Conference of Parties to UNFCCC

Given below is a statement by Shri Suresh P Prabhu, Hon'ble Union Minister of Environment & Forests, Government of India, at the fourth session of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Conference of Parties was held on November 12, 1998 at Buenos Aires, Argentina.

At the outset, I would like to congratulate you on assuming the Presidency of the Conference and wish a successful outcome of the Fourth Conference of Parties. We are grateful to the Government of Argentina for the excellent arrangements made for the Conference in this beautiful city.

I would like to start by expressing our deep sympathies for the victims of the devastation caused by Hurricane Mitch that has devastated the countries of Central America in the past fortnight. We fully support the appeal to the international community to urgently lend assistance to alleviate the suffering of our brothers and sisters in the affected countries.

Madam President, expectations of the global community have been aroused by this Conference in carrying forward our agreements from Kyoto, and for making our planet a healthier and safer one, by reducing the threat of climate change. This calls for increased international cooperation, for achieving the objectives for the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)and the Kyoto Protocol. We owe to the future generations a responsibility which we must recognise and act upon.

The Conference of Parties (CoP) provides us with an opportunity for serious reflection and introspection. We find that a significant number of developed countries have undertaken only negligible efforts for fulfilling their commitments under the Convention. We would like to point out that there is no room for complacency in not adhering to the commitments which have been cast upon the developed countries. The situation is all the more alarming as several developed countries are projecting a substantial increase in their emissions. This shows they do not recognise the seriousness of the situation that called for such an action in the first place.

The provisions in the Convention relating to the eradication of poverty, food security and socio-economic development of the developing countries are very significant. It is recognised that the eradication of poverty and the prospect of sustained economic growth are important factors which will help to improve the quality of the environment not only in the developing countries but the entire globe. We would like to stress that questions relating to equity, transfer of financial resources and environmentally sound technologies will remain prominent items in our consideration of the progress in achieving the objectives of the Convention.

We also need to remind ourselves of the primary objectives of the Convention. We tend to see the issues as an end and overlook that the process beginning with the Earth Summit in 1992 in Rio is a continuum. The CoP are not ends in themselves, but the means to achieve the principal objectives of the Convention. The process leading to the adoption of the Convention identified parties who were primarily responsible for greenhouse gas emissions and had therefore identified actions which was needed to reduce these. The Convention also recognised the differences between parties in terms of their luxury and survival emissions. The Convention had pre-supposed that domestic action for reducing the emissions would be predominant and other actions would be supplemental. The expectation at the time of the adoption was that targets and time-tables would be adhered to. Above all, the Convention had recognised the need for taking a hard look at the unsustainable patterns of consumption and standards of living whereby a disproportionately large amount of emissions was being produced by a small groups of countries.

It is both necessary and opportune to take a look at the current international economic environment which provides the backdrop for this meeting. Many countries have been buffetted by the recent economic and social consequences of the crisis caused by volatile economies. What is worse, their contagion effect has spread, affecting economies globally. The impact is worse on the developing countries on account of their inherent vulnerability. The developing countries are thus in a far more adverse position today than when we met in Kyoto in December last year, to deal with issues relating to socio-economic development, eradication of poverty and protection of the environment including climate change.

The debate on sustainability cannot be complete unless it recognises that the South has not had its fair share of the environmental space; which it now needs more than ever before. On the other hand, some Annex I Parties continue to add a substantial amount to the concentrations, as currently and thus enjoy a free ride. Let alone paying an environmental rent, some Annex I Parties are reluctant even to discuss questions of transfer of financial resources and environmentally sound technologies, except on their own terms. The declining trend in ODA flows and delays in implementation of commitments by the developed countries are increasingly reducing the opportunities and options available to the developing countries. Enhanced international cooperation, through a genuine global partnership, alone can make our planet a healthier and safer one.

India's primary concern remains the removal of poverty and freedom from hunger and disease, despite limitations imposed by the lack of financial resources. The Convention recognises that the emissions of the developing countries will continue to grow from the current, as yet relatively low, energy consumption levels. The right to development is inalienable and is intended to provide all human beings with an equal right in matters relating to living standards and quality of life. We intend to participate fully in the global efforts to protect and improve the environment, without hindering our own development process. Any proposal which seeks to deprive us of our rightful entitlement to grow, or to deny us a quality of life consistent with human dignity, will have to be rejected. We would see measures which want to deprive us of our right to a dignified human development as a violation of human rights.

We have made available, at this Conference, a compilation of the initiatives undertaken by India towards achieving the objectives of the Convention. This publication outlines the number of national programmes under implementation in fields as diverse as energy conservation and waste land development. Our judicial system too, has recognised the right of the Indian citizen to a clean environment as a component of the right to life and liberty. The national effort in this field is supported by a comprehensive statutory framework, a vigilant and vibrant media and a number of watchful and active voluntary organisations.

The developing countries in their political and economic groupings have had a chance to look at the progress, or lack of it, of the international agenda on environment and development. This has been facilitated by the Special Session of the UN General Assembly in 1997 for the review of the implementation of the decisions of the Rio Earth Summit. The Special Session had reached the definite conclusion that there had been little or no progress in the provision of new and additional financial resources or transfer of environmentally sound technologies to the developing countries on non-commercial and preferential terms, for enabling them to tackle environmental problems. The Group of 77 and China and the Non-aligned Movement have also had occasion to review these matters. The 12th Non-aligned Summit, held in early September in Durban, South Africa, adopted a common position on issues relating to climate change. The Summit reiterated that the primary responsibility for action in this area devolved on the developed countries; it agreed that equitable entitlements would be the basis for emission trading and other flexibility mechanisms; and the Summit rejected categorically all attempts by a few countries to link their ratification of the Kyoto Protocol with the acceptance by a few developing countries of the so-called "voluntary commitments". In our view, "voluntary commitment" should mean what member states do voluntarily; when such voluntarism is sought to be incorporated into a legal framework then it is no longer voluntary.

Madam President, my delegation stands ready to continue to participate constructively in our deliberations and to contribute to the consensus-building at this Conference. We are committed to effective international action for protection of the environment and dealing with climate change, in accordance with the role assigned to various countries in the Convention and the Protocol. We are willing to discuss emerging issues in this dynamic process in a cooperative and constructive way. We trust that any outcome that emerges from this Conference will preserve the existing balance of equities in the Convention and enhance the capabilities of the developing countries in dealing with the issues of climate change.

Fourth Conference of Parties to the Climate Change Convention

The Fourth Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, during November 2-13, 1998. India played a key role at the Conference by coordinating the position of the Group of 77 and China on Kyoto Protocol issues.

The Conference conside-red various issues relating to implementation of the commitments by the Parties under the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC) and issues relating to the flexible mechanisms contained in the Kyoto Protocol to the FCCC.

The Conference adopted an action plan called Buenos Aires Plan of Action for the year 1999 and 2000. The plan of action inter alia consists in pursuing decisions on financial mechanism, transfer of technology, Activities Implemented Jointly (AIJ), development and transfer of technologies, Kyoto Protocol mechanisms and demonstrate substantial progress in each of these.

Inclusion of an agenda item on voluntary commitments by the developing countries for discussion at the conference had to be dropped in view of the strong opposition by a number of developing countries including India.

A work programme on the Kyoto Protocol mechanisms, namely Clean Development Mechanism (Article 12), Article 6 Projects and Emission Trading (Article 17) was adopted. The programme consists of 143 elements requiring further work during 1999 and 2000. The Sixth Conference of Parties will take a final decision on these mechanisms.