Convoluted Paris climate agreement is ambitious but India has nothing to cheer about

By Dinesh C Sharma

Historic, game-changing, major breakthrough, epic turning point – these are some of the adjectives being used to describe the Paris Agreement on climate change hammered out in the French capital by negotiators from 190 countries over the weekend. In reality, the agreement is far from all this. Fine print shows that it is, in fact, a climb down for developing countries like India because now they will be on par with developed countries despite being small occupiers of the carbon space.

 Convoluted Paris climate agreement is ambitious but India has nothing to cheer about

Will Paris Agreement on climate change prove a game changer? AP

While Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has claimed that India's concerns have been met in the agreement though it could have been "more ambitious", a more realistic assessment of the deal has come from Prime Minister Modi who has tweeted that “Outcome of Paris Agreement has no winners or losers.” The reality, however, lies somewhere in between what the two are saying.

Broadly, the world has agreed that climate change is "an urgent and potentially irreversible process" and that it requires “an effective and appropriate international response” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Second, it has been agreed that the world has to move towards low carbon growth and eventually become a net zero carbon emission society. It is good news for renewable energy industry and, as some people say, amounts to death warrant for the fossil fuel industry though undated. It is ambitious in setting the goal of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to 2 degree above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degree.”

The 31-page document adopted at Paris is a clever - you may call it deliberately confusing - document. One would have expected the Paris Agreement to be the main outcome of the two-week long negotiations. But it is not. The Paris Agreement is only an annexure to the decisions taken by the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Technically speaking, Paris Agreement is part of COP decisions and not a full-fledged legally binding instrument. This leaves room open for future meetings of COP to amend it. Clearly, the developed world does not want to be tied down to any legal framework.

The biggest reason the Paris Agreement is a negative watershed in two decades of climate talks is the fact that it does away with the concept of historic carbon emissions and binds both industrially developed and developing countries to the common goal of reducing emissions. This is a major scoring point for the rich West, which is responsible for massive amounts of carbon emitted since the Industrial Revolution, which in turn, is causing the climate crisis today. The Paris Agreement has buried the notion of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ by equating both developed and developing countries.

The only fig leaf of differentiation has been maintained in the agreement but is as vague as possible. Article 4 says that in order to achieve the long-term temperature goal of 2 degree rise, all parties will reduce emissions, but “peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.”

On the other hand, the clause for developed countries says, “developed country Parties shall continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets.” The use of word ‘shall’ means it is not obligatory. No deadline and no quantum of reduction has been mentioned, nor is there any mention of historical emissions.

In effect, lip service has been paid to “equity” and “differentiation” but there is no way in the agreement to operationalize these concepts. The environment minister is right when he says that India’s concerns have been met because all right words are mentioned in the COP document and preamble, but the operative Paris Agreement is silent on issues of historical emissions and equity. There is no mention of global carbon budget and its equitable use.

While getting away from paying for their past emissions, the rich and polluting nations have converted voluntary pledges made by all members into a binding system, by insisting that the Intended Nationally Determined Commitments (INDCs) – a voluntary set of national actions – be incorporated in the multilateral negotiations. INDCs will not only be reviewed every five years – which means there could be more demands on countries like India and China to commit more – but their implementation be subjected to a set of international rules and methods to measure actions.
The role of carbon markets has been emphasized, despite the past experience with instruments like Clean Development Mechanism.

The industrially advanced nations will be allowed to offset their emissions through carbon credits. Simply put, they can continue to emit domestically but pay for some clean projects in developing countries and earn credits. When it comes to putting money to finance sustainable projects in developing countries, tall promise of generating $ 100 billion a year by 2020 has been made to help developing countries. Similar promises have been made in the past too, but the Green Climate Fund (GCF) established by UN is waiting for dollars to trickle in. The US was the first one to pledge $3 billion, but GCF is yet to get its first dollar from America.

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Updated Date: Dec 14, 2015 18:33:46 IST



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