The Paris deal is done, but is weak on climate finance for countries like India

The Paris deal is done, but is weak on climate finance for countries like India
Photo Credit: United Nations
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After two weeks on intense haggling and negotiations that dragged into overtime the Conference of Parties, a gathering of 196 countries, adopted an agreement on action to clamp down on climate change. At 7.30 pm local time France’s foreign minister Laurent Fabius gavelled in the new deal in. World leaders speaking at the Le Bourget conference venue may have called the deal “historic”, “momentous”’ and “balanced” but it is quite a mixed bag in terms of achievement and what it means for India.

Here is a run down of what’s good for the developing world that’s being hit hardest by climate change, and what’s not.

What’s good

That there is an agreement!: While going into the conference world leaders called for an agreement high on ambition and the United Nations Secretary General reminded everyone that there won’t be a political opportunity like the Conference of Parties in Paris any time soon. Given that major parties like India and the US have been at loggerheads over issued of common but differentiated responsibility and climate finance, it is a big win for everyone that the Conference of Parties has passed and agreement without any delegation walking out of the process.

A 1.5 °C goal: In climate negotiations so far, 2 °C above pre-industrial levels has been the widely-accepted target to which to restrict global warming. Vulnerable countries like small island nations that are already feeling the impacts of sea level rise and extreme weather have, however, been crying out that 2 °C will be too much for them to bear. In recognition of this, the Paris agreement aims to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognising that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change”.

Applying differentiated responsibility: Through various climate negotiations, India has been a strong advocate of the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibility. This is based on the fact that developed countries burnt a lot of carbon through the years of their industrialisation that made them rich. These emissions from rich countries have taken a toll on developing countries whose poor citizens are the worst affected by climate change. The onus, then, should be on developed countries to make the bigger effort to reduce emissions and let developing countries continue to use enough carbon to power their growth.

The Paris agreement applies this principle of differentiation by asking developed countries to undertake economy-wide absolute emissions reduction targets while developing countries can continue to increase the mitigation efforts as per their national circumstances.

Somewhat good

Recognition of loss and damage: A long standing demand of climate campaigners is for the COP to recognise that many people, especially from small and poor countries, will suffer the impacts of climate change even if warming is restricted to 1.5 °C. The Paris Agreement is the first to recognise this loss and damage as a standalone issue in the text.

What’s not good

No liability and compensation: Recognition of loss and damage from climate change remains something of a pyrrhic victory in the Paris draft since developing countries have had to barter away their demand for liability and compensation for such loss and damage. In the closing hours of negotiations, the United States ensured inclusion of a clause, not in the main agreement but a document called the decision text, that the article on loss and damage “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation”, the Business Standard reported. This means that the country suffering the impacts from climate change won’t be able to claim compensation from a historically carbon-polluting country.

Weak finance commitments: The developing world has been pleading financial assistance from rich countries to help them adapt to climate change. One mechanism for the transfer of funds has been the Green Climate Fund that was supposed to have a corpus for adaptation of $100 billion per year from 2020. The fund has so far received only a little more than $10 billion in pledges and less and actual cash.

The decision text allows this current inadequate finance mechanism to continue till the year 2025, thus kicking the adaptation finance can down the road.  It allows for a review of before 2025 to set up a new finance goal with a floor of $100 billion. The issue of new and additional climate finance from the global north has also been watered down.

Other minor victories that india can claim are mention of climate justice and sustainable lifestyles in the preamble of the agreement. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made a pitch for both these in his address at the start of the conference.