This month’s climate deal between the US and China has attracted heated commentary in India. While some believe this deal will step up the pressure on India to deliver, others feel that, given the relative lack of rigour in the choice of targets, the urgency for India to make a serious contribution to the global climate regime has now decreased. Since China has chosen 2030 as its peaking year, the argument goes, India can choose a year in the 2040s or 2050s, which gives it a few decades of unbridled growth. Both these views miss the crux of the issue — bilateral and plurilateral deals between major emitters are unlikely to either represent the breadth of interests on the table or be ambitious, equitable and adequate. At best, these deals generate momentum in multilateral negotiations by demonstrating that major emitters and competitors can work together. At worst, they allow major emitters to signal attention and commitment while lowering the bar for themselves and others. Bilateral and plurilateral deals need to be complemented by multilateral assessments of rigour, adequacy and fairness of nations’ contributions. Or else, the world will be held hostage to the tyranny of the least common denominator that major emitters arrive at.
The multilateral climate negotiations launched in Durban, 2011, are due to conclude in Paris, 2015. The approaching Lima conference is an important stepping stone to the 2015 climate agreement. Parties will be required to arrive at the elements of the negotiating text for the 2015 agreement. While the difficult task of narrowing options will be left for 2015, the elements text will put in place the broad structure, scope and contours of the 2015 agreement. This is the moment to set and influence the agenda.
In the run up to the 2015 Paris conference, nations have been invited to prepare and submit “intended nationally determined contributions”. The scope of these contributions — whether they will cover mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology and capacity building or only some of these — is yet to be determined. The US-China deal is likely to form the basis of these countries’ mitigation contributions to the process. Other countries will put forward contributions based on their national circumstances and constraints. There are ongoing discussions on an assessment or consultation process to evaluate contributions put forward by the various parties. This is one of the key issues that will be debated in Lima. This assessment process, a top-down element in an otherwise bottom-up regime, will form a critical element of the 2015 agreement. In the absence of such a process, there will be no mechanism in the multilateral climate regime to assess whether nationally determined contributions from parties add up to a plan that will keep us on track to limiting the temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. There will also be no mechanism to ensure an equitable balance of commitments across parties, in particular, to hold developed countries to account for their historical responsibilities and to provide developing countries room to grow in line with their development needs.
India, a champion of equity, has so far been vigorously opposed to such an assessment process. This probably stems from a wariness of top-down elements in an otherwise comforting bottom-up regime that privileges sovereign autonomy. But India would do well to move past this initial wariness and engage more proactively in framing an assessment process that both meets its needs and holds developed countries to account. Not least because by most objective indicators, given our high levels of energy poverty, India would be required to do less than what it will probably offer to do. And because even the world’s poorest and most vulnerable nations have rallied around an assessment framework that holds countries to account.
The Africa Group’s proposal for an equity reference framework (ERF), which is designed to form part of a multilateral assessment process, is concerned with operationalising equity and common-but-differentiated responsibilities in the 2015 climate agreement. The ERF proposes evaluating the fairness of nationally determined contributions based on a set of multilaterally agreed objective criteria that take into account historical responsibility, development needs and current capabilities. The ERF could be applied to all nations uniformly or only to those which opt to have it applied to them. It could also be applied differentially to developing and developed countries. However it is applied and whatever form it assumes, it is critical that some mechanism for operationalising equity be included in the 2015 agreement. The Africa Group’s proposal is but one option. India could put forward its own approach to operationalising equity. In challenging the need for an assessment process and rejecting any mechanism to evaluate how the “bottom up adds up”, both in terms of adequacy and equity, India risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
India needs to shape the emerging contours of the 2015 agreement to ensure that it is ambitious and effective and that it operationalises equity along with common-but-differentiated responsibilities. This may require us to reconsider our negotiating strategy, as well as, in the light of the US-China deal, our negotiating alliances.
The writer is professor, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi