Home / Opinion / Rich polluters want to preach, but not pay

The last fortnight saw a battle between developing and developed countries pitching in with their narrative and rhetoric respectively in Le Bourget, located in the north-eastern suburbs of Paris. The eventual adoption of the Paris agreement on climate change by 195 countries is no mean feat in itself. A target to arrest the rise in global temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels while making efforts to limit the same to 1.5 degrees Celsius is indeed ambitious and praiseworthy. It would be, at the same time, prudent to recognize that the Paris deal—while high on ambition—is low on fixing accountability.

The Paris agreement, while a substantial improvement over the Copenhagen Summit in 2009 where the global community failed to arrive at a consensus, dilutes the principles of equity adopted by the Kyoto protocol in 1997. It also does away with the legally binding emission targets for the developed countries that was agreed upon in Kyoto.

The Indian delegation will claim victory for getting the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities" (CBDR) embedded in the document. It is indeed a success given that the developed countries led by the US wanted to remove this “firewall" between developed and developing countries altogether. However, the agreement has little to offer on how this differentiation will be operationalized. CBDR is essential to enforce accountability for the historical emissions that have already led to an increase of 1 degree Celsius in global temperature.

To keep with the target of 2 degrees Celsius, the rough estimate of carbon budget available with the world is 29,00 billion tonnes (bt) of which 1,900 bt has already been emitted. The US and European Union (EU) together account for close to 40% of all the emissions between 1850 and 2011. India’s contribution is a measly 2.8%.

The Paris agreement does not just eschew accountability for the past, it also does not enforce any legally binding commitments from developed countries in the future. The countries will set their own targets and no penalties will be imposed for failing to meet those. The US, which has already grabbed more than its fair share of the carbon budget, will emit more than 100 bt by 2050 according to the targets it has set for itself. Add to that the emissions from China—which will be significant given that it aims to peak by 2030—and Europe, India has virtually no carbon budget left for its growth. Notwithstanding the facts, India has been, all this while, painted as an obstacle— by the Western media in particular—to an ambitious climate deal that the developed countries wanted out of Paris.

The lip service to CBDR notwithstanding, the Paris agreement essentially operates on “self-differentiation", which was advocated by the US. The self-differentiation mechanism will be based upon the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) that were submitted by countries prior to the Paris summit. Countries can decide if they want to enhance their INDCs if the total effort by all the countries is found to be inadequate in the “global stocktake" that will begin in 2023 and will be held every five years thereafter. Here is a reality check on the INDCs that have been offered so far: according to a study by a group of civil society organizations, the INDCs submitted by the US and EU amount to just one-fifth of their fair share. The INDCs of the majority of developing countries, including India, either exceed or broadly meet their fair share commitments.

Developed countries will continue to help developing countries through climate finance reaching an amount of $100 billion annually by 2020. Prior to 2025, a new climate finance goal will be adopted upwards of this amount. However, this fund—formally agreed to in Cancun (2010)—has scarcely been available to developing countries and there is no clause in the Paris agreement that may alter the course. The commitment on technology transfer by developed countries is equally evasive. Developed nations cannot be filed for liability or compensation for loss and damage incurred by poorer nations as a result of historical emissions. And yet, the annexure mentions “climate justice", after doing away with any such notion throughout the entire document.

After the conclusion of the deal, US President Barack Obama credited “American leadership" for the “huge" accomplishment. If noble sermons can substitute responsible action, then Obama is indeed right.

Will the Paris agreement help the world fight climate change adequately? Tell us at

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