Bonn 2012: UNFCCC equity workshop ends in old north-south divisions emerging

By Ed King
RTCC in Bonn

Equity seems a simple word. But in Bonn on Wednesday (16 May) we learnt it has many meanings.

Which one you choose has long-term implications – economically, financially and perhaps climatically.

So many avenues leads to the potential for huge confusion – which is largely how the UNFCCC Workshop on equitable access to sustainable development ended.

UNFCCC boss Christiana Figueres opens the Equity workshop at the 2012 Bonn talks

The aim of the session was to establish what equity meant in terms of climate policy and sustainable development. All agreed that in its purest form equity means fairness. Few thought what was being proposed by many of the speakers sounded fair.

In truth, this was less a workshop and more a series of polemic speeches. Few contained proposals – all had an agenda.

By the close at 16:30 there appeared to be a familiar line in the sand. On one side the USA and a European Union protesting it was all about inclusion.

On the other India, China and the BASIC bloc, firmly rebutting the US contention that all must move towards the low carbon economy as one.

India’s Dr Prodipto Ghosh built the idea of equity as being the gateway to ambition – calling for it to be infused into the talks – leading to more financial and technological support for developing states.

“Persons who have exceeded their share of the global emission reserves should help out,” he said.

He was backed by Bangladesh’s Quamrul Chowdhury, representing the Least Developed Countries, who bemoaned the lack of implementation of financial pledges – expanding on his argument in an interview with RTCC.

But it was China’s delegate – speaking for the world’s second largest economy and largest source of emissions – who went for the jugular.

“Developed countries had completed their industrialisation in the 1970s”, he said, but had continued to exploit this over the past four decades. They had “taken over and occupied atmospheric space”, and were now trying to force inequality on others less fortunate.

“Imposing on developing countries the need to peak [emissions] prematurely is surely not plausible or feasible – and will affect sustainable development,” he said.

It was, in effect, a re-run of the final hours of COP17 in Durban, where Indian negotiator Jayanthi Natarajan let her anger at a perceived lack of equity explode at the plenary.

She would have exploded again at US negotiator Jonathan Pershing’s lively, entertaining and power-point-less argument that directly took on India and China’s positions.

There is no ‘finite carbon space’, formulas based on historic emissions would lead up a ‘blind alley’, there is no ‘single answer but multiple solutions’. Applause was muted.

The EU’s urbane lead climate negotiator Artur Runge-Metzger focused less on ‘equity’ than China and India, pointing out the ‘cost of inaction’, the lack of a ‘magic formula’ and potential of renewable technologies and energy efficiency measures.

He also suggested some UNFCCC core principles – which note historic emissions and the need for developed states to take up the burden – ‘had to be reflected in a changing world’.

And so the lines are drawn again. Pershing apparently walked out when an Indonesian delegate criticised the US, although he may have had enough of what were well-hashed arguments.

RTCC VIDEO: Meenakshi Rama from Third World Network explains why equity is such a hot issue and offers her analysis of Wednesday’s workshop:

Once again the EU finds itself in the centre of the maelstrom – struggling to juggle its roles as climate policy leader and protector of the 27 state interests it represents.

Runge-Metzger says he is still confident a deal over Kyoto 2 can be reached, although the EU’s preference is an 8-year extension – which many of the LDCs oppose as they believe it will allow industrialised states to delay emission cuts.

That particular battle is currently playing out behind closed doors – with developments likely next week.

In retrospect UN climate chief Christiana Figueres was wise to leave soon after she opened this morning’s session.

“Equity is difficult to define in a way that would be acceptable to all,” she said, adding that it was at “the heart and soul of the current agreements’.

Everyone could agree on that. But not much else.

What do you think?

Leave your comments in the box below, tweet us @RTCCnewswire or email [email protected] with your thoughts on what could be achieved in Bonn.

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