With nations gathered in Bonn for the first round of post-Paris climate negotiations, India must consider where its interests lie and how it might best shape the post-Paris agenda. Since the Paris agreement was concluded in December 2015, a range of views have been aired, spanning the spectrum from those who believe the agreement to be a spectacular achievement to those who consider it a fundamental betrayal of developing countries.
The Paris agreement emerged from a deeply discordant political context. The political space for agreement, shaped by sovereign states — each with its own constraints, priorities and red lines — was severely constrained. Yet, the community of sovereign states reached an agreement containing aspirational long-term temperature goals (“well below 2°C” and to aspire to 1.5°C), binding obligations of conduct in relation to greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, a system of oversight for countries’ nationally determined contributions, and a nuanced form of differentiation between developed and developing countries. The Paris agreement neither replicates the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change nor is it guaranteed to end global climate change. It does not also cater to all of India’s asks (or those of others) in the negotiations. It does, however, contain “hooks” and “place holders” to ensure that India can, if it so chooses, continue to shape the climate regime, for instance on the defining issue of equity. But to do this, it is critical, first, that we participate actively and thoughtfully in the post-Paris negotiations, using these hooks and place holders, and second, that we ratify the Paris agreement.
The Paris agreement embodies a hybrid architecture combining “bottom-up” and “top-down” elements. Nationally determined mitigation and adaptation contributions comprise the “bottom-up” element and a system of oversight comprises the “top-down” element. States have autonomy in the form and stringency of their contributions. States are expected to ensure that their successive national contributions represent a progression from their previous ones, but the nature and extent of “progression” is nationally determined. These contributions are paired with an oversight system consisting of three components — a transparency system that ensures countries are doing what they agreed to do, a global stock-take process that periodically assesses collective progress towards the agreement’s long-term goals, and a compliance system that facilitates compliance with the agreement.
India has a compelling interest in having a rigorous oversight system. India and its economic growth are vulnerable to climate change. In the absence of a rigorous oversight system, India will be left with an imperfect method of ensuring that other countries are keeping their promises, the world as a whole is moving in the right direction, and countries are sharing the burden equitably. In relation to transparency, India needs a system that is rigorous yet tailored to its own capacity constraints. In relation to the global stock-take process, we need the consideration of equity. India could introduce benchmarks — qualitative and quantitative — in the global stock-take process. In assessing collective progress towards long-term goals, this would cast light on the relative sharing of responsibilities between parties. This is key for countries like India with limited historical responsibility for climate change, low per capita emissions, high energy poverty and much of our growth ahead of us. It is only if we participate thoughtfully in the post-Paris negotiations on the oversight system that we will have a system that strikes the right balance between rigour for all and flexibility for those who need it.
India’s ability to participate effectively in the post-Paris negotiations will be influenced by its approach to the ratification of the Paris agreement. The French and the Moroccans (hosts of the 2015 and 2016 conferences) have reassured states that those who do not ratify the Paris agreement immediately will not be excluded from the creation of the Paris rule-book. However, the grace period is unlikely to extend beyond 2017. There will inevitably emerge a distinction between those who have ratified or are in the process and those who have not. Ratification of the Paris agreement, like its signature on April 22 by a record-breaking 175 countries, including India, signals a sense of ownership, commitment, good faith and continuing engagement. There is a gathering momentum towards the Paris agreement’s early entry into force. Sixteen countries have ratified it, several others including Australia, Canada, China and the US have promised to ratify in 2016. Brazil and the EU have pledged to initiate domestic processes to do so.
India has two choices. It could choose to ratify, engage and be part of the virtuous cycle of ever-increasing engagement, or it could choose to stall ratification, disengage and extract concessions in return for ratification. The latter approach will come at the cost of goodwill, and its benefits are unclear. It is unclear what these concessions are, beyond the flexibilities the Paris agreement already offers, and how effective India will be in this strategy given that the entry into force will not hinge on its emissions (4.1 per cent of global emissions, for entry into force purposes). Our ability to influence the post-Paris agenda, if we are on the sidelines, however, will be compromised. Rather than engaging in brinkmanship on ratification and speculating on whether the US will withdraw from the Paris agreement (ultimately unknowable, even to the Americans), India should focus on shaping the post-Paris agenda to ensure that the oversight system is rigorous, effective and tailored to our constraints and capacities.