As global community prepares for the climate conference next month, can we hope for a new agreement?
Shreerupa Mitra-Jha | November 28, 2015
The 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) will be held from November 30 to December 11 this year in Paris where governments of more than190 countries will meet to clinch a possible global agreement on climate change which aims to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to avert the potentially disastrous consequences of climate change. The current commitments of the parties hold good till 2020 – the Paris agreement, thus, is meant to provide a roadmap for at least the decade after 2020 and possibly beyond that.
Experts have warned that if the current levels of GHG emissions continue unabated then we will soon reach a point where climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible – the world will see a rise in temperature by five degrees which is the same temperature difference between today and the last ice age. The aim is to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels.
A slice of history
Global climate change negotiations have been ongoing for the past two decades trailing a rather bumpy and contentious path. The first near-universal climate treaty for governments was clinched in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 called the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC). The document, however, did not specify actions to be taken by the governments resulting in considerable wrangling among states that ensued for years after that. The wrangling produced the Kyoto protocol of 1997 which required cuts in emissions of about 5 percent, compared with 1990 levels, by 2012. The developing countries and emerging economies were not given emission targets owing to the necessity of addressing their domestic development challenges. The Kyoto Protocol, however, would not be binding until countries representing 55 percent of the world’s emission had not ratified it. The US, the world’s biggest emitter of GHG, could not get the ratification through Congress though then vice president Al Gore had ratified it and remained outside the agreement. The protocol remained in suspension till Russia ratified it and it came into force in 2004. In Bali in 2007, it was finally agreed to set an action plan that would take over from Kyoto 2020 onwards.
Read more: ABC of climate change and how world has progressed
Following Bali was Copenhagen in 2009 which was probably the most disastrous climate change global meet where due to chaos at the conference the UN could not adopt the agreement, although it was the first time both developed and developing countries agreed to limit their GHG emissions. The agreement, however, was ratified subsequently as Cancun agreements. Lima hosted the 20th COP (COP 20) to UNFCCC in December 2014. Since then, there have been a number of meetings to finalise a deal in the run-up to Paris, that have been held in places like Bonn and Geneva.
The most contentious issue for a while has been whether to stitch an agreement while giving equal emphasis on mitigation, finance, capacity building and technology transfer – as vehemently argued for by developing nations including India – or for the Paris agreement to be mitigation-centric – as proposed by developed countries. The second sticking point is agreeing how the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) that are voluntary at the moment be made into a legally binding treaty under the Paris agreement. The third issue will be how emission targets be reviewed periodically even after the announcements of INDCs – as UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has been urging nations to do – and how the review results would be linked to technology transfer and finance from the developed countries.
INDCs are the actions that countries intend to take to address climate change submitted ahead of the Paris negotiations. Since there is no agreed format for reporting on mitigation contributions, including on the units in which they are to be submitted, there is a wide range of forms that the INDCs have assumed. The targets used include, “economy-wide absolute reduction from historical base year emissions, emissions reduction relative to a baseline projection for the emissions associated with energy consumption, trajectory target for specific sectors or gases, specifying a peaking year, emissions intensity of GDP, and a fixed-level target.”
The EU has announced that it will cut its emissions by 40 percent, compared with 1990 levels, by 2030. The US will cut its emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent, compared with 2005 levels, by 2025. China has agreed that its emissions will peak by 2030 and will have emission intensity of GDP of 60-65 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Non-fossil fuel will also be, the country has announced, 20 percent of primary energy consumption by 2030. India had come under considerable criticism for not announcing its INDC until last month. India is 157th in current annual emissions per capita global ranking and sixth in the cumulative national emissions ranking. Its annual GHG emissions in 2012 was 2,887 compared to 10,684 for China, 5,822 for the US and 4,122 for the EU. Its per capita emission (mt CO2 equivalent) was 2.33 while for China it was 7.91, the US stood at 18.55 while the EU is at 8.22. However, India eventually announced laudable mitigation contributions punching above its weight given its huge development deficit. This has put India in a solid negotiating ground for drawing red lines on matters that have traditionally been non-negotiable for India like technology transfer and finance – an adherence to the core principles of the UNFCCC.
India, in its submission, said, “The successful implementation of INDC is contingent upon an ambitious global agreement, including additional means of implementation to be provided by developed countries, technology transfer and capacity building, following articles 3.1 and 4.7 of the convention.” India has announced a reduction of carbon emissions intensity by 30-35 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, to get around 40 percent of the installed power capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy sources by 2030 (this marks a 33 percent jump in non-fossil fuel sources in 15 years), creation of total carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030, and the mobilisation of domestic funds and finance from the developed countries for adaptation and mitigation for which India will require around $2.5 trillion according to 2014-15 prices.
UNEP released a report called the Emissions Gap Report 2015 on November 6 in Geneva with an assessment of 199 INDCs as submitted till October 1 by 37 experts covering 146 countries and 85-88 percent of global GHG emissions in 2012. A final update of the assessment including later submissions will be presented before the start of COP 21.
The UN under-secretary general and executive director of UNEP, Achim Steiner, said while releasing the report, “This is unprecedented and marks a significant departure from where we were a year or two ago. These INDCs are close to 90 percent of the world’s emission and therefore, this is no longer marginal but material.”
