As the world turns to Paris, where the 21st edition of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) takes place, there is cautious optimism. The hope is that the leaders of some 190 nations can arrive at an agreement that will arrest anthropogenic global warming by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While most governments have accepted the scientific consensus that environmental catastrophe lurks in the future if the planet’s temperature is allowed to increase by more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, they still bitterly disagree on what a meaningful accord that limits emissions should look like — the last attempt at collective action on climate, in Copenhagen in 2009, turned rancorous. More specifically, developing countries such as India are understandably apprehensive that the developed world intends to jettison the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, which places the major burden of climate change mitigation on the wealthy economies that created the problem in the first place. They also differ on the extent to which the first world ought to compensate poor nations for embracing green practices and policies, and transfer technology to them.
India and its developing peers insist on equity because they are rightly reluctant to hobble their development agendas. But this has led to India, especially, acquiring a reputation as a stubborn and obstructionist spoiler at global climate change negotiations —an unfair charge. US Secretary of State John Kerry has already raised the spectre of India’s non-cooperation in Paris, calling it a “challenge”. He was speaking of the intended nationally determined contributions, where each country furnishes an emissions reduction target and a plan to achieve it. So far, these pledges are not legally binding — which makes the proposed agreement palatable and politically feasible — but there was, at the G-20 meet in Antalya, a move to include a reference to a “review mechanism” requiring a periodic assessment of commitments made. India spiked the move, and there is some concern that a dispute over monitoring and verification could derail a possible accord —as could any binding obligation for wealthy nations to provide financial assistance, which the US is keen to avoid.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will speak at the summit, has reiterated his “uncompromising commitment on climate change” and signalled a willingness to improve cooperation by aggressively flagging India’s ambitious domestic renewable energy targets. India can, and must, play a constructive role in facilitating a robust yet realistic deal in Paris. Even if Paris proves to be a triumph of diplomacy and an agreement is successfully negotiated, it is unlikely to be broad or deep enough to curb global warming to the 2 degrees C guardrail. But an imperfect pact that covers much of the world would still be a real step forward.
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