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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Lessons from the Durban Conference ----Sandeep Sengupta

If India wants ‘equity' back in the climate change debate, it must develop a grand strategy and a strong negotiating team to see it through.

You know your negotiating strategy is in trouble when countries ranging as far as Norway in the developed world to partners like South Africa and neighbours like Bangladesh start quoting Gandhi and Nehru back to you.

Two months ago, this was the unfortunate situation Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan had to face at the Durban conference on climate change. That she managed, through a passionate last-minute speech, to ensure that all was not lost for India goes to her credit. But the fact that India found itself outwitted and cornered at the endgame of these negotiations, with no option but to resort to an angry ministerial plea, is an indication of how far New Delhi has lost its way on the issue.

As the dust from the conference settles, and a new United Nations deadline approaches for countries to submit their formal views on the subject by the month end, it is time to reappraise India's performance at Durban, and see what lessons it can learn from it.

Three objectives

India had gone to Durban with three predominant objectives. First, to secure the continuance of the Kyoto Protocol, whose ‘first commitment period' is scheduled to end in 2012. Second, to ensure that its particular concerns on equity, intellectual property rights and unilateral trade measures, neglected in previous negotiating rounds, were substantively integrated in the future climate agenda. And third, to preserve the notion of ‘differentiation' between developed and developing countries, recognised through the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities' (CBDR) in both the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

Notwithstanding the euphoric declarations of victory in some national newspapers that uncritically peddled the government line, the overall results of the conference do not make comfortable reading for India. On the plus side, one may point to the fact that industrialised countries have now agreed to a ‘second commitment period' of the Kyoto Protocol, which requires them to reduce their emissions in a legally binding manner, potentially up to 2020. This is something India was anxious to secure, not least given its high investment in, and exposure to, the Clean Development Mechanism of the Protocol. The progress made in operationalising the technology mechanism that India championed might perhaps also be counted as a success. But these apart, there is little else from Durban that it can cheer about.

The continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, important as it may be, offers little more than an ephemeral gain. With the United States refusing to ratify the treaty; Canada blatantly disregarding its previous ratification; and Japan, Australia and Russia equally disinclined towards it, it is only the European Union's commitment at Durban that has still kept the Protocol alive. But it is unlikely to survive in its current form beyond this extended phase. And, going by past record, its ability to enforce serious emission reductions in developed countries also remains equally dim.

What India gave up in return at Durban however holds far more serious consequences. The most important decision that Parties took at Durban was to terminate the ongoing negotiating process on ‘Long-term Cooperative Action' (LCA) that had been launched under the Bali Action Plan in 2007, by the end of 2012. Adopted following tough negotiations, this had notably maintained the ‘firewall' between developed and developing countries and also the ‘linking clause' that had made mitigation by the latter contingent on the level of technological and financial support that they received from the former.

Copenhagen & Cancun

The 2009 Copenhagen Accord and the 2010 Cancun Agreements were both negotiated under this mandate. Even though they diluted the Bali ‘firewall', they nevertheless reaffirmed the core UNFCCC norms, that nations would need to combat climate change on the basis of ‘equity' and in accordance with the CBDR principle, respecting the various provisions of the Convention.

The new decision at Durban that now replaces the LCA negotiating track with the ‘Durban Platform for Enhanced Action' remarkably fails to make even a passing reference to these foundational principles. Calling instead for the ‘widest possible cooperation by all countries,' a preferred formulation of the West, it launches a new process to develop a ‘protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force' by 2015, which is to be ‘applicable to all Parties', and enter into force from 2020.

Given the uncertainties of what this new mandate might ultimately produce, India did well to ‘loosen up' its legally-binding character by insisting on the inclusion of the third option. But the fact that a key decision was adopted for the first time in the entire 20-year history of international climate talks without even a cursory mention of ‘equity' and CBDR should give policymakers in New Delhi serious pause. What makes this omission even more striking is that it occurred, not through any oversight, but despite India's persistent and voluble invocation of these norms throughout the two-week long conference, and the months preceding it.

Absence of bedrock principles

Some have argued that since the new process is set to operate ‘under the Convention', all its principles and provisions will automatically apply, and hence do not need repetition. While this may hold some force, the absence of these bedrock principles from the Durban Platform text should be seen clearly for what it is: a successful attempt by the developed world to detach the future climate negotiations from their existing normative moorings, and to revise the very basis on which their legal obligations, and the legitimacy of the positions and arguments of countries like India, have so far been based.

India also failed in its bid to gain substantive recognition for the issues of intellectual property rights and unilateral trade measures. Even on ‘equity', the issue closest to its heart, all that it managed to secure in the end is a ‘workshop' on ‘equitable access to sustainable development', itself an ambiguous formulation, under a mandate that is now scheduled to expire. To what extent ‘equity' will find any formal operational recognition beyond 2012 remains an open question.

