“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 of the batch 2016-18, Mr. Mehta 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 the Indian government 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 umpteen number of research work and participation at international conferences.
The following article is the gist of the author’s own research paper submitted for the course Political Economy of India addressing the question of “why Paris Accord will fail to address climate emergency”, it is supplemented with insights from Mr. Mehta’s lecture.
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 towards achieving the objective of the UN’s Climate Convention and delineate the approach regarding the calculation of the Green House Gas emissions. Each country can show a different base year from which emissions will be reduced obliterating the historical responsibility of the largest producers of industrial carbon emissions from leading the cause. The developing countries feel this is the cheating point or, the flimsy deal. However, the pledge being decided by countries themselves is somehow intended to guarantee that the governments are unlikely to violate it. This point of view, indicates that the format of INDC’s hovers between top-down and bottom-up, with the UN monitoring their seriousness (Yeo 2015). The threshold required to give legal force to the agreement was achieved on 5th October 2016 when countries accounting for 55 per cent of global GHG emissions deposited their instrument of ratification. Speaking on this, Mr. Raman Mehta observed that only certain clauses which deal with the reporting of GHG emissions are legally binding in the Paris Agreement. 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 bear 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. The commitment to combat climate change by the developing countries is limited in many ways, since their development is invariably tied to a proportional increase in GHG emissions. This is true so far as history indicates. However, in certain sectors like transport, China and India are decoupling by building metro rails in their busiest cities to bring forth affordable and zero carbon emissions in the mass public transport sector.
Unaddressed 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
‘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 – 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. Very 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 a 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
So 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, preparedness for urbanization, awareness about the growth of personal vehicles, lack of pollution checks on the industries in rapidly growing cities and biomass burning 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, critical infrastructure and technology, encourage 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 but 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 (Shank and Wirzba 2013). 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 firstname.lastname@example.org)
Yeo, Sophie. 2015. “Explainer: What Are ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions’?”. Carbonbrief.Org. https://www.carbonbrief.org/explainer-what-are-intended-nationally-determined-contributions.
Shank, Michael, and Emily Wirzba. 2013. “How Climate Change Sparked The Crisis In Syria”. Usnews.Com. https://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/world-report/2013/09/13/syrias-crisis-was-sparked-by-global-warming-and-drought.
Live Mint (e-paper). 2017. “Massive Antarctic Ice Shelf Ready To Break Apart”. http://www.livemint.com/Science/Co2Gpz7ccx7v2yX7l0BuQN/Massive-Antarctic-ice-shelf-ready-to-break-apart.html.
“Renewable Technology Is The Future: Raman Mehta | State Knowledge Management Centre On Climate Change”. 2014. Climatechangeportal.Mp.Gov.In. http://www.climatechangeportal.mp.gov.in/en/news-events/interviews/renewable-technology-future-raman-mehta.
“Lack Of Clarity On Legal Nature Of Paris Deal A Concern For India | ORF”. 2015. ORF. http://www.orfonline.org/research/lack-of-clarity-on-legal-nature-of-paris-deal-a-concern-for-india/.
Featured images source: