India’s call for ‘climate justice’ can break the deadlock at Paris

India’s pivotal role: speaking for the late developers


Mukul Sanwal[1]


Since 1992 the key issue dividing countries in global environmental negotiations has been ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’and ‘climate justice’ can operationalize that principle to the satisfaction of all countries in a universal regime.


As the political consensus moves away from notions of historical responsibility to capabilities, or recognition of ‘different national circumstances’, in the run-up to ParisMinisters have arrived at broad agreement on two issues. Financial support would not be less than $100 billion a year without any agreement on the substantial issue of how much of it would be grant and concessional finance. Periodic review will lead to new “objectives”, rather than “emission reductions”, with no clear understanding on its nature, except that there would be no “back-tracking” in the presentation of new contributions. The trade-offs are clear; the first issue concerns developing countries and the second was pushed by developed countries, with each getting part of what they wanted.


The G20 meeting highlighted the unresolved political problem. The Lima Call for Action, in 2014, developed a consensus around a 'fair and ambitious' global climate agreement and as no guidelines were given on how to make such assessment all countries claim their pledge is ‘fair and ambitious.’ The United States and European Union define fairness in terms of emissions reductions based on their current shares without accounting for their relatively small share of the world’s population. Prime Minister Modi has argued that “we are more likely to succeed if we offer affordable solutions, not simply impose choices … because the emission reduction that we seek will be a natural outcome of how we live”. Modifying longer term trends in consumption patterns responds to the evidence that three-quarters of emissions come from cities. 


So, what should be the priorities for Prime Minister Modi at Paris when he negotiates directly with global leaders? It is best to speak for the late developers on the five outstanding political issues, leaving other concerns like the nature of financing and of the new regime for negotiation by diplomats later.A middle ground can be achieved by building on the consensus for a fair and ambitious agreement.


First, the United Nations estimates that 75 percent of the world’s carbon budget will finish by 2030.Any future assessment which only considers ‘environmental integrity’ will not be fair to those countries whose emissions will need to grow beyond 2030, or the late developers. For example, India’s emissions are expected to double by 2030, putting them ahead of emissions of the US and the EU, but at half the levels of China, while India’s per capita emissions will be one-fourth those of the US and China, two-thirds of the EU and half the global average in 2030. Therefore, fairness will be transparently assessed by showing how the carbon budget is being shared between countries.


That is why, to reflect different national circumstances, the indicators to assess national actions should include levels of current emissions, per capita emissions and concentrations[2]as well as percentage reductions in absolute and per-capita terms along with GDP and GDP per capita without making a choice of one over the other.


Second, the Indicative Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted to the United Nations establish that in the case of electricity generation global emissions are expected to level out by 2030. Nearly half the INDCs target an increase in renewable energy and, if the goals are met, a mere one-third carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere till 2030 compared with the increase between 2000 and 2014. Clearly, ambition is not ratcheting up emission targets to meet a long term emission goal but a pathway to a long term transformation; the IPCC does not define mitigation in terms of emission reduction but as “an anthropogenic intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases”.


Successful modification of the key longer term trend in sources focuses attention on the transport sector, which is responsible for one-fourth of energy related carbon dioxide emissions. It is the largest energy consuming sector in 40 percent of countries and the second largest in the remaining countries, and is the fastest growing sector in energy consumption. For example, since 1990, in the European Union emissions from transport increased by more than one-third, by a larger amount in the United States and two-third of the emissions come from buildings and transport in these countries. The IPCC assesses that 15-40 percent reduction in transport emissions is plausible by 2050. Therefore, the second tranche of INDCs, to be prepared by 2020, should focus on energy efficiency and aim to stabilize emissions from transportation and buildings. 


Third, there is now sufficient scientific evidence that the global goal for 2050should include the ‘adverse effects of climate change’[3]. A composite objective is best expressed as ‘encouragement of longer-term strategies for transitioning to low-carbon societies and resilient economies’, because new infrastructure that is now being built will lock-in emissions and resilience measures. Emission reductions consider symptoms and not causes of the problem and requires a broader goal.


Fourth, multilateral review and related stocktaking to increase ambition, in order to take account of national circumstances, should be applicable to countries after the year of their nationally determined peaking of emissions. This is why the United States has chosen 2005 as its base year and China 2030, and thosedates are not under review.The support provided should also be included in the INDC’s and periodically reviewed.


Fifth, for the role of non-state actors to be effective the exchange of experiencesshould be organized separately for the major stakeholders –policy analysts, scientists, business, agriculturalists and cities. The discussion in the annual conferences revolves around political concerns and a forum is needed to discuss the global transformation in terms of the natural, social and policy sciences as well as innovative technology.


The India- UK Joint Statement on Energy and Climate Change, signed on 12 November 2015, is an example of international cooperation on technology transfer outside the UNFCCC, with a new Virtual Joint Centre on clean energyand the India InnovationLab forGreenFinance, and there is no reason why a co-operative framework will not emerge at Paris.


[1]Former United Nations Diplomat and Policy Adviser Climate Change Secretariat.


[2]“emissions” are defined in the Convention as the release of green-house gases and/or their precursors into the atmosphere over a specified area and period of time’


[3]"Adverse effects of climate change" means changes in the physical environment or biota resulting from climate change which have significant deleterious effects on the composition, resilience or productivity of natural and managed ecosystems or on the operation of socio-economic systems or on human health and welfare”