Climate change deal clinched at COP21: Here's why India is on the receiving end

As many as 195 countries reached a deal on Saturday to save the earth from catastrophic climate change that threatens to bring about a mass extinction of species, including human beings.

The deal has been termed historic because this is the first time there has been a near consensus in reaching an agreement over the grave environment challenge facing all nations equally.

However, there are criticisms that the deal will put pressure on countries like India and developed nations like the US have not taken enough responsibility in dealing with the issue.

Here are the key points about the deal:

What is the deal all about?

The deal is aimed at reducing the global warming which is already melting ice sheets and raising oceans threatening the lives of animals and plants. The countries that met at Paris agreed to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and also make efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. For this, the key is reducing the dependence on fossil fuels and cutting the greenhouse gas emissions. Temperatures have already increased by about 1°Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal, the countries aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, says the agreement. It, however, recognises that peaking of greenhouse gases emission will take longer for developing countries.

As per the agreement, developed countries should "continue taking the lead" by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets, while developing countries should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts. They are also encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances.

 Climate change deal clinched at COP21: Heres why India is on the receiving end

President Barack Obama with PM Narendra Modi at the UN conference on climate change COP21. AFP

How will the long-term goal be achieved?

For one, countries will set national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions every five years. More than 180 countries have already submitted targets for the first cycle beginning in 2020.

The agreement requests countries that have set a target with time-frame of up to 2030 "to communicate or update by 2020 these contributions and to do so every five years thereafter". That doesn't require governments to deepen their cuts. But the hope is that it will be possible for them to do so if renewable energy sources become more affordable and effective.

Is there a penalty for non-compliance to the set targets?

No. But the agreement has transparency rules to help encourage countries to actually do what they say they will do. That was one of the most difficult pieces to agree on, with China asking for softer requirements for developing countries. The agreement says all countries must report on their emissions and their efforts the reduce them. But it allows for some "flexibility" for developing countries that "need it."

What about finance?

This is the most contentious issue: how will countries finance their shift towards greener economy? The agreement says wealthy countries should continue to offer financial support to help poor countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change. It also encourages other countries to pitch in on a voluntary basis. That paves the way for emerging economies such as China to contribute, even though it doesn't require them to do so. Actual dollar amounts were kept out of the agreement itself, but wealthy nations had previously pledged to provide $100 billion in climate finance by 2020. However, this seems to be a small sum. Oxfam estimates that the new deal will see developing countries facing adaptation costs of almost $800 billion a year by 2050.

For small island nations threatened by rising seas, the agreement includes a section recognising "loss and damage" associated with climate-related disasters. The US long objected to addressing the issue in the agreement, worried that it would lead to claims of compensation for damage caused by extreme weather events. In the end, the issue was included, but a footnote specifically stated that loss and damage does not involve liability or compensation.

What the experts are saying?

Environmental experts have struck a note of caution though they agreed it is a path breaking deal. They are of the opinion that it may not be the panacea to the problem of reducing use of fossil fuels but is the "starting gun" for the race towards a low-carbon future.

Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has termed the climate deal as "weak and unambitious". It does not include any "meaningful" targets and has discharged developed nations from their historical responsibility, it said.

"Developing countries have got words and promise of money while the developed countries have finally got rid of their historical responsibility of causing climate change. They have no legally binding targets on finance or emissions cuts," CSE director general Sunita Narain said.

A section of the environment experts feel this is only the beginning. WWF-UK Chief Executive David Nussbaum said, "Paris is just the starting gun for the race towards a low-carbon future."

Greenpeace International echoed the sentiment. "Today the human race has joined in a common cause, but it's what happens after this conference that really matters. The Paris Agreement is only one step on long a road, and there are parts of it that frustrate and disappoint me, but it is progress. This deal alone won't dig us out the hole we're in, but it makes the sides less steep," said Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo.

Oxfam said too many governments in Paris protected their own self-interests instead of their own people at the talks. "While the richest countries have the biggest responsibility to tackle climate change, few countries stood out calling for a stronger deal," it said.

Has India won?

The western media had projected India as a villain throwing a spanner in the works of the climate deal. Ironically, as the deal is clinched, India seems to be on the receiving end. The big win for the country is the inclusion of the phrase "common but differentiated responsibilities", recognising the different national circumstances of developed and developing countries.

Like all world leaders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has hailed the deal. He tweeted:

However, environment minister Prakash Javadekar has been more cautious while welcoming the deal. "The actions of developed countries are far below their historical responsibilities and fair shares. We have in the spirit of compromise agreed on a number of phrases in the agreement," he has been quoted as saying.

Many experts hold this view.

"Developing countries have got words and promise of money while the developed countries have finally got rid of their historical responsibility of causing climate change. They have no legally binding targets on finance or emissions cuts," said CSE director general Sunita Narain.

Echoing the view is Thiagarajan Jayaraman of Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. “This is a major political loss for India and other developing countries. The accord allows developed countries to commit to emission reductions as they wish, disregarding their historical emissions and grabbing a disproportionate share of available carbon space,” Jayaraman has been quoted as saying in a report on ABPLive.

A report in Mint notes that India will face huge pressure to cut emissions, while financing of the shift to renewable energy sources remains a big challenge.

According to the report, the $100 billion a year commitment by the developed nations is "ambiguous and lacks a clear roadmap".

In the run-up to the Paris summit, India had in October committed to cut the rate of emissions relative to GDP by 33-35 per cent by 2030 from 2005 levels. The country is planning to boost its energy production from renewable sources to 40 percent of total by 2030. In order to achieve this target, the government has set five-fold increase in renewable energy capacity in the next five years to 175 gigawatts.

Meanwhile, the coal ministry has also set higher production targets for Coal India. The company is to increase annual output to 1 billion tonnes of coal by 2022 from 550 million tonnes set for 2016. Keeping in mind the ambitious targets for economic growth, India clearly is walking a tight rope.

Nevertheless, global opinion is largely positive about the agreement, if Twitter is anything to go by:

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Dec 14, 2015 12:10:12 IST