Paris agreement fails to do justice to climate sufferers

  • PG Dhar Chakrabarti
  • Updated: Dec 13, 2015 19:44 IST
A woman walks past a map showing the elevation of the sea in the last 22 years during the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget near Paris. The Paris Agreement does pretty little to provide justice to hundreds of thousands who suffered from the adverse impacts of climate change. (Reuters)

IPCC Fourth Assessment Report 2007 produced clinching evidence that anthropogenic climate change had increased the incidence of extreme climatic events and projected that frequency and intensity of such events would increase over the years. Five years later IPCC came up with its Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX) which highlighted that the impacts of extreme climatic events such as heat and cold wave, heavy precipitation, tropical cyclonic storms, floods, droughts, glacial lake outbursts etc would be particularly severe in many developing, least developed and small island countries that contributed least to the climate change. The report underscored the importance for managing the risks of climate related disasters for adaptation and sustainable development.

The findings of the SREX prompted the 18th Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC held in Doha in 2012 to discuss a plan of action to address loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change. The COP-19 in Warsaw established an International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts. The mechanism inter alia provided that knowledge and understanding of comprehensive risk management to address loss and damage shall be enhanced; dialogue, coordination and coherence among stakeholders shall be strengthened; and technical, financial and capacity-building support to address loss and damage shall be enhanced. Nothing much happened thereafter except that the COP-20 in Lima approved two-year work plan of the mechanism.

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French foreign affairs minister Laurent Fabius (R), President-designate of COP21, uses his gavel next to Christiana Figueres (L), executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change during the final plenary session at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget near Paris on Saturday. (REUTERS)

Studies conducted by UNFCCC sponsored work plan on loss and damage provided incontrovertible evidences that hundreds of thousands of poor people living in many vulnerable developing countries lost their livelihoods and became climate refugees due to the adverse impacts of climate change. The studies further confirmed the apprehensions that sea level rise would compound the miseries of many communities in coastal and small island countries.

There were expectations that COP 21 in Paris would discuss these issues in a comprehensive manner leading to a legally binding mechanism for compensating irreparable loss and damage suffered by the communities in many developing countries due the adverse impacts of climate change. There were hopes that either a new Loss or Damage Fund is constituted or the terms of existing Green Climate Fund extended to partly compensate for the loss and damage suffered by some of the most affected countries and communities.

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The Paris Agreement belies all such expectations. Article 8 of the Agreement does recognise the importance of ‘averting, minimizing and addressing’ such loss and damage for sustainable development, but it does not go beyond prescribing that the Warsaw International Mechanism shall be enhanced and strengthened and suggesting eight specific areas for enhanced ‘understanding, action and support’. These include early warning, emergency preparedness, risk assessment, risk insurance, and resilience of communities, livelihoods and ecosystems. The decision of COP-21 appended with the agreement makes it abundantly clear that ‘Article 8 of the Agreement shall not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation’.

The eight specific areas of ‘enhanced understanding, action and support’ are reiteration of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR) that was earlier agreed at the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in March this year. Despite the non-binding nature of the SFDRR the developed countries vehemently opposed any specific commitment to provide financial and technical assistance to the developing countries for the implementation of the framework. After protracted negotiations the compromise agreed was a generic assurance that ‘international cooperation’ to developing countries shall be substantially enhanced through adequate support to complement their national actions. International cooperation here included not only bi-lateral and multi-lateral assistance but also south-south cooperation and private and voluntary initiatives.

What is ‘international cooperation’ in Sendai becomes ‘international mechanism’ in Paris, without any imprint whatsoever of the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ that is the hallmark of the UNFCCC. The lofty declarations of ‘climate justice’ and ‘human rights’ in its preamble notwithstanding, the Paris Agreement does pretty little to provide justice to hundreds of thousands who suffered from the adverse impacts of climate change in the past and the millions more who would be suffering such impacts in the years and decades ahead.

Dr PG Dhar Chakrabarti is a retired IAS officer and a distinguished fellow at TERI. Views expressed are personal

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