India has caught out an American attempt to go back on an agreement not to push for international “scrutiny” of voluntary attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, negotiated between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, U.S. President Barack Obama and the heads of government of China, Brazil and South Africa at the UN climate change talks in Copenhagen last December.
Though the U.S. quickly changed tack when India protested, some negotiators here say the attempt to smuggle in already-discarded language vindicates their fears that compromises made by developing countries at Copenhagen signalled a “dangerous opening of the door.”
World leaders had discussed, in a marathon bargaining session, how to describe the international monitoring of voluntary mitigation actions by developing countries, which were not funded by outside sources.
The leaders of Brazil, South Africa, India and China had objected to the terms suggested by Mr. Obama: “scrutiny,” “review,” “assess,” “examine.” Finally, Mr. Obama and European leaders had agreed to use the term “consultations and analysis.”
Despite this, when the U.S. made its formal submission to the UN on organising this year’s negotiations on February 19, it claimed that, “The Copenhagen Accord makes important progress on transparency by reflecting agreement, among other things, that mitigation actions will be subject to international scrutiny, whether externally financed or not.”
When this attempt to sneak in the word “scrutiny” was pointed out to him on February 25, Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh shot off an email to the head of the American negotiating team Todd Stern, saying that “this goes completely against what was discussed and agreed to by President Obama and his team.” He requested Mr. Stern’s intervention “to correct this submission so as to avoid any misunderstanding or stand-off later.”
Agreeing that Mr. Ramesh made “a fair point,” Mr. Stern promised to look into the issue. On February 26, the U.S. revised its submission to the UNFCCC, replacing “scrutiny” with “international consultations and analysis.”
However, some Indian negotiators say that developing countries have only themselves to blame.
“Well before Copenhagen, developed countries, including Europe and the U.S., made no secret of the fact that they wanted to inspect individual plants and second guess the adequacy of our actions,” said Prodipto Ghosh, a senior member of the Indian negotiating team at the UN talks.
He felt that India and other developing countries offered a foothold for such intentions by allowing even the terms “consultation and analysis” to describe international monitoring of their actions. “Now, the U.S. use of the word ‘scrutiny’ gives full ground for those apprehensions being shown to be correct,” he said.
Another senior negotiator agreed that “some compromises were made” on this issue, in return for removing statements from the Copenhagen Accord about a legally-binding outcome and percentage emission reduction targets.
“In any kind of negotiating exercise, some kind of give and take is inevitable…We did give something away, with certain safeguards,” he said. “Maybe a little window has opened there, but we closed another window somewhere.”