COP21: What Was Committed, and Not Calculated

Once again it’s developed nations and not climate that has won battle the against global warming.

5 min read
COP21: What Was Committed, and Not Calculated

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France is probably heaving a huge sigh of relief that a climate agreement was forged, albeit a day late. President Francois Hollande complimented the 195 countries, saying: “You committed, you didn’t calculate.”

Let’s see what countries have committed to do. All have submitted their “Intended National Determined Contributions” or INDCs. These were not in the 11 pages of binding text, but in the other 21 pages of decisions by countries. In any case, they were voluntary to begin with.

Secondly, they committed to submit their climate mitigation and adaptation actions to review and monitoring. This requires every country to present a nationwide inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, using parameters set by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

French foreign minister and President of the COP21 Laurent Fabius, centre, applauds while United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, left, and French President Francois Hollande applaud after the final conference of the COP21, December 12, 2015. (Photo: AP)

However, there will be external monitoring of the INDCs to see whether countries are on course to meet their pledges. In addition, countries will have to submit a technical review of emissions data, as well as participate in a “multilateral” consideration of progress.


After the Climate Deal, What Next?

  • US got its way by substituting “shall” with “should” in the final agreement, which implies that it is not binding on it to enforce emission cuts.
  • Ambiguity mars the funding aspect of climate mitigation – how the intended target of $ 100 billion pledged in Copenhagen in 2009 will be achieved is not clear.
  • Only $ 5.83 billion has been provided to the Green Climate Fund.
  • Apart from coal, other fossil fuels such as gas and petrol, which also cause global warming, do not figure in climate mitigation plans.
  • Clear winners at Paris talks are industrialised countries which are not being compelled to reduce their emissions.

US Attempts At Scuttling the Deal

India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change objected to such an audit of national actions on the grounds that it meddled with a country’s internal affairs. Since mitigation, for instance India’s case will include a major role for afforestation, the government wouldn’t like all schemes even in the remotest corners of the country subjected to international review by consultants and the like.

Lest this be viewed as stonewalling on India’s part, it is appropriate to recall how the US threatened to walk out of Paris if a previous draft remained, stating that industrial countries “shall” continue to take the lead in taking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets.

President Barack Obama speaks about the Paris climate agreement from the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, December 12, 2015. (Photo: AP)

The US got its way in substituting this word with “should”, which implies that it is not binding on it to enforce emission cuts. It would have been impossible to get past the Republicans in Congress who are opposed to any climate deal to begin with. This only shows that the US is not averse to scuttling a global agreement if it goes against its interests.


Green Climate Fund

So the reviews will begin before 2020, and in 2023, there will be stocktaking of the actions. In its INDC, India has listed its investments in a wide range of sectors, such as agriculture, water resources, forests and so on. The transparency framework requires countries to list emissions by source, which may open to scrutiny of thermal power stations, for example.

If these actions were some that nations committed, what did they not calculate? To begin with, certainly not funding, which remained at $100 billion a year pledged in Copenhagen by 2020 and no target in sight after that. Again, without compulsion, nothing may transpire on this front. Indeed, the US and EU were busy entering into bilateral deals with African and other countries in Paris.

Activists gather during a demonstration near the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, December 12, 2015 during the COP21, the United Nations Climate Change Conference. (Photo: AP)

Of the target of $100 billion, and $10 billion a year promised from 2010, ratcheting up the figure in 2020, only $ 5.83 billion has been provided to the Green Climate Fund.

US Secretary of State John Kerry had the temerity to tell delegates: “The situation in the US is such that legally binding with respect of finance is a killer for the agreement.”


Carbon Budgeting

According to the International Energy Agency, countries require additional investments of $16 trillion a year by 2030 to provide energy from renewable sources and improve energy efficiency (such as India has pledged in its INDC). There is thus a huge and widening financial gap which should have been calculated in Paris.

Secondly, the carbon budget – how to apportion the remaining amount of emissions between industrial and developing countries – was conspicuously absent from the text. In the interests of climate justice, this should have been calculated.

According to the latest report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if the world has keep temperatures from rising above 1.5⁰C by 2100, there are only 550 Gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide left.

The US and the EU are estimated to emit 128 Gt carbon dioxide between 2011 and 2030, which amounts to nearly a quarter of the carbon budget in just 15 years, leaving next to nothing for the rest of the world.


Losers and Winners

While Western negotiators and NGOs in Paris called for an end to dirty coal and to keep it in the ground, they forgot to calculate that it isn’t only from this source that there are carbon emissions. Other fossil fuels, like gas and petrol, also cause global warming, but these don’t figure in the selective demonology.

The global North should also have calculated the impact of strengthening the carbon market, whereby they can offset emissions by paying developing countries to curb their emissions. This would be cheaper than undertaking emission cuts themselves.

A Filipino boy passes by a slogan during a rally in Manila, Philippines on December 13, 2015 to criticise the agreement reached during the United Nations conference on climate change, COP21 in Paris. (Photo: AP)

There were commitments and calculations, therefore which were not undertaken in Paris. The clear winners are industrialised countries which are not being compelled to reduce their emissions that have warmed the globe and will continue to do so for many decades ahead.

The clear loser is the climate, and the billions of people in poor countries who are affected by it.

(The writer is a Mumbai-based senior journalist)

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