Home / Opinion / Views /  Déjà vu over the story of a calamity foretold

The curtains came down on CoP-27, an abridged moniker for the 27th session of Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, a day later than scheduled, signalling that agreements were hammered out through a gruelling night-long session of negotiations. Observers cannot be faulted for feeling a resurgent sense of déjà vu, having already experienced similar parleys and promises earlier, only for hopelessness to take over. To understand why we are so susceptible to this trick of memory, we must fathom the decisions taken by negotiators on the last day of talks at the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh on the Red Sea. The first major decision, hailed as a ‘breakthrough’, was rich countries agreeing to set up a fund for pay-outs to poor nations for “loss and damage" caused by ravages of nature—such as floods or droughts—which are a direct consequence of climate change. The second bit of agreement that sounded familiar was the wording of an Implementation Plan, which cleverly dodged the real issues and managed to delay the inevitable, despite the Indian delegation trying to prevail upon the final text.

The loss-and-damage clause has been a contentious issue. For decades, developing nations have demanded that rich industrialized nations compensate the vulnerable for natural disasters that can be traced to carbon-heavy lifestyles pursued by the well-off since the dawn of the Industrial Age. The problem with what was agreed upon at CoP-27 is that it leaves a lot to the imagination and good sense of rich countries. Again, critics and pessimists cannot be faulted for comparing this with the Paris Agreement of 2015, under which the rich world promised to pay developing and poor nations $100 billion every year to help them adopt clean technology and build infrastructure to mitigate climate risks, such as floods from rising sea levels, but ended up disbursing a pittance. CoP-27 ended without finalizing the size of the funding pool, how and from where the money would come, and the modus for disbursing it. Sceptics see this as a replay of Paris, with the US again likely to play truant. Any disbursement to the global fund will have to first pass muster in the US House of Representatives, which is now dominated by Republicans, staunch climate deniers. Once again, pledges have been made without much likelihood of their being upheld.

India has long been vilified, including in the liberal Western media, for its principled stand at successive CoPs, where it has sought climate equity on behalf of the world’s developing nations. At CoP-26 held in Glasgow last year, the final agreement grudgingly acquiesced to India’s request that the text not mention “phase-out" of coal but modify it to “phase-down" instead. At CoP-27, India’s demand that a phase-down should include all fossil fuels such as oil and gas (and not just coal) was met with fierce resistance from rich hydrocarbon producers as well as consumers. This was a rerun of past episodes of Western double-speak, in which pious intentions and rhetoric got phased down by a finessed final text. Given that large economies of the West have been repeat offenders, it is disconcerting to note a reluctance among multilateral agencies, such as the UN or World Bank, to sharpen their criticism of the world’s main contributors to global warming. Is the world really ready to act? Or must we watch such sordid tales of a disaster foretold on a loop?

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