360 degree: There is no planet B

Developed countries know that India is wedded to the 1992 climate convention.

Over 150 nations are assembled at the climate conference in Paris to sew up an agreement on how to curb carbon emissions into the earth’s atmosphere and slow down global warming. An agreement is absolutely necessary to keep the planet’s temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius for the rest of this century. But it is not a done deal because the world is divided between the industrialized countries and the industrializing ones. India is at once the leader of the latter group and target of the former. It’s a battle for ‘carbon space’ out there.

At the climate conference in Paris, the atmosphere is full of rumour and intrigue. And it concerns India. During the first week of the conference, rumours have abounded of a pincer movement, spearheaded by the US, to trap India and hold it responsible for all failures at Paris. The first salvo in this direction was fired by US Secretary of State John Kerry a couple of weeks ago, when he called India a “challenge” so far as the Paris climate talks were concerned. Now, the western media has taken this ‘issue’ up as a crusade and have begun to routinely term India’s position as “divisive”— even without examining what that position is.

The western media is also using the projected rise of coal consumption in India to paint it as a climate villain. Time magazine carried a piece on December 1 titled “India’s Need for Coal-Fueled Growth Complicates Paris Climate Summit,” and said, “…That thirst for coal—the single biggest source of man-made carbon emissions—has made India a country to watch in Paris…”

It’s plain that there is a well-laid plan to trap India into a position in which it appears to be obstructionist. Developed countries know that India is wedded to the 1992 climate convention and will oppose any major deviation from its principles. They will, therefore, continue at every step to propose changes in the convention, just to attract opposition from India. This will then be hyped up as a ‘unilaterally polarising’ attitude that has bogged the negotiations down. India will be the ‘fall guy’. Then, in the last few days – the conference ends on December 11 -- the US and China will come together and foist a deal with the support of the French and other European countries. A promise of money will be made to keep developing countries happy. That, observers say, is the plot. It remains to be seen if that’s how the Paris negotiations turn out.

Indeed, the money promises have begun to pour in. Four European countries -- Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland—have announced a new $500 million initiative to help cut greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries. The World Bank Group has worked with these countries to develop the initiative, called the Transformative Carbon Asset Facility. Also, 11 countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom and the US, have pledged close to $250 million in new money for adaptation support to the most vulnerable countries on the planet, into a fund called the Least Developed Countries Fund.

Behind the money smokescreen, however, the developed countries are essentially seeking to rewrite the convention. They want to eliminate differentiation between developed and developing countries and marginalize the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities’ (CBDR) and equity – which says that those nations that got rich by spewing the most carbon into the atmosphere must do more to help mitigate climate change than the ones who don’t spew the most carbon -- replacing it with the concept of ‘self-differentiation’—as President Obama put it in his Leaders’ Plenary speech: ‘Targets that are set not for each of us, but by each of us’ (emphasis added). They have made no firm commitment on finance or technology to the developing countries. Most of their proposals are against India’s stand.

Now, India has two choices. Either it can get sucked into this whirlpool of what increasingly looks like a well-laid out plan, or it can propound a counter-narrative that will turn the tables on developed countries. India has an opportunity in Paris to do the latter. It is important for India to get its objective, and the communication of this objective, right. It should clearly communicate the fact that Paris is the last chance to operationalise the principle of equity and CBDR.

The fifth assessment report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has clearly put out the number on the amount of carbon dioxide the world can emit while maintaining the safety threshold of a temperature increase of less than 2 degrees Celsius since the pre-industrial era. This carbon space of 1,000-1,400 billion tonnes, which can be emitted from now till 2100, is fast disappearing.

Consider, for instance, the UNFCCC’s Synthesis report on the aggregate effect of the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), the plans that individual countries have submitted to say what they will do to curb their carbon emissions. Even if all countries live by those commitments, some 60-75 percent of the carbon budget will be exhausted by as early as 2030 itself. And by that time, the Human Development Index (HDI) of South Asian and most African countries will still be less than 0.65. These countries will need the carbon budget far beyond 2030 to meet the basic development needs such as food, shelter, infrastructure and energy for their peoples.

The climate conference must ensure that this “development space” is made available to developing countries. And this can only happen if, at Paris, countries agree on an architecture of fair allocation of the carbon budget and fair burden-sharing between countries for curbing further emissions and adapting to climate change.

India should also support the key demands of least developed countries and small island nations. These countries want a financial mechanism to take care of the loss and damage suffered by them due to climate change. They also want that the temperature increase should be limited to 1.5 degrees and not 2 degrees. India would do well to not oppose the 1.5 degree limit outright; rather, we should say that both 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees should be kept as targets, as done in previous climate conferences.

To get an ambitious and equitable deal at Paris, it is important that India’s position reflects both the aspirations and threat of climate change to the developing world. An article written by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Financial Times ahead of the conference did partially capture this when he said that “the lifestyles of a few must not crowd out opportunities for the many still on the first steps of the development ladder”. India, however, should strongly reflect the views of the poor in all the developing countries who are bearing the brunt of climate change. India should start articulating its position in the interest of the poor of the world, not just our own poor.

(Chandra Bhushan is Deputy Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi)

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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