit too is threatened by ongoing offensive by developed countries on well-accepted global principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR). Risk of uprooting of carefully nurtured heritage of environmental diplomacy that preserves global ecosystem - our lifeline - is looming large.

The series of pre-COP21 high-level meetings ended last week without coming close to any meaningful convergence. Environmental experts and the negotiators from developing countries believe that the way extremists in the past have cold heartedly distorted and even demolished World Heritage sites inscribed by UNESCO, there is similar risk from developed countries closing in on Paris to begin thrashing the principle of CBDR. The outcome of the Paris summit would hinge on the question if principle CBDR - the world heritage of environmental diplomacy - would get demolished forever.

CBDR is not just an intellectual notion or a way to sympathize with poor nations to ensure their participation in the solution though they were not part of the problem. It is the way to correct the past wrongs, ensuring justice and equity. It is now the part of modern international environmental law arrayed into practical and working legal principle for designing, operation and monitoring the global environmental agreements.

Roots of CBDR go back to the history of spread of spiraling empires and ocean explorations by nations which later became rich. The Law of the Sea Convention in the 1960s attempted to prevent such indiscriminate and blatant exploitation of natural resources of aborigines and poor countries. That law spelled out rights and responsibilities of nations in protecting the use of the world's ocean resources, our common natural heritage. While its fragile implementation led to a number of subsequent amendments, the principle of CBDR started to take concrete shape. The 1972 Stockholm conference baptized CBRD into an outcome document that included "the applicability of standards which are valid for the most advanced countries but which may be inappropriate and of unwarranted social cost for the developing countries".

In the United Nations Earth Summit of 1992, finally, CBDR was graduated into Principle 7 of the Rio Declaration signed by all the nations of the world. It stated in stark and unambiguous terms that, "In view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation, States have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries acknowledge the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit of sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command."

Two pillar of CBRD stand out distinctly to remind the rich nations about their historically rampant and uncontrolled exploitation of common natural resources for their self-serving and for commercial use.

The first deals with the urgent common and collective responsibility of nations to protect the ecosystems, mainly global commons like atmosphere, oceans and forests. The second concerns the historical differences in the contributions of developed and developing countries in exploitation of the ecosystems that have resulted in environmental degradation that needs restoration and mitigation.

Interestingly, the world recently restored one of the most critical life-supporting global common - Stratospheric Ozone Layer - by deploying the CBDR principle in the Vienna Convention and Montreal Protocol. The principle was held high without any disruption for over 30 years, and it continues to do so even today. The developed countries agreed that the Ozone Layer was depleted mainly due to mindless consumption of Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) by rich developed countries.

However, the responsibility of its restoration was taken by all 197 countries of the world. Allowing developing countries to implement the restoration measures a few years later than agreed to by developed countries, providing needed additional and incremental financial and technological resources to developing countries by developed countries ensured the differentiation. The Montreal Protocol has gone down in history as one of the most proactive and singularly successful global environmental agreement built on solid foundation of CBDR.

Proactive because the clauses related to differentiation were agreed in the Protocol in 1987, well before the formalization of the Principle 7 of Rio Declaration in 1992. And singularly successful because the ozone layer is well on the way to recovery. This month, during the Conference of Parties in Dubai, the countries even agreed to implement the phase down one of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) listed in the Kyoto Protocol i.e. Hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs) which are thousands of times more potent GHGs than carbon dioxide, using the similar provisions of CBDR as practised for the last three decades, including provision of additional and incremental finances and technologies.

Fatally flawed negotiations on climate have clearly exposed the skewed diplomacy of the developed countries that agree and disagree at the same time on the deployment of CBDR on the two different global negotiations. The history shows that developed countries owe huge climate debt to the developing countries.

The latest report of the International Panel on Climate Change has worked out the global carbon budget for keeping the temperature rise below 2 deg C by the year 2100 - the main objective of the Paris summit. Under it the world can emit not more than 3 trillion tons of CO2 from all sources, including land-use-changes, of which two trillion tons have already been emitted since the industrial revolution, leaving only one trillion tons to be emitted from now to 2100. If we consider the CO2 emissions only from fossil fuel burning, just about half a trillion tons remain to be emitted.

It is true that the historic share of global emissions differs from its current share. But as per the World Resource Institute, the historic share of developed country emissions from the start of industrial revolution to year 2000 is about 80 percent of total global emissions.

How long or how recent the cumulative emissions of GHGs in the past need to be accounted for pinning the historical responsibility of the rich countries is one of the factors that is being debated for long time. Lengthy debates have diluted the urgency of the climate action.

The fear in the minds of developed countries of rising future emissions by developing countries is also the key driving factor for developed countries to shrug their historical responsibility.

France is the country known to preserve the culture and heritage without distortion. Would the world agree to CBRD without diluting its seminal foundation in the Paris climate summit next month?

(Rajendra Shende, IIT-alumni, is chairman, TERRE Policy Centre, and former director of UNEP. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at

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