Why it will be tough for India in next big climate summit

India and other developing countries will have a tough job influencing outcomes of COP21 to a principle of equity


Shreerupa Mitra-Jha | October 1, 2014

Climate change, like its UN representative Leonardo DiCaprio, has a special appeal. Ahead of the climate change summit held on September 23 in New York, thousands of protestors gathered across Manhattan – and colorful marches, selfies, drums, dancing on the streets, pictures with the United Nations secretary general (UNSG) Ban Ki-moon ensued. The ‘conscience message’ of saving the planet provided an elegant finishing touch to the jamboree.

However, climate change negotiations have little to do with resisting an apocalypse than with inequities, muscle flexing, economic deals, interest groups and reaffirming existing global power structures.

Weary interlocutors are returning home after failing to reach a consensus on the fraught issue. Chinese president Xi Jingping and prime minister Narendra Modi were absent in the gathering of the 120-odd heads of governments, including US president Barack Obama.

Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar did not seem too optimistic of the summit, called by the UNSG and seen as a precursor to affirming common concerns ahead of the important UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) – dubbed conference of parties (COP)-21 – to be held in Paris in 2015. And he has good reasons to back his lack of optimism.

Before leaving for New York, Javadekar told Business Standard, “Too many platforms add to confusion. We want to work on climate change negotiations under the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC).” The Indian government believes that the summit undermines the ongoing negotiations for a 2015 UNFCCC global deal.

More among equals
The UN climate change regime rests on four thematic structures: mitigation, adaptation to greener technology, financing transition and technology transfer. Each theme is subject to intense dissension. The battle lines are clear – the developed countries, or the so-called annex 1 countries (with the US and the EU leading the bandwagon), against the developing, or the non-annex countries (China, India, Russia, South Africa etc.).

The UNFCCC is the major UN platform for climate negotiations – one of the three adopted at the Rio earth summit in 1992. It has near-universal membership of 195 countries that have ratified the convention. In climate change negotiations, India, along with negotiation groups such as BASIC (with Brazil, South Africa and China) and LMDC (like-minded developing countries, which is a grouping of around 30 countries), has maintained the historical emissions argument – inequities relating to the disproportionately large emissions by developed countries that have led to the present asymmetries in the allocation of global carbon space, in the first place, which places the burden on developed countries to contribute more towards stalling climate change. This is the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR).

According to the World Resources Institute, since the start of the industrial revolution till 2009, human beings had put 600 billion tonnes of carbon into the air, of which the US was responsible for 30 percent of the cumulative emissions, the EU for 26.5 percent, and India 2.2 percent.

The Kyoto protocol of 1997 – a treaty that sets binding obligations on industrialised countries to reduce emission of greenhouse gases – under UNFCCC clearly recognises the principle of CBDR. With all its brouhaha about climate change, the US and Canada are not even signatories to the Kyoto protocol. India and China have vehemently opposed scrapping of the Kyoto protocol, which places the onus of mitigation on the developed countries. Recently Obama could not get any new agreements ratified by the US senate.

The last major climate summit of Copenhagen 2009 (COP15) was a failure. The US was particularly inclined to scrap the Kyoto protocol, and replace it with a binding treaty for all developing countries, including India. It found support with AOSIS (the alliance of small island states) who would be the first to be washed away if there is actually a global rise in temperature of 2 degrees Celsius. However, the US’s intents could not see the light of day.

In the same forum, the Indian government emphasised another parameter of negotiation: per capita emission. Mitigation targets are defined in terms of production rather than consumption. According to a data blog of the Guardian, an Indian emitted only 1.2 tonnes compared to 20 tonnes for an average American. With countries like China becoming manufacturing hubs in Asia, the EU could export its emissions to China without having any change in the global emissions. Former prime minister Manmohan Singh emphasised the right of equal access to the carbon space, thereby abrogating the historical emissions argument. Some in the ministry of external affairs say this diluted India’s position.

Apart from an ideological resistance for all people having equal access to the carbon space, the per capita emissions framework also meant huge financial transfers from the developed North to the developing South. For instance, India has 17 percent of the world population but accounts for 5.98 percent of world carbon emissions.

