As the Paris climate talks ran into an extra day, the Eiffel Tower was lit up with messages of encouragement and caution. The messages urged the countries to ‘decarbonise’, keep global warming below 1.5 degrees, and warned that there is “no plan B”. A day later (December 12) the deal was “banged into ecological history with a foam green gavel by the foreign minister of the French Republic”, as one reporter put it beautifully. It was never going to be easy for 200 nations, give or take, to agree to one plan, and in that sense it is a big relief. World leaders welcomed the agreement, calling it a “historic turning point”, a “tremendous victory” and a victory for “climate justice”. The agreement aims to keep the rise in global temperatures “well below” 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times to the end of this century and “endeavour to limit” them even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The deal, which will take effect in 2020, is the first time all nations are being urged to join the fight against climate change. Previously, United Nations talks had only called on wealthy nations to reduce their emissions.
US President Barack Obama, however, conceded that “no agreement is perfect, including this one.” He is spot on. Many questions are being raised about the deal. There’s nothing to enforce the carbon emission cuts needed to get near that 2-degree goal. What this Paris agreement does, then, is provide a set of diplomatic tools to prod countries into cutting emissions even more deeply over time. Second, the agreement doesn’t force the rich world to pay more than they’re paying now, or to do it in a more effective way. The text does talk about support for loss and damage, but clearly specifies that this will not be considered as liability or compensation. This further erases responsibilities of the rich world of dealing with the consequences of their past emissions. Developed countries have got a carbon market, through which they can offset their emissions, so they will do even less domestically than what they have promised in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).
What has India got from Paris? It has got right words like equity and common-but-differentiated responsibilities mentioned. It has managed to incorporate terms like climate justice, sustainable lifestyle and consumption. But India seems to believe that it will not have to do much before 2030. But as a CSE analysis shows, this may not be correct. India will be under pressure to take more burden for mitigating climate change by 2020 and beyond, especially when the next review of INDCs takes place. As the final text was released, French President F Hollande said: “We will not be judged on a clause in a sentence, but on the text as a whole. We will not be judged on a word, but on an act.” True, it’s over to the governments now to act and make the best of whatever the deal offers.