After the terror attacks on Paris, the conference of parties on climate change (COP21) kicked off with the heads of state from more than 150 nations making their plenary speeches yesterday. This is the 21st time that the conference of parties is meeting under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which was agreed upon in 1992. The almost two week long talks in Paris will see the negotiators and delegations from the participating countries deliberate, bargain and, if possible, broker a deal acceptable to all on climate change.
It is a matter of 2 degrees
If scientists are to be believed, due to the relentless emission of greenhouse gases, the global temperatures are set to rise above the current threshold of 2 degree Celsius from the pre-industrial era level. And if we follow the same high emission pathway that we have embarked on since the industrial revolution, the rise in temperature can increase by 3 to 7 degrees Celsius by 2100. Put in simple terms, this means frequent droughts, untimely floods and water and food scarcity. Considering the gravity of the situation, some have even suggested assessing the risks of climate change at par with national security and public health. It therefore becomes imperative to not only curb the rising temperature to the threshold of 2 degree Celsius by cutting down the emission levels and shifting to cleaner energy sources, but also to support others to achieve this goal. This is why COP21 becomes a significantly crucial event in the climate change progression.
Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR)
The 1992 framework on climate change provided for “common but differentiated responsibilities” based on the developmental stage of a country. Consequently, the rich and developed nations were obliged to cut down emissions. Now, these nations want this to be shared among all the nations, while on the other hand, the developing world would not like to be held to this commitment for some time.
Thus, from developing nations’ perspective, not only is equitable and fair treatment a must but ensuring emergence of a legally binding agreement from the talks will have direct implications on their developmental goals and needs. Since, these will be long time commitments, a serious impact on growth and development is undisputed.
So who should bear the brunt?
Although, there is no second opinion on the seriousness of this impending matter, what is contentious, however, is the placing of responsibility for climate change. The developing nations have categorically placed the blame on the developed nations; after all it is they who in the first place have contributed to the bulk of the greenhouse emissions since the initial days of the industrial revolution. For the developing world, the problem also lies in the fact that not only do they lack substantial resources but if they agree to share the responsibility, they will require financial support for building up their capacities to deliver on their commitments. And for that the price has to be paid by the developed world.
Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)
While the participating countries have submitted their intended contributions towards the emission cuts considering their national interests, capacities and priorities, it remains to be seen how much of it will actually materialize into future commitments. Since these contributions are voluntary and not binding, it is difficult to pin hopes just on these assurances. For example, India intends to reduce carbon emission intensity by nearly 35 per cent over 2005 levels, and increase the share of non-fossil fuel energy generation to 40 percent by 2030. This, however, is achievable only with an international climate finance of at least $2.5 trillion, as per its submission and subsequent reiteration by PM Modi in the plenary session.
Is an agreement possible at all?
It is difficult to predict as of now. However, an amalgamation or fudge comprising binding provisions which keep the interests of both the developed and developing nations in consideration is very much a possibility. While in the plenary session the US promised that it understands the urgency of the matter and will lead in the fight against climate crisis, and India reiterated that while it is committed to adopt clean energy sources without compromising its growth, it cannot be blamed for climate change. The true picture, however, will emerge only after the negotiations are through and a final deal is sealed. For that, we can only wait and hope for the best!