- Terra Nova
- Jan 18 2016
The Paris Agreement is a post-2020 continuation of the global fight by all countries against climate change and its impacts, said J. M. Mauskar in an interview with ORF Vice President Samir Saran. Read the full interview below.
SS: What are your initial takeaways from the Paris Agreement? Since you were part of the Indian delegation, what can India in particular make of this agreement?
JMM: I was indeed a member of the Indian Delegation to COP 21 of UN Climate Change Convention at Paris but as an expert, I did not take part in actual negotiations there. The Paris Agreement (PA) and its accompanying decisions are being looked at from understandably different perspectives. Their finalisation, by its very nature, was an exercise optimising various expectations. PA is the post-2020 continuation of the global fight by all countries against climate change and its impacts by enhancing the implementation of the UN climate change convention, keeping in mind sustainable development and eradication of poverty. Till 2020, of course, the countries are taking climate actions in line with the decisions taken at Cancun, Durban and Doha COPs related to the implementation of the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol. Obviously, the sum total of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions is apparently not enough, but these climate actions and their support post 2020 will be assessed bottoms-up together with a top-down global stock take, which will lead to further iteration of such contributions. The science of climate change is still not perfect and the PA has these inbuilt adjustments as the impacts unfold and scientific knowledge improves. For India it is a matter of satisfaction that the PA will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), in light of different national circumstances. The Indian development trajectory will follow its INDCs from 2020 till 2030, moreover.
SS: Is there a robust desire on the part of the developed world to create an enabling environment for technology transfer to the developing world?
JMM: Any global imperative, such as combating climate change, will be confronted with local considerations, like competitiveness and commerce. The basic question to answer is how serious is the threat perception. To my mind,in implementation of the PA and the INDCs, technology will be the key, especially when we envisage the world of 2030s and 2040s. There are asymmetries of information, bargaining capacity and finances, which prevent the developing world from accessing the best available technology, for adaptation or for mitigation. The Solar Alliance of Prime Minister Modi and the Innovation Deal of Bill Gates represent two new approaches to tackle this. But the questions of intellectual property rights and financing would need to be resolved much before 2020 for the developing countries’ INDCs to have a shot at being successful.
SS: Does the $100 billion floor commitment in the preamble of the agreement demonstrate adequate political will of the developed world to finance climate action?
JMM: I am sorry, there is no such mention of any figure in the preamble or the text of the PA. There is a mention in para 54 of the COP decisions of a floor of $100 billion in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and of a new collective, quantified goal post 2025, taking into account the needs and priorities of the developing countries. Para 3 of Article 9 of the PA basically talks of the developing countries taking the lead in mobilising climate finance from a wide variety of sources, instruments and channels through a variety of actions. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and the political will being talked of will be evident only by 2019, keeping in the mind the budgetary cycle of various countries.
SS: Much of the existing financial flows are directed towards climate mitigation. Has climate adaptation yet again been short-changed? What steps need to be taken to make the world more sensitive to adaptation needs?
JMM: We must suspend our judgment about adaptation versus the mitigation balance with reference to the PA, till the work programme resulting from the connected COP decisions are completed. Relevant paras of the PA and the COP decisions talk of both mitigation and adaptation, I may add. Adaptation is always local and teasing out climate change-specific adverse effects is not always practicable. Successful eradication of poverty and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals would by itself lead to a more climate-resilient world.
SS: Why was the developing world unable to put on the table a joint, collaborative agenda?
JMM: I do not think there is a binary view about what needs to be done to tackle climate change and its impacts. The question is who needs to do how much and who needs to take the lead. The related question is how much the world has changed since 1992, when the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted. About the fundamentals, I do not think there was any divergence of view in the developing world. The G77/China Group’s unity was demonstrated in regards to the issue of loss and damage at the Warsaw COP in December 2013 and in the contents of the PA at the October 2015 session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. Various countries of the developing world would naturally have divergences, like geographical or developmental, but this is true of the developed world too. In the party (country)-driven multilateral processes, as happened during the negotiations for the PA, groups of countries and even the individual countries make proposals for deliberation and eventual agreement.
SS: What is your take on the ‘legally binding’ nature of this agreement?
JMM: The attempt by the EU and some like-minded countries since 2005, since the Kyoto Protocol came into force after ratification by Russia, has been to bring on board all large economies, especially the non-Kyoto Protocol members like the US. This naturally predicated the legal form of the agreement, meant to enhance the implementation of the UN climate change convention, to be such as would not encounter any national ratification problems. Countries like India, this did cause the jam at Durban, did not like an imbalanced agreement, in which only mitigation commitments would be binding. Now, under the PA and in order to achieve its objectives, the parties have bound themselves to undertake and communicate their Nationally Determined Contributions, covering mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, capacity building and transparency. The PA is certainly not a protocol, unlike the Kyoto Protocol, envisaged under Article 17 of the Convention. However the PA is indeed a treaty which would need ratification by various countries for it to come into force, as provided in its Article 21.
SS: The agreement, while using the words ‘developed country’and ‘developing country,’ does not mention either historic responsibility or CBDR.What do you make of this departure from previous agreements? What did you make of the ‘should’/’shall’typing error?
JMM: The phrase “historical responsibility” does not occur in the UNFCCC. The preamble of the UNFCCC does note factually, however, that inter alia the largest share of historical emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries. As regards CBDR there is no such departure in the PA, as would be evident from its 3rd preambular para, Article 2.1 and 2.2 and various other articles specifying climate actions. What has happened in the PA is that the concept of CBDR is now to be seen in the light of “different national circumstances,’ Article 2.2, which can be argued to be a departure necessitated by political flexibility that needed to be shown. About the “should/shall” typographical error, it was announced as such by the UNFCCC Secretariat and accepted by the Parties at COP Plenary in Paris!
SS: The agreement did not make any mention of coal or fossil fuels – a character that has been hailed across geographies. What does India take away from this, considering that for the foreseeable future its energy needs will be met through these sources?
JMM: Greenhouse gases have the same impact irrespective of their source or its geographic location! As such, there was no need for any fuel to be mentioned in the PA. Unlike the countries of the developed world, India and many other developing countries have yet to make the transition to an industrialised economy. And despite much talked of alternatives of solar/wind energy or nuclear or hydro power, there is no foreseeable option to coal and other fossil fuels for the next two decades at least. The PA explicitly recognises therefore that peaking of greenhouse emissions will take longer for the developing countries.
SS: The Paris agreement was the easy bit – where does the world go from here? What steps need to be taken to ensure that we meet the two degree Celsius (or more ambitiously the 1.5 degree Celsius) target?
JMM: I do not think that the PA was the easier bit. The French presidency fully deserves our accolades to have somehow brought about global consensus for the PA. The devil lies in details and between now and 2019 is the time for slog overs, when the work programme agreed to in the COP decisions along with the PA will be implemented and various arrangements and mechanisms under the PA will be fleshed out. This will have to be done both in letter and spirit with due harmony between the provisions of the PA and paras of the accompanying COP decisions. I would not worry so much about meeting the two degrees (or the aspirational 1.5 degrees) goal at this juncture. The peaking of the developed countries emissions envisaged to happen by 2000 in Article 4.2(b) of the UNFCCC did slip by a few years and we still hope for the best for the Cancun pledges ending in 2020. Through scientific and technological innovations and through cooperation between nations, many serious challenges have successfully been tackled, and the challenges of climate change need not be an exception. I retain my faith in human ingenuity and goodness!
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).