Paris climate talks: It’s India versus the West

Who should be responsible if there’s no treaty at the end of Paris climate talks?

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Paris climate talks: It’s India versus the West
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The politics surrounding the Paris climate talks is heating up with the West blaming India for being the biggest obstacle in the negotiations. Representatives of Western countries say the talks could fail because of India’s unacceptable stance. Meanwhile, the Indian government and leading Indian environmental groups sense a conspiracy by the West to make India a scapegoat for the failure of the talks.

Interestingly, China has left the bandwagon of developing countries (like India) and is siding with the West. In such a scenario, experts feel that the world will see a toothless, non-binding agreement at the end of the Paris talks, and the global temperature rise will not be contained within the precautionary 2° degree Celsius by the end of the century.

Over the last few days, the West has been vocal in blaming India. Éric Fournier, Ambassador of France, speaking at an event — “The Climate Deal. Life after COP21” — at Budapest’s Central European University said, “India is one of the main obstacles to the success of this conference.” Further, Tom Norring, Ambassador of Denmark, said even the Copenhagen talks had failed because of India and China. This time, however, China is playing a progressive role while India continues to lag behind, Norring added.

However, Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general of the Center for Science and Environment (CSE), who is currently amid negotiations at the Paris conference, stated that there are rumours that the US is spearheading a pincer movement to trap India and hold it responsible for failures at Paris. “The Western media has taken this issue up as a crusade and has been calling India’s position as divisive — even without examining what that position is…,” he said.

A look at some of the articles that came out in the Western press do confirm some of Bhushan’s suspicions. Take, for instance, this article in the BBC headlined “Can Paris Climate Overcome the India Challenge”. The piece cites India as a big obstacle at the Paris talks. It concluded that, “….the scale of India’s ambitions gives you a clear sense of just why getting such an agreement in Paris is such a challenge…And why it will be such a triumph if it is achieved.”

Just a day before the Paris talks began, Financial Times, UK’s leading international daily, carried an article titled, “COP21 Paris climate talks: India looms as obstacle to deal,” stating that, “As the talks begin in Paris, India can be accused of two faults in its approach, say analysts and diplomats monitoring the negotiations. First, it has failed to trumpet from the rooftops its relatively low present and future per capita emissions; and second, it may be too pessimistic about likely technological advances that would permit it to adopt more ambitious carbon emission targets.”

The American weekly news magazine, Time, carried a piece on December 1 titled “India’s Need for Coal-Fueled Growth Complicates Paris Climate Summit,” and said, “…That thirst for coal—the single biggest source of man-made carbon emissions—has made India a country to watch in Paris…”

Bhushan further added that rumours are rife that China will stay with developing countries until the last few days and then China and the US will come together, along with France, to force a deal upon the rest of the world. “Something similar happened at the Lima climate talks last year, when the US and China redefined the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities [CBDR]. China is unusually quiet at Paris,” he said. The CBDR principle states that all nations are responsible for addressing global environmental destruction, but the role of every country is different.

India is bargaining hard on the CBDR principle and is also raising other issues. It is demanding that rich industrialised nations should take more responsibility and not force developing countries to make major carbon cuts. India has stated that developed countries should provide aid and support to developing countries. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote an article in Financial Times stating that “justice demands that carbon curbs should not limit poorer nations’ ability to grow”. “The lifestyles of a few must not crowd out opportunities for the many still on the first steps of the development ladder,” he wrote.

Basically, Indian negotiators blame the western world for the climate change crisis and argue that it is their responsibility to carry out major emission cuts. India feels that it has played its part and it has already pledged to reduce emission by at least 33 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Further, the Modi government has also pledged that 40 per cent of installed power capacity will be from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.

The West’s position is that since India is a major emitter, it cannot shy away from taking more responsibility. Fournier, the French ambassador, said India refuses to take any responsibility and wants the West to shoulder the burden. “For this, India is trying to mobilise other developing countries. This is not really acceptable to anyone,” he added.

The strife between the West and India (along with some other developing countries) is one of the main reasons why Paris talks may not yield a legally-binding agreement. Norring, Ambassador of Denmark, though states that the ultimate agreement “will not be legally binding” that would make nations accountable for their commitments under international law.  The West itself is divided about the idea of having a legally-binding agreement. It would be very difficult to pass a legally-binding agreement because the biggest climate player – the US – will never be able to get it passed through the Republican-controlled Senate. Experts are saying that we may see a Paris treaty that will make it compulsory for countries to set emission targets, but they won’t be legally bound to follow them.

According to United Nations data, 184 countries had already submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by the third day of the Paris talks, covering 95 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions to 2011.

Moreover, the US and China signed a major bilateral agreement last year where the former announced a target to cut net greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025. China, on the other hand, announced targets to peak CO2 emissions around 2030, with the intention to try to peak early, and to increase the non-fossil fuel share of all energy to around 20 per cent by 2030.  This agreement sets a precedent for nation-driven, voluntary emission reductions, and may act as a deterrent against any agreement with legally-binding cuts.

The result of a non-binding, self-declaratory agreement would mean that global temperatures would rise by about 2.7 – 3 degree Celsius, which is above the dangerous 2 degree Celsius threshold, according to Norring. The fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that the world should control its emissions so that the global temperature rise should not be more than 2℃ from the pre-industrial era.

Just before the Paris talks, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, stated that the INDCs that the countries had submitted so far could only limit temperature rise to 2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100. Although a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius will already have dangerous and harmful impacts on our environment, an increase closer to 3 degrees Celsius could worsen these effects and have catastrophic impacts – for example, exposing people in low-lying coastal areas like Bangladesh to sea-level rise induced flooding. To prevent that from happening both developing and developed nations must ensure Pairs climate talks move beyond being all talk.

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