The outcome of the Durban conference — and India's failure to attain most of its stated objectives — should now raise serious questions about the wisdom of its negotiating strategy, and especially its alliance management. It should also raise questions about the capacity that it has brought to bear in these negotiations to date. At Durban, India fielded a delegation of 34 members, as opposed to 96 from the U.S., 101 from the EU, 228 from Brazil, 167 from China, and even 102 from Bangladesh. And insiders well know what the teeth-to-tail ratio even within this small group is.

Complexity of climate negotiations

However capable our top negotiators are, the sheer weight and complexity of climate negotiations today will inevitably lead to more slippages in the future unless this capacity constraint is urgently, and meaningfully, addressed. This overstretch is partly also the reason why key decision makers are left with little time to think more deeply and open-mindedly about the newer challenges that are confronting India today, and to develop effective and imaginative responses to them.

In recent years, India's climate foreign policy has undergone considerable oscillation, in not always explicable ways. While climate change is a complex issue, and genuine differences of opinion can exist among our politicians and bureaucrats on how best to approach it, it is far too important and strategic a concern for the country in the long run to be weakened by either individual caprice or collective groupthink.

If the interests of 1.2 billion Indians are to be adequately safeguarded in the coming decade and beyond, it is imperative that India develops both a coherent grand strategy to address climate change that enjoys broad cross-party parliamentary support, and a strong negotiating team to see it through.

Get your act together

In a few months' time, in June 2012, the international community will reconvene in Brazil to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the historic Rio Earth Summit. The developed world will then no doubt try to use the precedent set at Durban to press for a more general erasure of the principle of ‘differentiation' within international environmental law itself. If this is an outcome that India wishes to avoid, it needs to rapidly get its act together on this issue. Durban is a wake-up call that it must not ignore.

(Sandeep Sengupta is a doctoral candidate in International Relations at Oxford University and has worked professionally on global environmental issues.)
The Hindu

Monday, February 13, 2012

Free software and basic freedom

Specifically mentioned alongside his few contact details is a request to use free telephony. A request for Skype ID is met with a remark, ‘That is non-free (freedom-denying) software.' For this campaigner of freedom since 1983, computing with freedom is a political, ethical and moral choice that every one needs to make, keeping in mind the fact that it affects the community.

One of Richard Stallman's most famous interventions in free software was the GNU General Public Licence (GPL), which he devised around 1985 as a general licence applicable to any program. The licence codifies the concept of “copyleft,” the central idea of which gives “everyone permission to run the program, copy the program, modify the program and distribute modified versions, but not permission to add restrictions of their own.”

Mr. Stallman was recently in India to promote the use of free software.

Besides campaigning against restrictive and surveillance features of proprietary software companies, the Free Software Foundation, launched by Mr. Stallman, provides a repository of information on free applications in various fields. For instance, in music, it offers details of online music stores that provide “Internet music without the guilt” and a variety of audio books without digital restrictions or formats exclusivity. Mr. Stallman himself uses a netbook that runs with 100 per cent free software even at the BIOS level.

And this has considerable implications in newly emerging technology such as smartphones. While quite a few people believe that Android OS is free software because of its use of the Linux kernel, Mr. Stallman is firm that it is not. “The executables in Android cannot be modified by the user but only by the manufacturer despite the fact that the source code is open,” he says. “So, you access the source code and write your version but the device will not support it. This goes against the freedom to run your own version. Just the source code being open is only theoretical freedom,” he adds.

A lot of work in creating free alternatives is on, he points out, including Replicant. “One problem with a lot of proprietary software is the problem of digital surveillance. Your own computer can be turned against you, and this is possible because proprietary software have intrusive features,” Mr. Stallman says.

The free software movement, on the other hand, works towards software programmes that can be controlled by the users individually and collectively, he points out. And clearly, this can be used to counter surveillance. For instance, one of the projects on the anvil is a browser add-on that will block the appearance of Facebook ‘like' buttons in other websites. This is important because such buttons offer social networking sites a chance to monitor user behaviour even when the user is not logged into the social networking site, he says.

The Hindu

Indians have stashed over 500 billion USD in banks abroad: CBI

Indians are the largest depositors in banks abroad with an estimated $500 billion (nearly Rs 24.5 lakh crore) of illegal money stashed by them in tax havens, the CBI Director said on Monday.

India, in particular, has suffered from the flow of illegal funds to tax havens such as Mauritius, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, and British Virgin islands.

“It is estimated that around 500 billion dollars of illegal money belonging to Indians is deposited in tax havens abroad. Largest depositors in Swiss Banks are also reported to be Indians,” CBI Director A.P. Singh said speaking at the inauguration of first interpol global programme on anti-corruption and asset recovery.

