Story of Broken Promises and formidable Inertia; Climate Change : a battle of finance: By Rajendra Shende, Chairman, TERRE Policy Center, Former Director and Head of OzonAction, UNEP


Story of Broken Promises and formidable Inertia

Climate Change : a battle of finance

By Rajendra Shende, Chairman, TERRE Policy Center, Former Director and Head of OzonAction, UNEP

1st Dec 2011

45 years of war was the longest war in the human history. It was the Cold War of political conflicts, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition and even unproductive muscle-shows between the two rivals that ended in 1991. Almost at the time when the cold war ended  ‘ Hot War’ on global warming began. It is being fought in the trenches of negotiation conflicts, financial tensions, proxy promises, and fear of losing the competition. Hot War on global warming has potential to last for more than Cold War. During the Cold War the attempts were made to influence the standings of the two power-blocks in other countries particularly third world countries. In the Hot War the standing of the block of emerging economies is influencing the front lines.

The first victims of the Hot War as in any other war are the poor people. We will be making enormous error if rich of the world feel sense of the security. The worlds of poor and rich are deceptively separated and decidedly linked. The global battle against global warming that started in 1992 with framing of UNFCCC has already been an utter failure. It is a story of broken promises and rupture and continental rupture in supply-lines that provide to the front liners the technology, finances and empathy.

I was in the UNFCCC meeting in Kyoto in 1997 and was listening to Al Gore, then  Vice President of USA. It was warming speech in cold Kyoto in December, where the famous Kyoto Protocol was sculpted. He said:

“The first and most important task for developed countries is to hear the immediate needs of the developing world. And let me say, the United States has listened and we have learned.
We understand that your first priority is to lift your citizens from the poverty so many endure and build strong economies that will assure a better future. This is your right: it will not be denied.
And let me be clear in our answer to you: we do not want to founder on a false divide. Reducing poverty and protecting the Earth's environment are both critical components of truly sustainable development. We want to forge a lasting partnership to achieve a better future. One key is mobilizing new investment in your countries to ensure that you have higher standards of living, with modern, clean and efficient technologies.”
Kyoto in the North to now Durban in the South- a journey of 14 years. How did the world react during this journey?  Al Gore, back home after Kyoto , stated, I helped achieve a breakthrough at the negotiations in Kyoto, Japan, where the world drafted a groundbreaking treaty whose goal is to control global warming pollution. But then I came home and faced an uphill battle to gain support for the treaty in the U.S. Senate.” The US Senate voted against the Kyoto Protocol unanimously 95-0!  Then continued the long failures in meeting emission targets. We have seen a  lack of leadership in building the partnerships,  lack of ingenuity in ensuring the mitigation and adaptation to climate change  and continued chain of breaking promises by the developed countries. The commitment of reducing the emissions by slightly more than 5 % from the base line of emissions in 1990, the developed countries in reality increased the emissions.  Of course the emerging developing countries in recent years added to these emissions in massive way, though historically their contribution has been very low.

Will the massive dilapidated sculpture of Kyoto be now on the way to museum likely to be visited only by historians and wiki-passionates for the chronicling the pride in launching and prejudice in implementing?   These are the questions that world citizens will be posing as the cross-fire of the words  continue in Durban today.

Interestingly, in 2005, the Gleneagles Summit of G8 reaffirmed that “climate change is serious and long-term challenge that has potential to affect every part of the globe.” It also committed to the ultimate objective of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to stabilize the greenhouse gas concentration at the level that prevents dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. However, the noisy meetings of UNFCCC continued,  but here was no change in climate of negotiations.

Some rays of hopes came in 16th Conference of the Parties (COP) in Cancun, Mexico. Following the voluntary and non-binding Copenhagen Accord put forth in 2009, international expectations for the meeting in Cancun was severely fractured. Then came surprise. The states' parties called for a much awaited and badly needed  "Green Climate Fund", and a "Climate Technology Center" and network. The proposed "Green Climate Fund," to be contributed by the developed nations and to be worth USD $100 billion a year
by 2020, has an objective to assist poorer countries in financing emission reductions and adaptation. As a matter of urgency it also committed to start with, USD 10 billion a year during 2010-2012. So far USD 12 billions are reported to have been received. To most countries, though they approved it, the agreement “fell woefully short of action needed.”

Albert Einstein once said: "Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe." Indeed, our inability to make judgment and to act on simple messages arising out of continually observed climate related disastrous impacts seems to have no end.

Are we incapable to act? Do we lack resources to act?  Are developed countries too submerged in emerging crisis of food, fuel and finance to prioritize climate change?

I recall month of June 1990 when I was in London listening to the then Prime Minister of the Government of the United Kingdom, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher. It was the Conference of Parties to the Montreal Protocol on the substances that deplete the Ozone layer. She stated that there was increasing scientific evidence of the damage caused to the ozone layer by CFCs and other Ozone Depleting Chemicals.

“ The controls in the Protocol could achieve successful results only if all/countries, including those from the third world, were signatories. But countries at any early stage of industrial development had understandable concerns about adverse effects on their economic growth. It was the duty of industrialized countries to help them with substitute technologies and with financing the additional costs involved.” Said, Mrs. Thatcher.

That COP meeting of the Montreal Protocol in 1987, 5 years before UNFCCC, gave birth to the first ever “Green Climate Fund” (though it was called at that time “An interim Multilateral Fund”) The developed countries pledged US$160 million, which could be raised by up to $80 million during the three year period when more countries become Parties to the Protocol.

Since then I was fortunate to work on the implementation of the Montreal Protocol in the developing countries for last 20 years. Lessons in ‘spending wisely’ on climate and best use of the existing international structure can draw on some lessons from the world of ozone layer protection, where a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) administered environmental treaty. The treaty and funding mechanism started in 1992 with exactly same objective as decided in Cancun meeting on climate change in 2010 i.e. of assisting the developing countries and creating the networks of technology centers and the governance centers in each country.

The funding mechanism of the Montreal Protocol  started small, with baby steps, but with mutual trust and empathy between the developed and developing countries. It has now received almost US$ 3 billion in contributions. The CFCs and other Ozone depleting substances except HCFCs used mainly in Air Conditioning and Methyl Bromide used in the soil fumigation have now been fully phased out. Their Production has been totally halted. The Financial mechanism set up to address a significant environmental threat demonstrated by sound science and observations has now succeeded in averting the global disaster of the Ozone Layer depletion and subsequent deaths due to skin cancer, loss in food production, threat to marine life and incidences of the cataract among others. 

The Montreal Protocol, since coming into force in 1987 now boasts universal ratification. USA, along with other countries has demonstrated to the world by consistently supporting the Multilateral Ozone Fund providing much needed ozone friendly technologies and building the confidence of the world in environmental diplomacy. This treaty, the has been widely praised as one of the most successful multilateral environmental agreements as a result of the manner in which this instrument for facilitating the recovery of the earth’s protective shield has been financed and implemented.

The implementation of the Protocol has reduced the production and consumption of nearly 100 industrial chemicals known as ozone depleting substances[1] by more than 97%. As CFCs and other Chemicals controlled under the Montreal Protocol are also GHGs, this Protocol has had the additional benefit of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 11 billion tonnes CO2-equivalent per year (GtCO2-eq/yr) - which is 5-6 times the reduction target of the Kyoto Protocol between 2008 and 2012.

The emerging economies i.e. Brazil,South Africa, India and China - BASIC block - has all adhered to the compliance with the Montreal Protocol. India and China have even phased out CFCs about two years in advance of the stipulated dates in the Montreal Protocol. The Ozone layer is now on the path of recovery. So, the world has the inspiring lesson.


Al Gore while supporting the Kyoto Protocol has provided the example of the baby steps taken by the Montreal Protocol. “ This is the step-by-step approach we took in Montreal 10 years ago to address the problem of ozone depletion. And it is working” said Al Gore in Kyoto in 1997.”

What Martin Luther King Jr. said in a speech not long before his assassination, is so much valid today: “We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late.” What more, we have an example of the Montreal Protocol where the world has demonstrated how to prevent the global disaster by closing the divisions among us.

The Hot War can be won. The winner would be the Earth, our only home. I was recently in Maldives where I recall what the President of Maldives, a tiny nation threatened by the sea level rise said, “ The world did not came out of stone age because stones were exhausted. We do not have to wait for the last drop of the fossil fuel to get exhausted to make progress towards new age of zero-carbon society.”

I am a strong believer that technology and policy of wise spending would take us out of our ‘stone age’ attitude.

By Rajendra Shende, Chairman, TERRE Policy Center, Former Director and Head of OzonAction, UNEP


[1] The main ozone depleting substances controlled by the Montreal Protocol is: chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), halons, methyl bromide, carbon tetrachloride and methyl chloroform.

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