The new climate change agreement, adopted in Paris by more than 190 countries, does not have any reference to historical responsibilities or to ‘Annex’ and ‘non-Annex’ countries, but developing countries, including India, are happy that they have still been able to ensure that the all-important concept of ‘differentiation’ has not been jettisoned altogether.
The climate change debate, right from the start, has been based on ‘differentiated’ responsibilities of developed and developing countries in taking actions to deal with it. This is because the greenhouse gas emissions since the beginning of the industrial revolution till about the 1980s had come predominantly from the developed countries. They had a “historical responsibility” for polluting the atmosphere, and warming the planet, and, therefore, a greater responsibility to take steps to mitigate the impacts, the developing countries have argued.
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This argument became the basis of the famous ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ (CBDR) principle that was enshrined in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) of 1992.
The UNFCCC also divided the world into two very neat parts — the countries that had “historical responsibility” and those that did not. The first were put in an annexure, Annex-I of the UNFCCC document, while the others came to be known as non-Annex countries.
The Kyoto Protocol, the existing international arrangement on climate change which the agreement from Paris will replace in 2020, was based on these principles of CBDR and ‘historical responsibilities’ and had assigned specific emission reduction targets for Annex-I countries.
The agreement from Paris does not have a single mention of ‘historical responsibility’ or to Annex-I and non-Annex countries, though it does emphasise the principle of CBDR at several places.
“The agreement has deep links with the Convention (UNFCCC) and CBDR is imbibed in it. More importantly, differentiation of developed and developing countries is mentioned across all the elements of the agreement, in mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, capacity building and transparency. That is very important,” India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said.
In the Paris Agreement, as it is being called, this differentiation is manifested in references like developed countries “shall” take “economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets” while developing countries “should” continue enhancing their “mitigation efforts”. Such differentiation is evident in many other elements as well.
But in the absence of references to ‘Annex-I’ and ‘non-Annex’, ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries will require a new definition, something that has been left untouched for the time being. The agreement will come into effect only in 2020 and these terms will have to be defined by then.
The shift away from “historical responsibilities” is one major victory for the rich and industrialised countries who had been insisting that the entire world must take action to fight climate change. Developing countries, on the other hand, are finding solace in the fact that differentiation is still maintained in all the actions that countries are required to take.
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