Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary

Whose Prize?


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The Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary was developed by Mick Kelly and Sarah Granich on behalf of the Stockholm Environment Institute and the International Institute for Environment and Development, with sponsorship from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

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Sunita Narain Sunita Narain argues that the Cancún outcome favours only the rich.
The author is Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi and editor of Down To Earth.

The Cancún climate summit has concluded and a deal has been gavelled into existence by the chair. Commentators and climate activists in the Western world are ecstatic. Even the critics say pragmatism has worked and the world has taken a small step ahead in its battle to fight emissions that determine its growth.

Let's assess the outcome at Cancún to see if this is indeed a step forward. At the Bali climate conference in 2007, the target placed on the table was for the industrialized countries to cut emissions 20-40 per cent by 2020, over their 1990 levels. The actual number was to be finalized at subsequent meetings. So what does Cancún do? It mouths some platitudes that the industrialized countries will scale up their mitigation efforts but does not specify a target.

Instead, it endorses an arrangement that emission reduction commitments of industrialized countries will be decided on the voluntary pledges they make. They will tell us how much they can cut and by when. The United States, which has been instrumental in getting the deal at Cancún, is the biggest winner. If its target to reduce emissions were based on its historical and current contribution to the problem, the country would have to cut 40 per cent by 2020, over 1990 levels. Now it has pledged that it will cut zero percentage points in this period. The Cancún deal legitimizes its right to pollute.

This is not all. Under the Cancún deal, all countries, including India and China, are now committed to reduce emissions. If you compare the sum of the "pledges" made by the industrialized countries against the "pledges" made by developing countries, including China and India, a curious fact emerges. While the total amount the rich will cut comes to 0.8-1.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, poor developing countries have agreed to cut 2.3 billion tonnes by 2020. The principle of equity in burden-sharing has been completely done away with.

All previous drafts of this agreement stated that developing countries would have equitable access to the global carbon budget. This has been crucially diluted in the Cancún agreement. It reads in a fuzzy and meaningless way that there will be "equitable access to sustainable development." We have surrendered our demand to apportion the global atmospheric space based on our right to development.

The Western media is hailing Cancún as the much-needed breakthrough. That's because the Cancún deal protects the interests of the rich polluters. It is their prize.


This article is based on a commentary on the outcome of the Cancún summit, "Deal Won, Stakes Lost", by Sunita Narain, published by the Centre for Science and Environment.

Further information

Sunita Narain, Centre for Science and the Environment, 41 Tughlakabad Institutional Area, New Delhi 110062, India. Fax: +91-11-29955879. Email: sunita@cseindia.org. Web: www.cseindia.org and www.downtoearth.org.in.

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Updated: May 15th 2015