He said getting information about such illegal transactions is a time taking process as investigators have to peel each layer by sending judicial requests to the country where such deposits have been made.

“Fifty three per cent of the countries said to be least corrupt by the Transparency International Index are offshore tax havens, where most of the corrupt money goes. The tax havens include New Zealand which is ranked as the least corrupt country, Singapore ranked number five and Switzerland number seven,” Mr. Singh said.

He said there is a lack of political will in the leading tax haven states to part with the information because they are aware of the extent to which their economies have become “geared to this flow of illegal capitals from the poorer countries.”

The CBI Director said tracing, freezing, confiscation and repatriation of stolen assets is a legal challenge, a complex process which requires expertise and political will.

“Managing the asset recovery investigation is complex, time consuming, costly and most importantly requires expertise and political will. There are many obstacles to asset recovery. Not only is it a specialised legal process filled with delays and uncertainty, but there are also language barriers and a lack of trust when working with other countries,” Mr. Singh said.

He said global financial markets allow money to travel faster and further making tracking the money trail in such cases even more difficult which necessitates the organisation of such global training programs as they enhance the knowledge of investigators in tracking assets created out of corrupt and criminal acts.

Mr. Singh said criminals are using the territorial issues of investigating agencies to their advantage by spreading their crimes to at least two countries and investing in a third.

“In some of the recent important cases being investigated by the CBI such as 2G, CWG and Madhu Koda, we find that money is taken to Dubai/Singapore/Mauritius from where it goes to Switzerland and other such tax havens.

“For criminals all it involves is setting up of a few shell companies and then making layered transfers from account to another in a matter of hours as there are no boundaries in banking transactions,” he said.

He said the World Bank estimates the cross border flow of money from criminal activities and tax evasion is around 1.5 trillion US dollars of which 40 billion US dollars is bribe paid to government servants in developing countries.

Mr. Singh quoted the report to say that only five billion US dollars of this money has been repatriated during 15 years.


The Russians are leaving … Russia --- Vladimir Radyuhin

Highly qualified middle-class professionals, feeling ignored by the country's economy and political system, are emigrating in search of greener pastures.

Andrei and Nadezhda are, by any measure, successful professionals and a happy family. They are the kind of people who are supposed to be the mainstay of new Russia and the driving force of its resurgence. Except that they are planning to leave this country for good.

They live in the ancient Russian city of Vladimir, about 200 km east of Moscow. Andrei, 40, and Nadezhda, 36, have decent jobs, a two-bedroom flat and a car, and are raising two daughters, aged 10 and 4. Four years ago they took a firm decision to emigrate. Why?

“We don't see a future for us here,” says Nadezhda. “Once a military and industrial giant, our country today is reduced to a raw material appendage to other economic powerhouses. Look at our shops: You won't find any goods made in Russia. Our well-being depends on the price of oil and on decisions taken by politicians and economists in other countries. We don't feel we are needed here.”

Results of a survey

This harsh indictment of the situation in this country is shared by many Russians. A survey conducted last year by the respected Levada Centre found that 50 per cent of Russians do not think there is future for them in Russia, while 63 per cent said they would like their children to live elsewhere.

Andrei and Nadezhda are part of a new emigration wave from Russia. There are no reliable emigration statistics, partly because the departures are hard to document. According to the Federal Migration Service, almost 30,000 left Russia in the 11 months of last year. However, the figure includes only those who gave up their Russian passports, whereas most émigrés retain Russian citizenship. The Auditing Commission, last year, estimated on the basis of tax returns that almost 1.25 million Russians had left during the past decade. Other estimates put the number of émigrés at 2 million. The shocking fact is that the exodus from Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union is comparable to that in the wake of the October 1917 Bolshevik revolution. In those days Russians fled violence and hunger. Today their motives are different.

The first post-Soviet emigration wave, when an estimated 1.1 million left Russia in the 1990s, was largely attributed to the lifting of Communist-era travel restrictions and the country's painful transition to a market economy. It was baffling though when the outflow picked up again during Vladimir Putin's presidency in the 2000s. After all, under Mr. Putin, Russia overcame the chaos of the 1990s, posted steady growth and saw people's incomes rise significantly. However, economic growth has been largely confined to the extracting industries, limiting opportunities for self-fulfilment. The corrupt nexus of Russian business and the state became overwhelming, stifling competition and producing a new breed of billionaire bureaucrats. Many felt that the political regime increasingly resembles the Soviet Union where people had no say in government, the Parliament was decorative and elections were a sham. At the same time, the notion of social justice for which the Soviet Union was famous has all but disappeared in new capitalist Russia. Over the past decade, Russia earned an estimated $1.6 trillion from the sale of oil and gas alone, or more than $11,000 per head of its population, but the money landed in the pockets of the privileged few. Moscow today has more billionaires than any other world capital, but across the country, over 21 million people out of the population of 142 million live below the minimal subsistence level. Last year, the number of poor people increased by two million compared with 2010, according to Rosstat, the State statistics committee.

