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National flags sit on columns outside the United Nations COP21 climate summit at Le Bourget in Paris, France. Photo: Bloomberg
National flags sit on columns outside the United Nations COP21 climate summit at Le Bourget in Paris, France. Photo: Bloomberg

Racing against time in Paris

Come Friday, the world will know whether governments managed to strike a credible and equitable accord based on justice and historic responsibilities

A global initiative to combat climate change is in the final lap. That human-caused climate change is the biggest existential threat has been established. Chennai may be the latest victim, but millions of poor farmers continue to suffer without any succour due to perpetual drought. Syria suffered from five years of the worst drought between 2006 and 2011. Surely, the aggressive bombing by the US and other countries of Syria and Iraq was bound to precipitate the drought and water stresses. Millions of people moved from rural to urban areas due to extreme weather resulting in famines.

US secretary of state John Kerry drew a link between climate change and the rise of terrorism in Nigeria, but perhaps forgot to mention how his government and the powerful oil lobby contributed to climate change by not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. The world would have been a much better place if the US and other western countries lived up to it and guided others to make appropriate commitments in tandem with their economic development.

French President Francois Hollande is understandably committed to tackling both climate change and terrorism in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks. Clearly, there is no possibility of human security in a world that is headed towards 3 degrees Celsius warming unless nations embark on sustained climate actions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its fourth assessment, suggested the world is on the verge of exceeding what it called the carbon budget in a short period. The Earth’s atmosphere, according to the report, could absorb around 800-880 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) before global warming exceeded the 2C mark. All indications are that the Earth has already accumulated 530 gigatonnes of CO2, leaving little room to stop the acceleration in climate change.

Against this backdrop, come Friday, the world will know whether governments managed to strike a credible and equitable accord based on justice and historic responsibilities. After a week of talks and grandstanding by leaders, a 42-page heavily bracketed draft outcome text is currently under negotiation.

Time is short for the final deal, which is bound to be comprehensive given the trade-offs that will be struck on a number of issues between the erstwhile climate sinners and the disadvantaged nations who were not part of the problem. Then there are those nations that are at the extreme edge of being submerged by the rising sea levels. Indeed, the past masters of divide-and-rule policies are egging these small and vulnerable nations to fight their own brethren in the developing world.

Nevertheless, the strength of the Paris accord will depend much on how credibly it addresses some key issues. They include mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, capacity building and transparency, as set out in the Durban mandate of the 17th Conference of Parties (COP). French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, who is chairing the COP 21, has already assured the 190 countries that “nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed". This is a reassuring pronouncement because then the countries will be able to judge whether the final deal is balanced or not.

A critical underpinning of the Durban mandate is how the climate sinners adhere to the core principle of the common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC). A major battle is on the cards in the next few days between the US, the European Union and Australia on the one side, and India, China and the G-77 countries on the other. The former group has almost adopted a softer version of the colonial strategy by targeting CBDR-RC through binding transparency and monitoring provisions.

Effectively, the erstwhile climate criminals of the western world, a term coined by journalist Naomi Klein for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, who promoted Alberta’s tar sands industry, are hell-bent on hollowing out the differentiation framework that allowed special flexibilities for the developing countries from the international economic architecture once and for all.

Without these special entitlements, the developing countries will remain forever locked up in a perpetual cycle of underdevelopment. It took 200 years for the climate sinners to pursue their carbon-intensive industrialization policies because of the privileged economic entitlements that they enjoyed through violent campaigns.

The second major battle will be fought on finance. Under the Copenhagen agreement, the carbon sinners had agreed to raise to the tune of $30 billion through a fast-track mechanism from 2010-12 and these funds would be new and additional funds without any link to their current ODA (overseas development assistance) grants. The short-term finance is largely to help the poorest and most vulnerable nations who need adaptation on a war footing. Then the leading polluters of the industrialized world agreed as one of their goals to raise $100 billion per year by 2020 to address carbon mitigation in developing and least-developed countries. Third, they committed to establish a clean energy fund—Copenhagen Green Climate Fund—for supporting projects, programmes, policies and other activities in the developing world towards adaptation.

So far, all these commitments have proved to be only mirages despite some audacious claims by the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation, the economic think tank of the rich countries, that $62 billion was mobilized last year. That these $62 billion are neither new, nor additional, is well-established.

Lastly, there can be new strategies for carbon-less economic and human development, provided they are shared on an equitable footing and without intellectual property rights conditions.

Consider the case for promoting solar panels in renewable energy. The US provides a range of subsidies, and insists on local content requirements for developing the renewable energy sector. But the US will not tolerate other countries, especially India, pursuing the same strategy in the renewable sector.

The US’s dispute against India on the Jawaharlal Nehru Solar Mission at the World Trade Organization is a classic case of hypocrisy that New Delhi has not fully exposed. The global solar alliance of 120 countries that Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in Paris will remain a dream if his government is unable to challenge the US at the climate change negotiations in the next 72 hours.

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