Little to cheer about: Paris deal against developing nations

  • Darryl D’Monte
  • Updated: Dec 15, 2015 01:58 IST
US President Barack Obama, who worked the phone lines to China and India, has claimed the agreement was a ‘tribute to American leadership….[transforming] the US into the global leader in fighting climate change’. (AFP Photo)

There has been a great deal of euphoria around the world, and quiet optimism in India, about the successful conclusion of the United Nations climate summit in Paris. But much of the relief may ensue from the fact that — unlike its abortive predecessor in Copenhagen in 2009 — some 195 countries, developed and developing, were able to shake hands at the end of a gruelling fortnight of negotiations.

When developing countries look at the fine print, however, most of their sense of achievement will evaporate. The deal is deficient in virtually all respects, except for the genuflection towards equity and differentiation between countries, which was one of the red lines that India was able to enforce.

In many ways, the outcome was a failure that could have been predicted. All that every country had to do was to present its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which, as the very phrase suggests, left it to countries to decide. No country was going to stick its neck out. As United States President Barack Obama said in Paris, “…targets that are set not for each of us, but by each of us.”

Read: COP21 agreement: All you need to know about Paris climate change deal

One of the biggest surrenders has been doing away with the principle of historical responsibility on the part of industrial countries. This recognised that global warming has been caused by greenhouse gas emissions since 1850 and those which have contributed to the earth’s crisis are responsible for making amends. Now, thanks to considerable pressure exerted by the US to ensure that every country is to be treated at par, the carbon debt of the past 165 years has been wiped off.

The principle was inserted in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, initiated in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, largely at India’s insistence. Instead, countries will now be examined by their ‘respective capabilities and national circumstances’, which concedes differentiation but does not put the onus on industrial countries, as climate justice demands.

The carbon budget, which should be at the core of a climate agreement, has not even got a mention. Science tell us that for temperatures to remain below 1.5C, as the Paris agreement targets, the world’s total carbon dioxide (CO2)emissions allowed from 2011 till 2100 amount to 550 gigatonnes (Gt).

The US and the European Union (EU) are estimated to emit 128 Gt CO2 between 2011 and 2030, which amounts to nearly a quarter of the carbon budget. India will likely emit only 58 Gt CO2 until 2030 — 10.5% of the available budget. If the carbon budget yardstick was applied, rich countries would have to reach zero emissions within five to 10 years.

Yet another setback in Paris is the crucial issue of funding. The clause has been excluded from the 11 pages of legally binding provisions and placed in the 20 pages of decisions. The $100 billion to be provided by industrial countries by 2020 is being hailed as a major step forward, although it was announced in Copenhagen.

Read: One word made the difference: How Paris climate pact was won

A woman walks past a map showing the elevation of the sea in the last 22 years during the World Climate Change Conference. (REUTERS)

This too is entirely open-ended, with no obligations on any country. From 2010, $10 billion was to be contributed to the Green Climate Fund every year, ratcheting up 10 times by 2020. To date, only $5.83 billion has been coughed up, which makes a mockery of any attempt to compensate countries that have to adapt to climate change.

To add insult to injury, rich countries kept referring in the negotiations to a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which claimed that they had already contributed $62 billion for this purpose. This was challenged by the Indian finance ministry officials who in a report titled ‘Some Credible Facts Needed’, calculate that only $2.2 billion has been provided. The rest was double-accounting, inclusion of private investment and ‘greenwashing’.

While commitments to reduce emissions and to pay developing countries to adapt to climate change are not compulsory in the agreement, the procedures for review and reporting of the INDCs are. The review will take place every five years from 2020 and has caused India some discomfiture.

Which external monitoring agency will conduct an audit of domestic operations to both mitigate climate change and adapt to them? Other international treaties like that of the World Trade Organization have proved problematic when India’s food rationing for the poor crops up. Even in solar energy, for which India is aiming at 100 GW in seven years, the US has questioned the requirement that a percentage of panels should be sourced domestically.

Paris also watered down a loss and damage clause by referring to it but doing away with any liability for compensation. This was, once again, at the behest of the US. Ironically, Obama, who worked the phone lines to China and India, has claimed the agreement was a “tribute to American leadership….[transforming] the US into the global leader in fighting climate change”. The world hardly needs reminding that America’s profligate lifestyles, which every country aspires to, are at the heart of the problem.

Read: Climate justice has won, no winners or losers: PM Modi on Paris deal

Indian negotiators and NGOs kept referring to the fact that there are 300 million who have no access to electricity. At the global level, this was an important bargaining tool. It questioned how the country could keep coal in the ground, as was often suggested in Paris. The fact that Indians emit 1.7 tonnes of CO2 per capita a year, one-tenth of Americans, also spoke for itself.

What India does on the domestic front to enforce climate justice, however, is another matter altogether. Not so often mentioned are the 800 million who use polluting fuels to cook with. What prevents the government from making every effort to provide energy on these two fronts?

On the contrary, the NDA government is dismantling the few environmental regulations that did exist, as the TSR Subramanian committee was required to do. And ‘Make in India’ seems relegated to bullet trains, coastal roads and other fanciful schemes that do nothing to redress the needs of those who lack the bare essentials.

Darryl D’Monte is chairperson, Forum of Environmental Journalists of India

The views expressed are personal

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