Towards an ambitious and fair deal

Why India must resist the attempt by developed countries to dilute the concept of differentiated responsibilities.

Updated - March 24, 2016 01:17 pm IST

Published - December 02, 2015 12:54 am IST

A man walks past a logo at the climate Generations area at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 1, 2015.     REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

A man walks past a logo at the climate Generations area at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 1, 2015. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

Just as the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) gets under way in Paris, a growing campaign by policy influencers and opinion-makers in parts of Europe and the U.S. is putting pressure on India to dilute or abandon Article 3 of the Convention, which refers to common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR). Along with other developing countries, India has historically given voice to the philosophy of CBDR, which states that Parties should “protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.”

Sujatha Byravan

Obligations of developed countries By asking all countries to develop bottom-up commitments to reduce their emissions, any differentiation among countries, whether rich or poor, has been diminished significantly. This is because the current global climate regime operates as if all countries are uniformly responsible for the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and that every effort is equally significant. Thus, the United States, which is accountable for roughly one quarter of the rise in average temperature of atmosphere since pre-industrial times, and continues as the world’s second largest annual emitter after China, has made the smallest commitments of any industrialised country. In contrast, Brazil and South Africa have more ambitious targets than the U.S., even though they are responsible for less than 2 per cent of global anthropogenic carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Similarly, India’s renewable energy and energy efficiency goals represent some of the most challenging system-wide changes any country has ever yet undertaken.

The phrase dynamic differentiation, predicated on periodic review, is now being used by some experts in the U.S. and in the European Union as a reinterpretation of CBDR. However, this is a dilution of the importance of historical obligations of rich countries which have contributed to more than half of the current greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and ignores the capabilities they developed through rising prosperity. These experts say we live in a world that is different from 1992 and that many developing countries today also have capabilities and responsibilities. Nevertheless, the consequence of disappearing CBDR would ripple through duties that rich countries have towards developing nations in three main areas seen to be obligations by the rich: the right to provide development space for poor countries; financial support; and technology transfer for capacity development. Since, in a previous column, I covered the issue of development space to provide energy services and to deliver the benefits of economic prosperity (“Plan for Paris: Looking beyond emission cuts”, August 20), I will concentrate here on financial obligations and discuss technology transfer in a future piece.

Green climate fund At the Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP-16) meeting in Cancun, Mexico, a financial mechanism was set up whose aim was to support developing countries on projects related to climate change, primarily for mitigation and adaptation. The Green Climate Fund (GCF), which is supposed to amount to $100 billion annually by 2020, is widely understood as an obligation of rich countries and part of the process through which they would pay for and support developing countries to reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change. The GCF secretariat’s functions and activities are guided by and remain accountable to the UNFCCC. The GCF, if it works well, could become the largest fund dedicated to climate change, but there are also others that are part of the overall climate finance architecture such as the Global Investment Fund and the Global Environment Facility for specific climate-related projects. The GCF’s exact role, source of funds, and the windows through which it would operate post-2020 are still getting clarified and should ideally be sharper after COP-21. Some countries, including India, have made funding a requirement for actions within their nationally determined contributions. India has asked for a funding window for technology transfer in the GCF for loans and financing. Finance is needed for making new upfront capital investments in expensive renewable technologies that are necessary to make a transition to a low-carbon path. Such a development strategy has not been attempted before and is a different model from that of the U.S., Europe or even China. The world would likely benefit from lessons that India would have to share from this experiment.

Finance is also needed for adaptation, which is especially crucial for developing countries. According to a recent report by Adaptation Watch called ‘Toward mutual accountability: The 2015 adaptation finance transparency gap’, there are numerous characteristics that adaptation finance must fulfil. There are 10 recommendations that include clear guidelines, transparency, improved governance structures and valid flows necessary to build trust among countries and strengthen the global negotiation process.

Maintain UNFCCC boundaries The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently published a report stating that $62 billion had been mobilised in 2014 from private and public sources, up from the $52 billion in 2013. India and other countries expressed their annoyance with these estimates, arguing that funding meant for development aid to various countries has also been included in these numbers. Climate funds are expected to be new and additional to development aid because they relate to the historical obligations of rich countries for having captured ecological space. India has maintained that funds for climate finance should be new, predictable, scalable, and recognised as the obligations of developed countries. These considerations would disappear without differentiation.

There was the impression that the OECD report was announced merely to give a fillip to the Paris COP while conducting estimates outside the legal framework of the UNFCCC. Another effort to determine the contours of the negotiation pre-Paris was made at the recent meeting of the 20 major economies, the G-20 meet in Turkey. Differentiation, climate finance, and targets for Paris came up at this meeting, which is outside the bounds of the UNFCCC. The climate justice principles of the UNFCCC need to be maintained to build trust and work together as a global community addressing a shared challenge. While the Paris-COP may not satisfy everyone, it should, with any luck, be a worthy step forward in building such a global community.

(Sujatha Byravan is Principal Research Scientist at the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy, Bengaluru.)

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