Is deal possible in Paris?

It is indeed a very weak deal in addressing the climate challenge though it is better than a total failure from the climate perspective.

During the release of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated that human influence on the climate system was clearly growing and that we must act quickly and decisively if we want to avoid increasingly destructive outcomes of climate change.

The deadline for a global agreement to address climate change is scheduled for Paris during December, 2015. The just concluded Lima Climate Convention was supposed to prepare ground for a complete agreement in Paris. It was supposed to set guidelines for what countries will include in their climate action plans after 2020, agree on negotiating text for Paris, agree on a clear roadmap to mobilise funds for mitigation and adaptation, and ensure immediate action to reduce CO2 emissions in the short term till 2020.

UN process: Under the UN charter, the agreement at the climate convention must be by
consensus and all 194 countries present have to agree to every sentence in the agreement. This is a challenge given the self-interests of many countries and groupings of countries. The UN Climate Convention consists of several grouping, the prominent being G77+China, which consists of most developing countries including India. There are groups consisting of Small Island States and Least Developed Countries, which are most vulnerable to climate change.

India is also a member of BASIC group consisting of “Brazil, South Africa, India and China”. China surely does not belong to "G77+ China" group or even BASIC group, since its CO2 emissions (7.2 t CO2/capita /year) are very high (nearly four times) compared to, say India (1.5 to 2 t CO2/capita/year), and higher than European Union (6.8 t CO2/capita/year). Further, China accounts for nearly 30 per cent of global emission, compared to India’s share of about 7 per cent. But in the Lima Climate Convention China has aligned with India and other poorer countries. India will have to reconsider its stand on aligning with China.

Stake for India high: India is one of the most vulnerable countries for climate change risks, according to all global rankings. This is due to a large population depending on climate- sensitive sectors such as rain-fed agriculture and coastal fishing. Thus, India, in the interest of its poor, must work towards a successful climate agreement.

Generally, India is focussed more on ensuring no CO2 reduction commitment for the rich in India and seeking adaptation finance. It is not clear how adaptation finance will help the poor, since how much of it will reach the poor is anybody’s guess.

Lima highlights

The Convention in Lima has come up with a weak agreement, at the most, one can say that it is better than a total failure from the climate perspective.

• Adaptation or coping with climate change impacts will be a prominent part of any future deal, possibly through a binding protocol which used to be largely restricted to CO2 emission reduction targets in the past. India was very keen on adaptation.

• The convention has expressed grave concern on the significant gap between the countries pledging on mitigation (CO2 emission reduction) and the deep emission reduction commitment needed to achieve the goal of keeping the global warming below 2 degree C. Also it underscores the need for an ambitious agreement in Paris next year.

• The principle of "Common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities" has been retained. India was keen on this principle to ensure that only rich countries have commitment to reduce emissions. The rich countries, especially the US is against this principle and says "No one gets a free pass". Surely this will come to haunt the future agreement in Paris.

• General agreement urging rich countries to provide enhanced financial support to developing countries. About US$ 10 billion has been pledged so far, but what is expected is a commitment of US$ 100 billion by 2020, which is too ambitious given the economic status of many developed countries.

• All countries are expected to submit, preferably by the end of March 2015, but they can delay till later in the year, what is called "Intended Nationally Determined Contributions" to the UN. This submission will determine the shape of the Paris Agreement. This INDC will include broadly all actions relevant to addressing climate change mitigation and adaptation actions, technology needs, financing, capacity building actions etc. A lot of flexibility is given leading to weak INDCs, which cannot be verified.

It is not strong on quantifiable information showing how each country intends to meet its CO2 emissions targets. India has to initiate serious modelling and cost-benefit assessments of various mitigation and adaptation options and implications for its development, especially for the poor against climate risks. India will have to refocus its attention on the climate implications for poor as the central issue and not ensuring unrestricted  access to energy for the rich.

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar is supposed to have been happy as he said, “All of India’s concerns have been addressed” and that "we've got what we wanted." It is indeed a very weak deal in addressing the climate challenge. Even the UN Climate Change Secretariat itself has said the combined pledges by all nations in Paris will be too weak to achieve the 2 degrees C goal.

Finally, UN Special Envoy for Climate Change Mary Robinson rightly said governments have made just enough progress at the talks in Lima "to keep the multilateral process alive, but not enough progress to give confidence that the world is ready to adopt an equitable and ambitious, legally binding climate agreement in Paris next year."

(The writer is with the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru)

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