The US President Donald Trump, an interesting man to say the least, has pulled out of the historic Paris climate agreement, calling global warming a hoax and the deal unfair to the American interests. On the other hand, several other nations have rebuked him and have reaffirmed their own commitments to the deal, which would prevent our mother earth from burning up from rising heat.
Or will it? Even if Donald Trump believed that the climate change is for real, have the other nations calling for action on climate change done anything other than lip service to prevent it?
The Paris deal, agreed to at COP21 climate summit in November-December 2015, was cheered for being the most successful deal to date, with the developed nations agreeing to take on greater responsibilities towards containing climate change. However, the accord’s failure to make it legally binding upon the developed nations to provide $100-billion-a-year funding to developing countries revealed their reluctance to take on tangible commitments in near term.
No legal bound
The ‘Green Climate Fund’ was established as a financial mechanism under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to mobilise $100 billion per year till the year 2020 in funds from developed countries to developing countries for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The Paris deal – in the legally binding ‘agreement’ part – mandates that the developed nations continue to provide financial assistance to developing countries, but falls short of specifying the amount of money to be raised. It is only in the non-binding ‘decision’ part that it mentions that the developed nations would continue to mobilise funds towards this goal.
Action promised, but…
To be fair, the developed countries – responsible for most of historic emissions and global warming – have agreed for the first time to take on greater responsibilities than the developing nations towards containing climate change. However, here’s the catch: The deal requires developed nations to take enhanced action – in terms of peaking emissions, reducing emissions, reporting and reviewing progress, etc – but fails to specify who would need to do how much.
The agreement, which was signed by 175 parties in April, and became effective in November 2016 after ratification from the required number of countries, rightly recognizes that the developing countries will take longer than the advanced nations in peaking emissions. It also allows developing nations more latitude by requiring them to take climate mitigation actions voluntarily as per their capabilities and capacities.
… accountability missing
But the only real requirement for the developed world is to meet their already submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), and monitor and revise those periodically as per their “highest possible ambition”. For all the further action required by the developed nations, the text of the agreement is littered with words that best represent intent, and not specific actions: “as soon as possible”, “variety of actions”, “intend to”, etc.
This clearly shows that the developed nations are shying away from commitments to undertake specific targets.
Won’t pay up
The $100-billion GCF is one of the very few tangible actions with near-term visibility that could help the climate change agenda right away, bring in immediate material benefits and demonstrate the nations’ seriousness. Most of the other long-term commitments are still vague; have question marks over viability; have loose mechanisms for follow up, progress monitoring and accountability; and will have late impact, if at all.
Further, India vehemently refuted developed nations’ claims about the fund being a success. OECD – the rich countries’ club – released a report in late 2015 saying that the total climate finance had risen to $52 billion in 2013 and $62 billion in 2014, and the fund is more than halfway through its 2020 goal. Shortly thereafter, India’s Finance Ministry released a report heavily critical of OECD claims and said the total cumulative financing under the fund has been at a mere $2.2 billion.
“The OECD report is deeply flawed and unacceptable,” said India, adding that it had “double-counting, mislabeling and misreporting when rich countries provided exaggerated claims… We are very far from the goal of USD100 billion… the credibility gap is too big.”
Media reports from Paris had said the $100-billion funding was a major sticking point in reaching an agreement, and the developed nations opened up to the deal only after the near-term commitment over the figure was moved from legally binding ‘agreement’ to non-binding ‘decision’.
All this evidently shows that developed nations are still not willing to enter into commitments that will bind them into taking concrete actions or hold them accountable in case they miss targets. Instead, it keeps the burden on developing nations to find a way to finance projects with no visibility on funding from the GCF, all the while trying to meet their INDCs – the pledges on climate actions.
Current goals won’t save the planet
The Paris accord is historic on a major aspect. It puts stringent targets on the global community collectively, and for the first time explicitly puts the onus of leading climate change mitigation upon the developed nations rather than on the developing world.
It makes it mandatory for all nations to take collective action to limit the rise in temperature to below 2 degree from pre-industrial levels, and to make further best efforts to try limiting it to 1.5 degree. However, in the absence of clearly specified individual targets and accountability, it remains to be seen if any nation will step up and take the lead.
The current aggregate INDC goals are more in line with a rise in temperature by 3 degree – far above the targeted warming limit of 2 degree and preferred limit of 1.5 degree. If all that is required is for the nations to meet their existing INDC goals, then we are certainly headed for a much warmer planet than we want.