India helps Trump-proof the Paris Agreement

The Agreement’s entry into force before the US election would insulate it from the vicissitudes of American electoral politics for four years


Photo: PTI
Photo: PTI

India’s ratification of the Paris Agreement signals its endorsement of a finely balanced and hard-won international agreement to address climate change, an agreement India helped secure. Entry into force and implementation of the Paris Agreement is crucial for India, highly vulnerable as it is to climate impacts. And, it is important that the Agreement enters into force soon.

International political attention is fickle. The unparalleled political momentum and goodwill generated in the lead-up to Paris has to be harnessed before it dissipates, and while UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who propelled climate change to the top of his agenda, is still in office. Moreover, the Paris Agreement, painstakingly crafted after years of contentious negotiations, needs to be Trump-proofed (Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for US presidential elections is a climate sceptic). The Paris Agreement’s entry into force before the US election would insulate it from the vicissitudes of American electoral politics for four years. The Paris Agreement only permits a state to withdraw three years after the Agreement enters into force for that state; the withdrawal takes effect a year later.

The Kyoto Protocol, in part a casualty of American electoral politics, languished for eight years before it took effect. This early loss of momentum, and the paralysing uncertainty dogging the Kyoto Protocol ever since, presents a cautionary tale. Even as the Paris Agreement is set to enter into force within a year of its adoption, the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, agreed in 2012, is yet to enter into force and may never do so. India should ratify the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol too, as China and South Africa have done, to underscore its continued support for the (rapidly diminishing) paradigm of developed country leadership the Protocol reflects.

The Paris Agreement will enter into force 30 days after 55 states representing 55% of total global greenhouse gas emissions have ratified it. Sixty-one states, including the US, China and Brazil, have ratified; India’s ratification takes the emissions coverage to 51.89%. The EU, soon to ratify, with its 12.08% emissions share, will take the Paris Agreement past the threshold for entry into force. If the EU ratification process is completed, as expected, before 7 October, the Paris Agreement will enter into force before the next Conference of Parties (starting 7 November) and the US election (8 November), thus placing the Agreement on a firm footing, come hell or high water, Brexit or Trump.

India’s ratification of the Paris Agreement is accompanied by a declaration highlighting India’s development agenda, in particular poverty eradication and basic needs provision; noting India’s assumption of unencumbered access to cleaner sources of energy, technologies and financial resources; and asserting that its ratification is based on a fair and ambitious global commitment to combat climate change. Since the Paris Agreement does not permit reservations, this is an “interpretative declaration” which presents India’s understanding and interpretation of its obligations in relation to the Paris Agreement, and not a condition or caveat to its ratification. In any case, the flexibility India seeks is embedded firmly in the Paris Agreement that is deferential to “national circumstances”.

The Paris Agreement is a mix of obligations, recommendations and expectations. India, among others, is obliged to submit its national contributions every five years. India’s contribution pledges to reduce the emissions intensity of its gross domestic product by 33-35% from 2005 levels by 2030, increase the share of non-fossil-fuel-based electricity to 40% of cumulative electric power installed capacity, and significantly increase India’s forest cover. Every successive contribution is expected to reflect “progression” and “highest possible ambition” and must go further than this initial contribution. The Paris Agreement is unclear on how progression and ambition is to be measured, and by whom. In practice, this may be self-determined. Nevertheless, India needs to consider not just how it will meet its current contribution but also how it can deepen this contribution in future. India’s contributions, as those of others, will be subject to peer and civil society scrutiny, in some respects more demanding than international processes. These contributions need to be set in a long-term, low greenhouse gases emissions strategy, one that India is yet to craft but must be designed in the context of its energy and development needs and policies.

In deference to the different national circumstances of states, the Paris Agreement does not oblige India to achieve its national contribution. Parties are legally bound, however, to provide the information necessary to track progress in achieving their contributions. This information will be subject to a “technical expert review” and a “multilateral consideration of progress”. India will need to generate credible information on its climate actions that can stand the test of such processes. It will also need to ensure that the transparency framework pays due attention to the capacity constraints and flexibility needs of developing countries in producing such information. To balance out the focus on mitigation actions, the transparency framework extends to the provision by developed country Parties of financial and other support to developing countries. India will need to ensure that sufficient light is cast on the finances available to developing countries, so that mitigation expectations do not outstrip available resources.

Once the drum roll towards entry into force recedes, Parties will be left with a legal framework, much of which is yet to be fleshed out. The post-Paris negotiations have crucial gap-filling work to do. Ratification by key Parties and entry into force will accelerate the pace of these rule-making processes, and bring a greater sense of moment to them. India should ensure that transparency and other processes are tailored to its needs and constraints, and that equity is operationalized through the Paris rulebook. As one of the nations that brought the Paris Agreement into force, it can do so with greater moral authority than ever.

Lavanya Rajamani is professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.

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