Paris Agreement falls short, say TISS researchers

Updated - November 17, 2021 01:00 am IST

Published - December 13, 2015 02:16 pm IST - Paris

The Paris Agreement outcomes fall well short of what the world needs to halt the progression of dangerous climate change. It does not do enough in terms of taking account of science, concretely operationalising equity among countries, and demonstrating global adequacy, said T. Jayaraman and Tejal Kanitkar of the Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

Following is the text of their statement:

The Paris Agreement and the accompanying decision will undoubtedly be welcomed by most countries present at the summit for different reasons. A large number of countries have undoubtedly had their specific political concerns addressed in various parts of the agreement. But the outcomes conspicuously fall well short of what the world requires in terms of taking account of science, operationalising equity among countries in specific terms and in terms of global adequacy. Most regrettably it has set goals that are at odds with the limits on the feasibility of such goals that climate science has indicated in the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the IPCC.

Among the successes for the developing countries are the explicit language on equity and CBDR that are to be found in several places in the text. In the context of the widespread fear of the deletion of both these elements prior to Paris this is undoubtedly welcome. The other success is the elements of differentiation that are present in various aspects such as mitigation, adaptation, financial transfer and technology transfer and support for capacity building in the developing countries. The last three elements that apply to developed countries in particular are also subject to the periodic reviews and the “global stocktake” that are part of the agreement.

The agreement has however deliberately turned away from the notion of the global carbon budget, that the IPCC had indicated as the next appropriate global indicator to take account of, after a temperature target. While indicating the goal of 2 deg C or 1.5 deg C, the agreement allows developed countries to commit to only such emissions reductions as they wish to, in the form Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC). It has not ensured that the sum total of their actual greenhouse gas emissions will be compatible with their fair share of the global limit on cumulative emissions (the global carbon budget) that is necessary to ensure that the temperature target is met. Notwithstanding the promised review in 2018 of the mitigation efforts of countries, all INDCs will in effect be converted into the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that are required by the Paris Agreement.

In the process, historical responsibility has been quietly given up, and constitutes the biggest political gain for the developed countries. The use of the notion of the global carbon budget, defined in terms of permissible cumulative emissions from 1850 to 2100, would have provided one means for operationalising historical responsibility. But with the ignoring of the carbon budget, this window is not available.

Worse, the agreement ignores the scientific reality that given the global emissions expected until 2025 and 2030, even the 2 deg goal will be difficult to meet to any substantial degree of certainty. Achieving that goal may, according to some estimates cited by the IPCC in AR5, require currently unavailable or untested technologies for carbon capture, especially if by 2020 substantial emissions reduction has not taken place. Such reductions by 2020 will not be the case, as any review of the current commitments in the form of NDCs will not take place until 2018, and even then no substantial changes may result.

The achievement of the 1.5 deg C is virtually impossible with the mitigation efforts currently inscribed through the INDCs, since the global cumulative emissions that are expected until 2025 and 2030, are well above the limit that is necessary to keep to 1.5 deg C. Such a temperature limit is vastly more difficult and more expensive to achieve compared to the 2 deg C goal and the current financial support and technology transfer pledges will do very little to help achieve it.

This is a dangerous path for the world to take. On the one hand, to the most vulnerable nations, especially the Small Island States, the agreement makes a promise that cannot be kept. On the other hand, for other nations too, it sets a false goal in adaptation. Adaptation, expecting a 1.5 deg C increase, will lull countries into false complacency, leaving them under prepared if indeed the temperature rise will be greater, as it is well more than likely to be. The developed countries will bear no liability for loss and damage on this account, as the agreement makes clear.

Despite India's and other developing nations' satisfaction at having preserved equity and CBDR in the agreement, this will be an empty victory if the developed nations do not keep their emissions to their fair share of the global carbon space. India has been correctly insisting on such a fair share prior to Paris and during the summit talks. However, the developed countries are taking in fact an unfair share of the global carbon budget, even as their earlier over-consumption of carbon space before 2015 stands sanctified. Little would be left behind for any late comers. Equity, therefore, has not been operationalised in any specific fashion in the agreement. The acknowledgement of climate justice is also hedged, mentioned only in the preamble, even while explicitly denying it as an universal principle.

The Paris Agreement and the corresponding decision leave many details to the future. It makes merely general appeals for greater “ambition” in the future in mitigation without specific targets. If they are not met, no consequences will apply. Much of the process of review, as other details of operationalising the agreement, is left unspecified. This is likely to result in many acrimonious and bitterly disputed climate summits. But for the next eight years, until the first stocktake of 2023, little advance of substance in emissions reduction is likely to occur, with the pressure likely to be ratcheted up at that time on countries like India.

In the meantime, the world will face increasing difficulties, including the likelihood of danger for some part of it, from inevitable global warming and its consequences, while the developmental future of many developing nations, including India, has become correspondingly more vulnerable to the unavailability of carbon space as before.

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