A peek into the mise en scène of climate diplomacy

APOORVA SRINIVAS

“Paris Agreement is not ambitious enough since it has only given effect to soft obligations,” says Mr. Raman Mehta, an expert on climate change. 

In his special lecture with Public Policy students, the batch of 2016-18, he spoke on “The Science of Climate Change: Feeding into the politics of Climate Change and Paris Agreement” on 10th and 11th of January 2017. He gives a glimpse into the seriousness of India in integrating climate change concerns into development strategies, plans, and programs. In the past, Mr. Raman Mehta has worked on the issues of forests and wildlife at The Indian Institute of Public Administration, Department of International Development at the British High Commission, on conservation and management of protected areas at World Wide Fund for Nature – India, on developmental issues, climate change, social inclusion and public policy at ActionAid – India. He is currently the Policy head at Vasudha Foundation. He works on demystifying the different facets of sustainable development and climate change through an umpteen number of research work and presence at international conferences.

The design of Climate pledge

Paris Accord glorifies the bottom-to-top approach giving the freedom for all the countries to design their own INDC’s (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) justifying on how the contribution is fair and ambitious towards achieving the objective of the UN’s climate convention and the approach regarding the calculation of the Green House Gas emissions. This means each country can show a different base year from which emissions will be reduced which obliterates the historical responsibility of largest producers of industrial carbon emissions from leading the cause. The developing countries feel this is the cheating point. The Agreement will have the legal force when countries accounting for 55 per cent of global GHG emissions deposit their instrument of ratification, the threshold which was achieved on 5th October 2016. Even though large emitters like US, China, EU, India have ratified the accord, the challenge is to see how strong and full-flavored the countries walk the talk apart from their announcements to move ahead. Speaking on this, Mr. Raman Mehta observed that only the clauses which deal with the reporting of GHG emissions are legally binding. Hence, except for the progressive nature of INDC’s, there seem to be no other pressure points.

The call for Climate Justice

Food security is a common sensitive challenge. Deficit rainfall and natural disasters worsen poverty and hunger as vulnerable economies are bearing the brunt of climate change rapidly. More socio-economic issues directly related to the climate changes are encountered on a day-to-day basis which is irrevocable in nature. India reformulated the concept of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ by adding ‘respective capabilities’ (CBDR – RC) calling it the bedrock of collective enterprise. This is to clearly indicate that equitable carbon and development space are straightforward requirements of developing countries. Therefore, the commitment to combat climate change is purely under the capacity of such countries whose development is invariably tied to a proportional increase in GHG emissions as history shows. However, in certain sectors like transport, China and India are decoupling by building metro rails in their busiest cities. Affordable and zero carbon emissions in the mass public transport sector of low and middle-income countries is the need for millions of low-income families who can save time and money.

Unattained Climate migration and environmental refugees

The Paris Agreement missed the crucial aspect of providing relief and alternative to those who are affected by climate change induced migration, which is expanding every day. The section on climate-refugees
‘Loss and Damage’ makes recommendations for setting up a task force for addressing climate migration. However, the task force has no binding authority and its operations, functions, funding sources are not clear because of which the problem of migration will not be considered as the first priority. The ‘Loss and Damage’ is, therefore, a mere deliberation process under the Warsaw Conference of 2013. Furthermore, the draft of Paris Agreement which contained provisions for Climate Change Displacement Coordination Facility intended to secure emergency relief, target organised migration and planned relocation of displaced people, compensating for those displaced does not feature in the final text of the Accord.

Concern regarding the Climate Finance

The most contentious issue of the climate change agreement is regarding the investment. Mainly the funding and disbursement processes for efficient technology transfer to enable green transition and carbon peaking of developing economies. The developed countries are hesitant with this responsibility and are often unclear and silent on the ways to enable the processes like sources of funding, terms of funding, purpose of funding, the agencies (public sector or private sector) of funding and the kind of funding. Most often the use of political ambiguous language of financial compensation and the rehabilitation is spoken about extensively. Mr. Raman Mehta reflects on the fact that ‘compensation paradigm’ of the Paris Agreement has caused immense pressure and anxiousness among the developed countries which is inhibiting the cooperation for seamless flow of finance from the developed to the developing countries. This diluted mindset is a threat and a menace as it can stall the process of implementation of clean energy systems, which are undoubtedly expensive, leading to disproportionate burden on the developing countries.

The common thread for the all the countries

Helvetas06So far as the extreme weather changes are concerned and maintaining the balance between inclusive economic growth and social development, the policy matrix in developing countries is stratified with priorities of Sustainable Development Goals, which seeks to eradicate poverty and ‘leave no one behind’.

India’s two major international efforts in launching the International Solar Alliance to form a group of 107 sunshine countries to enable them to switch to a low-carbon path by solar power utilization and ratifying the Paris Agreement on 2nd October 2016, on the International Non-Violence Day expresses its aspiration to tackle climate change with a forethought to internalize the principles of Mahatma Gandhi in all its endeavours. However, the local urban environment in India tells a different story in the efforts to switch to low-carbon path. In the year 2000, New Delhi mandated the use of CNG in all public vehicles to mitigate vehicular air pollution showing improvement in air quality, yet in the past two years Delhi is among the top cities in the world highly affected by air pollution. The lack of constant innovation, increased urban sprawl, growth of personal vehicles, biomass burning, lack of pollution checks on the industries in rapidly growing cities have negated the gains of focused policies on curbing sectoral air pollution. India must therefore invest in comprehensive planning, legislation and finance the grassroots level of governance on recycling, renewable energy sector, integrate critical infrastructure with technology, engage in community centric territorial planning that control rural-urban continuum. 

        Mr. Raman Mehta explained how the process of climate change leads to dangerous feedback loops – increased number of warm and cold days accompanied by extreme weather fluctuations, heavy precipitation and submergence of deltaic regions and islands, mass displacement of ice sheet and melting of glaciers such as the recent breaking of massive ice block in Antarctica and the rift that grew by 18 kilometers. He further said, this has put a focus on the need to look for innovative mitigation measures more intensely than the adaptation measures, as the latter is finite and limited.

It is often understood that climate change is only part of the problem, there are other factors like human led land use changes and deforestation that pose immediate and deeper problems affecting daily life. Humanitarian crisis related to civil unrest like migration and military conflict influenced by climate change are becoming more prominent, such as the ongoing Syrian crisis which illustrates the culmination of agricultural drought, with political failure and willpower to mitigate the challenges of dwindling resources. Therefore wide-spread negotiations continue to be focused on climate change on the principle of equity and shared vision. These have in the past lead to formulation of initiatives like international emissions trading, clean development mechanism, joint implementation. More recently, carbon capture sequestration has emerged as a niche effort in energy sustainability. The cornerstone is to invoke global solidarity in action plans without the vested business and diplomacy of trying to pressurize the finance receiving nations to manipulate their national economic policies. Policy decisions which require adequate assessment of nature’s resilience capacity, conserving forest wealth, disaster management and rural livelihood security are immediately required to be chartered out with expertise and institutional capacities indigenous to each economy.

(Apoorva is pursuing Master’s Programme in Public Policy at the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at apoorvas@nls.ac.in)

Featured image source:

https://climate.nasa.gov/effects/

http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/climate-refugee.htm

http://www.welthungerhilfe.de/en/sustainable-development-goals.html

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