In 2014, in the global setting close to 50 percent of all new electricity generating infrastructure was renewable (wind, solar and geothermal) and that is excluding large hydro projects. “This would have been considered impossible 20 years ago,” Steiner said.
However, at the same time, the report issues a grave warning. The senior UN official said that in spite of the “positive momentum” and beginning to “bend the curve”, “it is about half of what we need to achieve on a longer term trajectory based on the work of IPCC still referred to as a net zero emissions future somewhere in the second half of century”.
“Current policies will not take us on the 2 degrees trajectory. If the present pledges are implemented then we still will have 3 degrees rise [for conditional INDCs] and for the unconditional ones, the range is slightly higher. Our aim is 42 gigatonnes as a median for 2030. 2030 is our first stopping-off point,” said UNEP chief scientist Jacqueline McGlade.
“The emissions gap between what the full implementation of the unconditional INDCs contribute and the least-cost emission level for a pathway to stay below 2° C, is estimated to be 14 GtCO2e (range: 12-17) in 2030 and 7 GtCO2e (range: 5-10) in 2025. When conditional INDCs are included as fully implemented, the emissions gap in 2030 is estimated to be 12 GtCO2e (range: 10-15) and 5 GtCO2e (range: 4-8) in 2025,” states the report.
“Full implementation of unconditional INDC results in emission level estimates in 2030 that are most consistent with scenarios that limit global average temperature increase to below 3.5° C until 2100 with a greater than 66 percent chance… When including the full implementation of conditional INDCs, the emissions level estimates become most consistent with long-term scenarios that limit global average temperature increase to <3-3.5° C by the end of the century with a greater than 66 percent chance,” the analysis reveals.
Experts agree that though the INDCs are a significant increase in ambition levels compared to a projection of current policies, the submitted contributions, however, are far from enough and the emissions gap in both 2025 and 2030 will be very significant. The report suggests tapping into unused emission reduction potential could narrow the emissions gap and negotiations with non-state actors like companies, sectors and cities and municipalities.
Forest-related mitigation activities in both developing and developed countries, and especially policy approaches and actions known as REDD+, is attracting significant political attention, both in the climate change negotiations over the past decade as a policy tool and as an eligibility criterion for results-based finance, and figure in many of the submitted INDCs.
“REDD+ (as defined under the UNFCCC) includes – reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, conservation of forest carbon stocks, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.”
The report suggests that for developing countries to access financing for climate change, there should be a forest reference level and a fully measured, reported and verified results, in terms of emission reductions/enhanced removals, among other conditions.
This brings us to one of the most contentious issues in the climate negotiations, and one that is going to consume much diplomatic energy in arriving at a Paris agreement, is the financing required for this green make-over which includes adaptation to better technologies and technology transfer.
The INDC document of India states, “Through this INDC, India has shown its commitment to combat climate change and these actions are important contributions to the global effort. However, our efforts to avoid emissions during our development process are also tied to the availability and level of international financing and technology transfer, as India still faces complex developmental challenges.” India has also clarified that it will not be bound under the Paris agreement for any sector specific mitigation activities, including for the agriculture sector, but will focus on the overall emission intensity.
The developed countries in 2010 committed to an annual raising of $100 billion till 2020 owing to the “historic debt” that they owe the world in bringing the climate situation to such a pass. Article 3.1 under UNFCCC is the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) principle and Article 4.7 of the convention says, “The extent to which developing countries will effectively implement their commitments under the convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed countries of their commitments related to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account the fact that economic and social development and poverty-eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries.” India, among other G77 countries plus China (a group of 134 developing), strongly adhere to these principles during negotiations. A hornet’s nest was stirred in the Bonn negotiations in October when a recent OECD report claimed that the developed countries had already released $62 billion for climate finance in 2014-15 – a claim that was vociferously challenged by the G77 and China grouping, including India, as clever accounting and green washing existing global fund. The US special envoy on climate change, Todd Stern, defying the challenge, said the find flow has been underestimated and climate finance to the tune of $80 billion has already been provided.
Rajasree Ray, India’s climate finance negotiator at Bonn, said at the Bonn conference that, “The OECD calculations include non-concessional loans and existing overseas development assistance provided to developing countries. How can these be regarded as climate finance flows when the climate convention clearly states the flows are to be new and additional?”
Developing countries want a clear roadmap for delivering climate finance and for enhancing the same over a period of time – a demand that has been strongly resisted by the developed countries particularly the US and the EU who do not want financial commitments beyond 2020 being delineated in the core Paris agreement. The chief EU negotiator earlier in the year had told PTI in Geneva that it expects economies like India and China to contribute to the green climate fund owing to “evolving realities”. In an interview to a leading Indian national daily, Gurdial Singh Nijar, chief spokesperson for the Like Minded Developing Countries of which India is a part and lead negotiator for Malaysia, dismissed the possibility and said, “Can you imagine that in normal commercial world a debtor [referring to the principle of historical debt], who has agreed to the debt, says I found out that through your enterprise you the lender have succeeded in alleviating the condition of your people from X level of income per capita to Y level so I shall be excused from my agreed debt! That is completely nonsensical.”
Agreement on many of the goals on climate, the development deficit argument, finance, social and environmental issues will be huge challenge. French president Francois Hollande had earlier in the year said that they might be hoping for a “miracle” in Paris.
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