(L to R) Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk during a session of United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 19 on 19 November in Warsaw. Photo: Janek skarzynski/AFP
(L to R) Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk during a session of United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 19 on 19 November in Warsaw. Photo: Janek skarzynski/AFP

Paris 2015 deal: India will need to go back to the table and rework its strategy

In the lead-up to Paris, the real challenge is to bridge the differences between the developed and developing world

The Warsaw climate talks in November were a preparatory round for the Conference of Parties in 2015 in Paris, where a new deal on climate change is expected to be signed. Only a few outcomes were expected in Warsaw, but each of them significant in their ability to influence the level of ambition and trust needed to keep a 2015 deal within reach. One of them was a mechanism that would help communities cope with the type of loss and damage that climatic disasters such as cyclone Phailin impose, or the loss of crops and livelihood caused by a rise in the sea level, as seen in the Sundarbans. During the talks, developing countries demanded a separate mechanism to compensate for loss and damage; this was to reinforce the point that loss and damage is “beyond adaptation". Developed countries, however, insisted that it be addressed under existing mechanisms like the Adaptation Framework set up under the 2010 Cancun Agreement, to deny the special status that a separate mechanism would ensure. The developed world scored two wins: it not only secured the mechanism under the Adaptation Framework, but refused exclusive funds for loss and damage. The only consolation for developing countries is a review of the mechanism, due in 2016.

The other expectation of the Warsaw talks was that they would lay a foundational framework for the deal in 2015. These negotiations were carried out under the ad hoc Working Group on Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), where two things were being worked out simultaneously—what countries should do in the near term up to 2020 and what they will do post 2020.

Negotiations on the pre-2020 front were damaged severely in the first week of the talks itself. Developed countries not only failed to ratify the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol as promised in Doha, but some had even started to backtrack. Japan, instead of its earlier commitment of reducing emissions by 25% by 2020 relative to the 1990 levels, brought this down to only 3.8% from its 2005 level by 2020. This is actually an increase of 3.1% over the 1990 levels. The European Union, which has already met its target for 2020, did not increase it and the US target remains somewhere between 0% and 3% below 1990 levels by 2020. This means that the “gigatonne gap" would remain. The gap represents how much countries have pledged to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and what science demands to avoid catastrophic climate change. A clear demand of major developing countries such as India and China was that developed countries step up their targets to close the gigatonne gap. But the clear lack of progress on this front further strained the trust deficit between developed and developing countries and lent to the weak outcome in the post-2020 track.

Central to the disagreement under the post-2020 track was the question of whether major developing countries like India and China should undertake voluntary “action" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or come on board with rich countries and take up binding “commitments" to do so. They eventually agreed on the word “contributions", which signals the voluntary nature of the agreement, meaning every country will now have an option to propose whatever emissions reduction target it wants. However, these contributions will apply to both developed and developing countries and only further erase the differentiation between them, one that India has fought hard to retain. Furthermore, the final draft finds no explicit mention of the key principle of common but differentiated responsibility and respective capability (CBDR-RC) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a milestone that the developed countries have reached in diluting the differentiation between the industrialised countries and their developing counterparts.

The only saving grace of the Warsaw talks was an outcome on ways to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation, popularly called REDD+. The mechanism aims to provide monetary incentives to forest communities for protecting forests, which are major carbon sinks. The framework agreed to at Warsaw puts in place a rulebook for REDD+ projects but how forest communities will grapple with the ground realities of such rules is not yet clear. One example is the high cost of technology such as satellite imagery needed to prove that deforestation was actually avoided. The US, the UK and Norway promised $280 million for REDD+ projects at Warsaw, far from the billions that experts see as being required for such projects to be sustainable.

The final outcome at Warsaw presented a déjà vu of the Polish conference of parties in 2008. At that meeting, in Poznan, countries had agreed to make operational the Adaptation Fund, which was to use money generated by carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism to help developing countries adapt to climate change. Today, the carbon market is dead, and so is the fund. The loss and damage mechanisms agreed to in Warsaw cannot escape the fate of the Adaptation Fund unless the developed countries deliver on predictable and sustainable finance.

In the lead-up to Paris, the real challenge is to bridge the differences between the developed and developing world. For this, the developed world will need to show real ambition and real money. The developing world, particularly India, will need to go back to the table and rework its strategy. With little time remaining, one can only hope these differences do not go to Paris when the 2015 deal is negotiated. Otherwise, we will see a repeat of Copenhagen in 2015—marked by secret deals, deep distrust and no consensus.

Chandra Bhushan is deputy director general at Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment.

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