Mind your Word, Sir

Written by  //  December 6, 2011  //  National Politics  //  1 Comment

Giants should be ambitious, should they not? cheap jordans.

When the whole world is watching, there’s a lot to be said for the words you use. Undeniably, international negotiations in a forum as lofty as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is a call for words even more discombobulated than the normal.
At most times, you would be lucky if you find the right word for the right moment. In the world of bracketed texts, disclaimers and jargon-heavy negotiations under international protocol however, much is said through ambiguity. UNFCCC’s 17th Conference of Parties is presently ongoing in Durban. Fitting then, to take a look at some of the words in international arsenal:

Ambition. Faustian allegories apart, the connotations of ‘ambitious’ are, well, ambitious. On Monday’s session on the Long Term Action, EU called for ‘bridging’ the ambition gap. Separately, Venezuela has said that options put forward by the developed world (including ideas on having a treaty outside of the Kyoto Protocol) display a lack of ambition. The negotiating bedrock in this year’s climate change summit is an ‘amalgamation document’ which combines positions from different countries. Bolivia, in a meeting to discuss this document, remarked sadly that there was a general lack of ambition being shown. Most generally, ambition would refer to a country engaging in mitigation action, which is quantifiable, and under several degrees of international scrutiny. But what is ‘ambitious’ for India? India’s interpretation would refer to actions, on climate mitigation or adaptation, which are domestically ambitious, but not internationally reviewed. Ambitious is ambiguous. It’s a word used to denote interpretations of ambition, and as one can tell, often a marked shift by countries from actually being ambitious.
Sustainable. A lot has been written on what sustainable means. Justifiably so. It’s been prefixed for life to development, officially born in the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Everything ought to be sustainably developing, from a corporate’s CSR initiatives, to community outreach for women’s self-help groups to Fairtrade coffee, to World Bank funded conservation plans which in the past have been more development than conservation, to United Nation’s recognised Biosphere Reserves. The bad joke is whether sustainable is sustainable. Little surprise then that sustainable development is a mainstay of the leverage sought by the developing world. At last year’s Cancun summit, India patted itself on the back for inserting the phrase ‘equitable access to sustainable development’ in the negotiating text. At Durban too, these four magic words make an appearance in the provisional agenda of COP-17. Equity, of course, is another expansive word open to interpretation. As India’s Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said on Tuesday in a side event in Durban, “equity is central to the debate on climate change.” The BASIC countries (Brazil, India, South Africa, China) emblazon equity over most of their positions, though it can refer to different things. It has meant access with equity to sustainable development, and also equity in carbon space. Equity in interpretation by the developed and developing world? Hard to come by.

Evolving applicability. A new entrant on the block, this powerhouse phrase has been offered by the the biggest Kyoto-blocker, the United States. US believes that the concept of common but differentiated responsibility, a mainstay of the Kyoto Protocol, has ‘evolving applicability’. What this means could be anybody’s guess. But an educated guess would beckon at the US’s old habit of blaming India and China for the deadlock in climate negotiations. In the spirit of its old stance, the application of evolving applicability would indicate mitigation commitments from the BASIC group (who ostensibly have evolved from being part of a paltry developing country bloc), in the absence of which the US will not commit. In the same breath, it would be interesting to see what applications ‘evolving applicability’ would entail for the other real blockers of Kyoto, the JUSCANZ group of Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. (Canada has declared even before the Durban summit that it is unlikely to participate in a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.) How should JUSCANZ evolve? A question that needs answering, and in the spirit of international jargon, a question that needs to be answered ‘urgently’ and ‘ambitiously’, in the interest of ‘sustainable equity’ and saving the planet, within, of course, the principles of common but differentiated responsibility.

A word on the media.
On the issue of words, adjectives for India are changing. Long called a deal breaker, international press has this year called India a giant (economy). In more uncharitable terms, and not far from US insinuations on India’s role, The Guardian calls India a climate ‘delayer’, unarguably a term which is likely to gain currency by the end of the summit. This is phonetically not so far from climate ‘denier’, though that term, with all its baggage, hasn’t been used for India yet; in fact it has been used by developing country activists for the likes of JUSCANZ.
But what of the National press in India and climate jargon? A quick look reveals that mainstream media has for most part echoed faithfully India’s official positions on climate change negotiations  . Notably, these are demands from the global North in being ambitious in its mitigation, the need for equity in climate talks, and carbon space for allowing India’s national growth. The English media has passionately defended these positions since 2009’s Copenhagen climate change summit, putting forward India’s own interpretations of climate jargon. This is an interesting position, as the press has also been largely homogenous in reporting the real environmental, ecological, and social ramifications (read dangers) of climate change. Yet, its continuing passionate cries for growth, shaking off pressure from the rich, developed world, and that shining panacea- sustainable development. One issue at least, where a constructed perception of national interest has been paramount over editorial differences. Critics in the Press Council, take note.

About the Author

Neha switched from Environment journalism to a degree in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management at Oxford University. Interests include wildlife, conservation policy, and more wildlife.

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