Also, per capita emission does not reward countries that have been taking steps to control population. This is a point China raised which has done much with its single-child policy during COP 15, putting India in a bad light.

Similarly, the Doha climate conference of 2012 (COP18), was successful merely because it avoided a total collapse of dialogue. India, along with other developing countries, had to fight on two points. First, that the credits of countries accumulated during the Kyoto protocol’s first period of commitment (2008-12) could not be carried over for the second emission period (2013-20) as a means to avoid future emission cuts. Second, the developing countries were also against the idea that annex 1 countries which have not signed the protocol, or have decided not to participate in the second period, cannot offset their domestic reduction commitments by paying other countries to do the mitigation on their behalf. The Doha round closed with a barely acceptable solution for the developing countries.

Notwithstanding the unfairness of developed country’s disproportionately large historical and present contribution to the situation, India’s emission intensity (the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for each unit of GDP) is likely to increase as the country is poised to sell itself as a manufacturing hub under  the ‘Make in India’ tag and with its 100 smart cities plan under the Modi regime.

Moreover, for the emerging economies sustaining economic growth to lift millions out of poverty is a much bigger concern. An alternative to carbon-dependent growth is yet to be demonstrated.

Though India has managed to cut its emission intensity by 17.6 percent between 1990 and 2005, it has to be much more efficient in dealing with the situation. At COP15, India had promised a carbon intensity cut of 20 to 25 percent from the 2005 levels by 2020.

Reluctant financiers
India is in need of much financial and technological heft if it has to carve a low-carbon development path. In this regard, it is in a much more disadvantageous position than China. Under the Kyoto protocol, developed countries are under obligation for helping non-annex countries make the transition to a greener economy by financing the incremental costs of mitigation actions undertaken, helping meet adaptation costs (the adaptation costs sometimes exceed trillion dollars a year) etc.

The former PM’s envoy for climate change, Shyam Saran, terms these negotiations as “weak global regimes with no legal sanctions behind the commitments made”.

In the COP meet in Cancun in 2010, it was decided that climate finance to the tune of $100 billion by the developed countries would be provided to developing countries by the beginning of 2020. To fill the gap for the second commitment period of 2013 through 2020, China, India and  other G-77 countries demanded that the gap be filled by $60 billion by 2015. However, Doha 2012 ended with only a decision to “encourage” developed countries to provide at least $10 billion in aggregate. The conference did not finalise any roadmap for the financing of $100 billion after 2020.

In the same conference, the developed countries also rejected any mention of access of developing countries to affordable technologies – the final draft only contains a mention of the UNFCCC’s technology executive committee – reflecting the developed countries, particularly America’s disinclination to provide technology transfers at concessional terms.

This was made abundantly clear recently when Obama, in an unexpected move, linked a climate change deal with a power agreement with India – a topic which is likely to figure in talks between Modi and Obama when the PM visits Washington. The power pact of technology transfer related to energy efficiency and smart metering has been linked by the US for a bilateral agreement that bans use of certain refrigerant gases that emit CFCs, under the Montreal protocol.

India has disagreed
While the costs for the alternatives to the refrigerant gases are yet to be estimated, the patent for the gases are held by US-based companies. The attempt again is to move away from the basic UNFCCC document. Obama is particularly interested in clinching this deal under the Montreal protocol, thus making a place for itself in the climate change frontlines while at the same time shifting the burden of action on developing countries such as India.
A Durban platform launched during the 2011 climate summit in Durban is targeted to end in 2015 in Paris with a “protocol or another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention, applicable to all parties,” and which would take effect from 2020. The annex 1 wants to undermine the convention whereas India and other developing countries demanded that climate change be dealt with by countries on the basis of “equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”. The understanding among the non-annex countries is that equity and CBDR are the basic principles of UNFCCC and cannot be overlooked.

Another point of contention was the nature of mitigation obligations between the developed and the developing countries. During the Durban negotiations, India stressed the difference between voluntary actions of developing countries supported by finance and technology against the binding commitments of the developed countries. The US strongly opposed the words “commitments and actions” with the final decision that the term “ways of reflecting enhanced actions” be used.

India and other developing countries will have a tough job influencing the outcomes of COP21 to a principle of equity, given the UN’s proclivity for closed-door and exclusivist negotiations.



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