The >Paris Climate Change Conference could become a landmark summit in the history of world development, if leaders of the rich nations show the vision to come up with a just and equitable agreement that supports carbon-free growth. The heads of government meeting at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference opening on November 30 are under pressure to evolve a concrete plan that goes beyond incremental measures and acknowledges the seriousness of scientific evidence on dangerous climate change. Any agreement must incorporate liberal financial and technological assistance from developed nations, which have a historical responsibility for global warming. >Developing countries such as India face the difficult path of bringing millions of people out of poverty without significantly increasing their carbon emissions. India also has to adapt to the severe consequences of changing climate, such as catastrophic droughts and storms, damage to agriculture, loss of biodiversity and harm to human health. In Paris, the negotiations revolve around a target of further maximum rise in global temperatures of only 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. This goal imposes a ceiling on the amount of carbon dioxide that can be added to the atmosphere by all countries put together, which is about 1,000 billion tonnes. Without radical decarbonisation measures, this carbon budget would be exhausted in less than two decades according to some estimates.
In recent years, the richer half of the world has been demanding that developing nations with high rates of economic growth, including India, accept legally binding emissions cuts. This approach does not meet the test of fairness and equity, since those who are not responsible for the problem are being asked to share the burden equally. The principle of differentiated responsibilities was fundamental to the Kyoto Protocol, and there is no cause to review that for a new agreement. Instead, the focus must be on the absence of working arrangements to substantially fund mitigation of emissions and to help vulnerable countries adapt to the effects of climate change. A $100 billion annual fund to be available from 2020 has made no great leap, having received only pledges of aid. A smaller Green Climate Fund has set apart a mere $168 million for eight projects, some of which have run into hurdles. The negotiators at Paris thus have the challenge of crafting an agreement that incorporates all the key elements needed to attain the climate target. Fortunately, most countries including those in the global south have signalled their intention to take national actions to cut emissions. What they need is barrier-free financing and open source technologies in order to do more. Paris presents the moment, and the leaders must grasp it.