INDCs, or Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions, a relatively new addition to the encyclopedia of acronyms at climate talks, has been occupying most of the negotiating space at Lima as the first week of discussions on finalising building blocks for a future climate treaty drew to a close.
Countries have been trying to come to a mutually agreeable definition of INDCs, a concept that came into being at last year’s climate meeting in Warsaw, Poland, and which will be at the core of the new climate agreement that is expected to be finalised at the next year’s meeting in Paris.
INDCs basically mean that all countries, big and small, rich and poor, developed and developing, will be free to decide on their own — it will be ‘nationally-determined’ — the set of actions they ‘intend’ to take to fight climate change. It is hoped that the ambition and scale of these actions would be in line with what scientists say is necessary in order to avoid catastrophic effects of climate change.
INDCs mark a huge departure from the earlier visions of a climate agreement that sought to apportion fixed ‘emission reduction targets’ on a small group of rich and industrialised countries, which are blamed for creating the problem of climate change through unregulated greenhouse gas emissions. Emission reduction targets were at the heart of the Kyoto Protocol, which ran from 2005 to 2012, and was extended till 2020 but not before countries like Japan and Australia pulled out of it. Kyoto Protocol under-performed in any case, with many countries not adhering to their targets and the US, the biggest emitter till 2006, keeping away from it.
The INDC-based agreement, supposed to come into effect after 2020, will ensure the participation of all countries, though the nature and scale of ‘contributions’ will vary for different countries.
How to ensure this differentiation, and include equity, is one of the key sticking points in agreeing on a definition of INDC.
“Our argument is based on our long-held and well-established view.
Contribution in INDCs cannot be only mitigation actions. Adaptation must be counted as contribution as well,” said Susheel Kumar, Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, who is heading the Indian delegation.
Kumar was echoing the voice of the developing and poor countries who argue that they are not in a position to take mitigation actions, or cut their greenhouse gas emissions, because that would restrict their options for economic growth, essential to pull millions out of poverty. These countries, a large contingent of more than 130, swear by a principle known as Common But Differentiated Responsibility, or CBDR, enshrined in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the umbrella agreement of 1994 under which the climate talks are being held.
“Differentiation is essential. INDCs must ensure that… Countries can do certain things on their own. Many are willing to do much more do not have the money or technology. In the INDCs, countries should be able to say that we are prepared to make this much further ‘contribution’ provided we get adequate finance or technology. Developed and rich countries have to agree to provide finance and technology,” Kumar said.
At the Cancun meeting in 2010, a framework to enable transfer of technology had been built. But not many technologies are on offer right now, at least not the patented ones. Similarly, several efforts at organising funds have been made. Ahead of the Lima meeting, several countries pledged money to a newly-created Green Climate Fund. The pledges have touched a total of about USD 10 billion. But right now they remain only pledges. The money has not flowed in.
Over the next couple of days, countries will haggle over the different elements of a draft text on INDC that is in circulation before moving to the high-level segment in the second and final week of climate talks.
Countries have time until June next year to submit their INDCs to the UNFCCC secretariat. Once submitted, countries will be held accountable to their declarations. It is not yet clear whether the INDCs would be legally binding on the countries. Many nations, including India and the US, do not like a legal binding on INDCs, while the European Union argues that it will be meaningless otherwise.
Countries have also to agree on the time period over which the INDCs would be valid. On Thursday, China said it was in favour of a 10-year commitment period of INDCs after which countries should come back with fresh INDCs following an assessment. India has been arguing for a 10 or 15-year commitment period but the US wants a shorter commitment period, preferably five years.