China, India, Brazil and Russia

China, India, Brazil and Russia

Of many sources of suspected contention in the upcoming COP15 conference in Copenhagen, the issue of “common but differentiated responsibilities” is a major obstacle. As Whalley and Walsh indicate in their study “Bringing the Copenhagen Global Climate Change Negotiations to Conclusion,” this issue impacts participant economies of all sizes and strengths, particularly India, China, and Brazil. In the Kyoto Protocol, the term “common but differentiated responsibilities” was interpreted by many to mean that developing countries did not have to participate in the Protocol’s call for emissions reductions. It is widely believed (Walsh 269) that this interpretation will not prevail in Copenhagen, as the rapid growth of these economies has become increasingly significant in terms of amounts of emissions, though many (especially in China, India, and Brazil) still disagree.

Those countries impacted by this new interpretation (China, Brazil, India), are taking the stance that if they are expected to take on commitments in terms of emissions reductions, “they should receive financial compensation for their environmental restraint” (Walsh 269). To them, their rights to growth and development should not be infringed upon because of larger environmental commitments. If this interpretation is widely held at the negotiations in Copenhagen, where will the money for these financial commitments come from?

Another area of contention regarding China, Brazil and India is the issue of scope of emissions reductions. These three nations want their reductions to be reductions in “emissions intensity,” as opposed to reductions in “emissions levels” because then their economic growth would only be hindered proportional to GDP.

Where did this idea that some nations face different obligations and rights than other nations derive? According to Professor Paul Harris of Brandeis University, in terms of climate change, the idea came about at the Rio De Janeiro Earth Summit. This concept of differentiated responsibilities gained momentum at the 1982 United Nations Convention of Law of the Sea. Also, differentiating between developed and developing countries was further justified in Principle 23 of the 1972 Stockholm Declaration which states “the extent of the applicability of standards which are valid for the most advanced countries but which may be inappropriate and of unwarranted social cost for developing countries” (Harris 29). Also, in 1995 at the Berlin Mandate, developing countries pledged to reduce their emissions before requiring developing countries to reduce emissions. (Harris 32)

So if the concept that there are differentiated responsibilities of emissions reduction is based on historical precedent, why do Whalley and Walsh predict that this interpretation will not prevail in Copenhagen? Perhaps the climate situation has just become too dire?

Role of Developing Countries

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