“In Russia, incredible riches of the oligarchs contrast with the lack of social security, quality medicine and education for the people,” complains Nadezhda, who was 18 when the Soviet Union collapsed and can compare life then and now. “Today crime, drunkenness and narcotics rule the roost. We are totally alienated from the state; we can't change the government through elections.”

Who could have imagined two decades ago that Russians would be leaving their country in search of social justice and security? Yet, this is what Andrei and Nadezhda hope to find in Canada.

“We want our children to have good education, good jobs and social security; we want them to live in a country governed by law and caring for its citizens,” says Nadezhda. But it could take several more years for that dream to take shape as emigration to Canada involves a long and cumbersome process.

Focus on middle class

What is worrying about Russian emigration is that it is fuelled by the middle class. Andrei is a skilled mechanic and electrical engineer. Nadezhda has two university diplomas in accounting and management. They say job opportunities in their home city of 350,000 people are far and few between. While they await their passage to Canada, Andrei, like many other people in Vladimir, has taken a better paid job in Moscow. He commutes to the capital twice a week to work in 24-hour shifts.

“Big industrial enterprises that used to employ the bulk of the workforce in Vladimir either closed down in the 1990s or split into small companies,” says Andrei. “It is still possible to find a job, but the pay is low and people go to Moscow in search of work.”

Last month, the 250-year-old Gusevsky Crystal Glass Factory, the main employer and tax-payer in Gus-Khrustalny, a town of 60,000 residents less than an hour's drive from Vladimir, went bankrupt and fired its remaining workers. Once famous for its beautiful designer crystalware, Gus-Khrustalny, which means Crystal Goose, has recently made headlines as a town controlled by criminal gangs. The scandal broke out when residents complained to Mr. Putin of mass extortion racketing that was patronised by local police.

In absolute terms, emigration from Russia is not that big when compared with many other countries. Moreover, it is offset by the influx of immigrants from other former Soviet States. The problem is that the country has been haemorrhaging highly qualified and entrepreneurial cadres, the cream of society, whereas the bulk of newcomers are unskilled labourers from Central Asia.

Professor Anatoly Vishnevsky of the Institute of Demography at the Higher School of Economics has estimated that more than 1,00,000 researchers with academic degrees had left Russia over the past two decades and the outflow continues.

Some of the best Russian universities today serve as a free source of talent for foreign laboratories. Seventy per cent of students at Novosibirsk State University plan to leave the country after they get their degree, according to research conducted by the Novosibirsk branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

A poll conducted by the All-Russia Centre for Public Opinion Studies (VTsIOM) last year revealed that the number of people ready to leave Russia for good has grown fourfold since the breakup of the Soviet Union 20 years ago. Today, 21 per cent of Russians consider emigration as their chance for self-attainment and a better life. Among the educated young people, the share of potential emigrants is staggering — 39 per cent.

In contrast to the 1990s, when Russians mostly headed in the Western direction, today they are also looking to the East. Tens of thousands of Siberians, mostly small and medium-size businessmen, have moved their businesses and families to China to escape bureaucratic pressure and extortion at home.

“I think the era of doing honest business in Russia has ended,” said Ivan Smolin, a businessman from Krasnoyarsk now living in Harbin. He says he had left because the business and political climate in Russia was suffocating.

“I left to escape stagnation. I felt it was impossible to change things. You can be successful only in two cases: if you dodge taxes or sit on the oil pipe [do business in hydrocarbons].”

Cynics say the Kremlin is only too happy to see the disgruntled leave the country and this is one reason why it has been pushing for a visa-free travel arrangement with Europe. The country that lives off its oil and minerals does not need that many qualified specialists anyway.

Protests and political system

Mass protests against rigged parliamentary elections in December showed, however, that many educated urban Russians, instead of packing their bags, are now ready to pack the streets to demand reforms and freedoms.

The peaceful protests have already prompted the Kremlin to promise pro-democracy reforms and 25 million new skilled jobs over the next decade. This generated hopes that many potential emigrants would delay, if not rethink, their departure.

Andrei and Nadezhda, however, do not believe that things could change in Russia in their lifetime. They showed me a recent news item in a local paper.

The paper reported a fire in a municipal district administration in Vladimir that destroyed all ballot papers of the December parliamentary election from two polling stations, where Mr. Putin's party received over 90 per cent of the votes (twice the average for Vladimir). What is more, the two polling stations never opened on the election day. Police blamed the fire on faulty electrical wiring.

“What changes can we hope for in a country where authorities act with such impunity,” asked Nadezhda. “Putin's decision to return as President has only strengthened our resolve to emigrate.”

The Hindu