The twenty-first session of the Conference of Parties (COP21) has ended and the fine print of the Paris Agreement has been critically examined. In the corridors of political power the world over, with some exceptions, there is a great euphoria about the outcome of this agreement. Indian government is also upbeat about the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words such as ‘equity’, ‘climate justice’, ‘sustainable lifestyle’ and ‘reducing consumption’ have been kept intact in the agreement. However, it must be noted that these are not in the operational part of the agreement and are included in the text as good concepts to combat climate change. What matters is how much they are adopted by developed countries.
There is also another category of the so-called ‘environmental activists’ who are at the other end of the spectrum. Perhaps they find nothing exciting or useful from India’s and many poor nations’ point of view in the Paris deal and think it is greatly tilted in favour of rich nations.
To my mind, none of the above extreme views can lead us to the correct assessment of the Paris Agreement. Thus, let us analyse it dispassionately in a professional manner. To do so, let us first understand what were the main issues before COP21.
Briefly, these are (1) providing $100 billion yearly from 2020 onwards to poor nations by the rich; (2) providing clean technology at low cost to poor nations by the rich; (3) differentiating between poor countries and rich countries for reduction in emissions after taking into account the latter’s historical emissions; (4) compensating small island nations and Africa for the loss and damage they suffered due to climate change; and (5) devising a transparent monitoring mechanism for climate pledges submitted by nations to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Analysis of the agreement
Now, let us see what the Paris Agreement says on the above issues. First, with regard to GEF of $100 billion and providing clean technology, there is no clarity in the agreement and these issues have been left to future negotiations during the next five years. This is disappointing and would hamper the entire process of adaptation and mitigation effort.
Second, the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibility of rich and poor nations has been diluted because the words ‘historical emissions’ of rich nations have been omitted in the Paris Agreement. This absolves rich countries of their responsibility for reducing their emissions drastically, which is required to save the planet from disastrous consequences of climate change. This, in turn, puts greater pressure on developing countries, in particular India and China, to reduce their emissions much more than they have pledged. We know that India has to carry out development work if it has to uplift its poor who are devoid of even basic necessities of life and are reeling in extreme poverty. Where is the ‘climate justice’ if India is being denied its fair share of ‘carbon space’?
Third, the methodology of monitoring of implementation of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) remains unresolved in Paris and is still to be negotiated in the coming years. India and China have maintained that developed and developing countries should have different systems of monitoring and reporting, which were devised at Cancun in 2010. These are called as International Assessment and Review (IAR) for the developed and International Consultation and Analysis (ICA) for developing countries. This difference is due to the fact that developing countries do not have the necessary capability to undertake stringent reporting and thus they wanted the Paris Agreement must operationalise and implement differential obligations of developed and developing countries.
However, the US and EU do not agree with this view.
Some positives of the agreement
It is a welcome step that the Paris Agreement has incorporated a new threshold limit of average global temperature rise of 1.5-degree Celsius by 2100 instead of the current limit of 2-degree Celsius. However, the moot question is, how to achieve this new limit? In fact, even if all the pledges of all the countries are fulfilled, the new limit of 1.5-degrees is likely to be reached by about 2025 or so. This means that we have to embark upon huge enhancement of emission cuts urgently, and this should be done by rich nations, which they are not prepared to do.
Economies in tech-innovative places such as the US and Japan are likely to do well, as renewable energy work takes off in poor countries having abundant ‘sunshine’ and ‘wind’. Market share will expand for companies involved in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Also, innovators and venture capitalists are likely to make a beeline for energy industry.
In addition, there have been some big-ticket announcements at the COP21, such as Global Solar Alliance by Prime Minister Modi of some 120 countries (full of sunshine for 360 days in a year) between Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, including many rich countries, and the R&D push by US President Barack Obama. Some other initiatives include a high level meeting on climate vulnerability by the Philippine President, a discussion on fossil fuel subsidy reform and climate change by New Zealand Prime Minister, and the Canadian Prime Minister’s stress on follow-up of increased climate funding.
To conclude, climate change is hanging on our heads like the Sword of Damocles. By 2100, the global temperature may rise even by 7.9-degree Celsius if the latest research (published in the journal Earth and Environmental Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh) is to be believed. This finding is at the uppermost range of temperature rise as calculated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and clearly far above the limit of 2 or 1.5 degrees. While I do not intend to create an alarm by quoting the figure of 7.9 degrees—which may be disputed in the future—but what transpired in Paris and the fact that only meagre emission cuts have been announced by rich nations, the situation appears to be out of control.
Going forward, rich nations should take suo motu action to enhance their emission cuts to the extent it is required for keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5-degree Celsius. This need be done right now without waiting for a review after five years.
The author is a former UN Consultant and Director, Central Statistical Office, Govt of India