The ?road map at Bali? has been drawn up. 190 nations have agreed to work out by 2009, within the UN Frame-work Convention on Climate Change, a new protocol which would be put in place after the Kyoto Protocol (1997) expires in 2012. They have also agreed to include in the ?agenda for the journey to 2009? four principles: reduce greenhouse gas emissions; help developing countries adapt to the fall-outs of the climate change; deploy climate-friendly technologies; and extend financial help to facilitate the said adaptation and deployment.
Viewed from one angle, the agreement and the principles underlying it could be termed as historic, a turning point in the march of contemporary civilisation. But from another angle, the entire affair would look to be nothing more than ?business as usual??an exercise in generalities in which the UN Conferences usually excel. If outcomes of the conferences, held in the past on allied subjects, such as environment, habitat and sustainable development, are any indication, the Bali map may lead to no better than another mythical road on which the traveller moves two steps forward only to find that his destination has receded by four steps. Let me elaborate.
A United Nations Conference on environment was held with a great deal of fanfare in 1972 at Stockholm. All the nations and the UN agencies committed themselves to preservation, protection and improvement of human environment. But what is the position today? The overall environment are much worse than they were in 1972. Every year, the world is losing 24 billion tons of top soil, damaging 100 million acres of farm-land, destroying 44 million acres of forests, creating 15 million acres of new deserts, using 160 billion tons of more water than can be replenished, burning fossil fuels which took 10,000 years to attain its present form and pumping huge quantity of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The world'stop ten rivers, including Ganga, Nile, Yangtze and Danube, are facing high risk. About 60 per cent of the eco-systems are on decline and about 2000 species are perishing every month.
At the UN Conference on Human Settlement?Habitat I?held at Vancouvre in 1976, it was agreed by the governments and the world community to undertake improvement of habitats, provide basic civic amenities to them and create conditions in which human dignity is not undermined. But if we now look around the world, we would find that a large part of the developing world has been reduced to slums, semi-slums and super-slums. There are about a quarter of a million designated slum settlements, with about one billion inhabitants. By 2030, the slum population of the developing world is projected to touch 2 billion mark. The civic amenities are practically non-existent. Today, four of every ten people in the world do not have access to a single pit latrine and nearly two in ten have no source of safe drinking water. Clean water and sanitation are central to a decent and dignified human existence. And this dignity, after 35 years of Vancouvre Conference, stands denied to a vast section of the people of the world.
The story of Rio Conference (1992) is no different. It created a record in the massiveness of its attendance and publicity. Every one present at the Conference sang the songs of sustainable development. Agreement on important issues was arrived and an elaborate agenda 21, was adopted. But how is sustainable development being carried out in practice? Currently, as against the Earth'sbiocapacity of 11.2 billion global hectares, 14.1 billion global hectares are being used up annually, thereby creating and ecological deficit of about 2.9 billion global hectares per year. The present-day man is consuming more natural resources than the planet can cope with. He is using more water than the rains and rivers can replenish; he is cutting more forests than can be regrown; and he is depleting more top soil than can be recreated.
Clearly, long and deep shadows have been falling between resolutions and actions, between declarations and deeds. When the aforesaid conferences were held, they were hailed as historic. But today they all look mere exercises in futility. The fundamental forces that propel the current global order and determine the life-styles of the people have pushed history in the opposite direction.
Take the case of Kyoto Protocol itself. Its objective was to achieve ?stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.? Under this protocol, governments have been divided into two general categories.
At the Bali Conference, no one seriously raised the question as what the developed countries, who are a party to Kyoto Protocol, have done from 1997 onwards to reduce their carbon emissions. Had such a question been raised, it would have been found that, let alone reduction, carbon emissions have practically gone up in every country.
The follow-up of the ?Bali road map? is not going to be easy. A fierce controversy is likely to arise on the question as to what should be the ?burden-sharing architecture? of carbon emission at the international level. Whether the obligation to reduce the emissions of carbon should be assigned to the countries on the basis of per capita emission or on the basis of total quantity emitted or on some other criteria. A fair and equitable formula, in my opinion, could be worked out on two principles. First, the developed countries should agree to reduce their carbon emissions by 50 to 75 per cent by 2050. This they could do by evolving and using ?green and energy-efficient technologies?. Second, the developing countries should agree to reduction to the tune of 10 to 25 per cent by 2050, subject to the condition that the newly evolved ?green and energy efficient technologies? would be made available to them at reasonable cost to be determined by an independent authority.
In last few years, significant headway has been made in developing technologies for tapping renewable sources and for producing clean energy. In Germany, rapid advance in the field of solar energy has been witnessed. A Canadian firm has fabricated a special turbine to generate electricity from the ocean currents. This could make available as much as 450,000 megawatts of electricity. New nuclear rector technologies could provide another massive amount of clean energy.
But all the technologies to the above genre have been monopolised by a few multinationals who, taking advantage of the ?Intellectual Property Rights?, under the WTO regime, are unwilling to part with them except on prohibitive price. Ways and means must, therefore, be found to make these technologies available to the developing countries, particularly those who, at present, depend upon coal of poor quality to produce electricity. These countries could also be helped by provision of technologies which are able to sequester carbon from coal.
It should, however, be clearly understood that in case of both developed and developing countries, levels of reduction in carbon emissions would be feasible only if, along with changes in technologies, changes in attitudes and life-styles of the people are brought about. And this would require vision and leadership of extraordinary high quality, both at the national and international levels.
(The writer is a former Governor of Jammu and Kashmir and a former Union Minister, can be contacted at e-mail [email protected])