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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Halfway between Durban and Paris

India must wield the equity principle to shape the climate agenda,not to guard against mitigation commitments.

Written by Lavanya Rajamani |
November 29, 2013 3:38:47 am

India must wield the equity principle to shape the climate agenda,not to guard against mitigation commitments.

The UN climate negotiations in Warsaw,which were expected to be little more than a pit stop en route to the 2015 climate agreement slated to be reached in Paris,proved to be more interesting than billed. The odds were admittedly stacked against a successful conclusion to the conference. Japan,in the wake of the Fukushima disaster and its zero-nuclear move,revised its greenhouse gas targets from -25 per cent to +3 per cent from 1990 levels. Australia is in the process of abolishing its carbon tax. The developed countries have contributed a mere $7.5 million to the Green Climate Fund,as against their goal of mobilising $100 billion per year by 2020. The atmosphere,tainted by broken promises,was rife with discontent and distrust.

Nevertheless,Warsaw,halfway from Durban to Paris,needed to register a step change in the process — from the airing of differences to negotiating them. It also needed to create the conditions necessary to reach an agreement in 2015. The parties,in 2014,need to engage in the domestic preparations necessary to arrive at commitments that can be inscribed in the 2015 agreement. The Copenhagen Accord and the Cancun Agreements led to the qualified and conditional pre-2020 greenhouse gas mitigation pledges of breathtaking diversity,dubious rigour and limited climate impact. To avoid this post 2020,most countries in Warsaw argued for clear informational requirements to be laid out in relation to the parties’ commitments. Some countries also lobbied for a process to develop accounting rules. The application of informational requirements and accounting rules to commitments would facilitate clarity,enable comparability,create the conditions necessary to ratchet up countries’ commitments and ensure environmental integrity. In addition,several countries argued that the parties’ commitments should be subject to an international assessment process that could test the commitments,individually and in the aggregate,for adequacy — against the goal of not allowing global temperatures to rise more than two degrees celsius — and equitable burden sharing.

The parties agreed to develop informational requirements and to initiate domestic preparations for their “intended nationally determined contributions,without prejudice to the legal nature of the contributions”. This open-textured formulation resolves little. First,the use of the word “intended” suggests that the intended contribution may not be the eventual contribution inscribed in the 2015 agreement. This creates two possibilities — that the intended contribution could be revised by the party itself or as the result of an international assessment process. Second,the term “nationally determined”,much to the dismay of small island states,endorses a bottom-up approach,leaving the framing of contributions,at least in the first instance,solely to the nations. Third,the term “contributions” leaves their nature — whether they are commitments,or actions,or commitments for some and actions for others — open. Fourth,the decision leaves the legal form of the contributions unresolved. On a positive note,since the term “contributions” is not qualified by “mitigation”,contributions could be in the form of adaptation,finance,technology transfer or capacity building.

Much of the insistence on retaining options came from the Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDCs),a recently formed coalition,of which India and China are a vocal part. It includes Cuba,Ecuador,Egypt,Nicaragua,Saudi Arabia and Venezuela; but neither Brazil or South Africa. The LMDCs were opposed to “commitments” for all the parties,arguing that common but differentiated responsibility requires the developed countries to make “commitments” while the developing countries could only be expected to take “actions”. This is a step back from the Climate Convention,1992,which contains “commitments”,albeit differentiated ones,for all the parties. The LMDCs also argued that the rules should apply differentially to the developed and developing countries. And,led by India,they rejected any assessment process for the commitments,especially the Africa Group’s principle-based reference framework,the only concrete proposal to operationalise equity in the 2015 agreement.

The Africa Group’s principle-based reference framework,supported by the small island states and the least developed countries,proposes to use a set of objective criteria in relation to historical responsibility,current capability and development needs to determine the fair shares for the parties. India argues that applying this framework will shift the mitigation burden on to the developing countries. This is puzzling as India’s fair share,under any set of objective criteria,will be small and manageable. Yet,India chose to decisively reject the Africa Group’s proposal,at the expense of allowing the developed countries to avoid an assessment of their commitments against fair shares. India’s espousal of equity cannot but ring hollow if it chooses to give the developed countries a free pass on equity rather than subject itself to an equity assessment.

I had argued after Durban that India needed to wield equity as a sword to shape the climate agenda not as a shield to guard against mitigation commitments. India and the LMDCs,despite their frequent invocation of equity,have no affirmative vision to offer. India is not just using equity as a shield but is also willing to offer the developed countries cover behind it. In the run up to 2015,there is a clear need to align our negotiation position with our strategic interests and international stature. If nothing else,the fact that we are battling the African nations,small island states and the least developed countries and aligning with OPEC countries,whose commitment to the climate cause is suspect,and with China,which is playing an inscrutable strategic game,ought to trigger a fundamental rethink.

The writer is professor at the Centre for Policy Research,New Delhi.

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