Down to Earth - - EDITOR’S PAGE -

Tgov­ern­ment must not use “eq­uity” to block HE IN­DIAN cli­mate change ne­go­ti­a­tions. It must be proac­tive on eq­uity and put for­ward a po­si­tion on how to op­er­a­tionalise the shar­ing of the car­bon bud­get—ac­count­ing for coun­tries’ con­tri­bu­tion to past emis­sions and al­lo­cat­ing fu­ture space—in cli­mate talks. I wrote this last year when the upa gov­ern­ment was in power. I am re­peat­ing this as the nda gov­ern­ment pre­pares for the next con­fer­ence of par­ties (CoP) to be held in De­cem­ber in Peru.

Eq­uity is a pre-req­ui­site for an ef­fec­tive agree­ment on cli­mate change. In the early 1990s, as the ne­go­ti­a­tions be­gan, Anil Agar­wal, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for Sci­ence and En­vi­ron­ment, and I put for­ward the ar­gu­ment that since the at­mos­phere is a global common, we need equal en­ti­tle­ments to the space.We ar­gued the only way coun­tries would com­mit to re­duc­ing emis­sions—con­nected to eco­nomic growth—would be if there were lim­its for all, based on con­tri­bu­tion to the cre­ation of the prob­lem.

The 1992 UN Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change is built on this premise—the group of coun­tries (An­nex 1) re­spon­si­ble for cre­at­ing the prob­lem must cre­ate space for the rest to grow. But since the ob­jec­tive is to have a dif­fer­ent growth pat­tern to avoid emis­sions of long-life car­bon diox­ide, de­vel­op­ing coun­tries would get money and tech­nol­ogy.

The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is very dif­fer­ent. Coun­tries which were re­quired to cut emis­sions did not do so at the scale or pace needed.The US “peaked” its emis­sions in 2012.The sit­u­a­tion is worse if the ac­count­ing for emis­sions is done on the ba­sis of con­sump­tion and not pro­duc­tion. In that case de­vel­oped coun­tries in­creased their emis­sions in this pe­riod be­cause all they did was to ex­port man­u­fac­tur­ing to other parts of the world.

So the rich did not re­duce emis­sions, while the rest of the world in­creased. While in 1992, An­nex 1 coun­tries con­trib­uted some 70 per cent of the emis­sions, by 2014, they are down to 40 per cent. The space is filled and now there is lit­tle left for fu­ture growth of all. This is where cli­mate change ne­go­ti­a­tions are stuck.

The old rich want the dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion be­tween the past pol­luters and the cur­rent and fu­ture ones to go. They say we should for­get the his­tor­i­cal con­tri­bu­tion and di­vide the car­bon cake afresh. They re­mind de­vel­op­ing coun­tries that the present is dif­fer­ent— China, for in­stance, has over­taken the US as the world’s largest contributor on an an­nual ba­sis. But they for­get con­ve­niently that on a per capita ba­sis there is still a vast dif­fer­ence be­tween the US and China.

The “fire­wall” be­tween An­nex 1 and the rest, as called by US ne­go­tia­tors, was first breached at the 2009 Copen­hagen con­fer­ence when coun­tries like In­dia agreed not to dis­cuss the his­tor­i­cal con­tri­bu­tion of the al­ready rich and put their own emis­sion re­duc­tion tar­gets on the ta­ble. In 2011, this ar­range­ment was ce­mented.The Dur­ban CoP agreed that the world would work to fi­nalise a new agree­ment by 2015.This deal would re­quire the “high­est pos­si­ble mit­i­ga­tion ef­forts by all Par­ties”. The only sweet­ener was the hard fought phrase that the agree­ment would be un­der the “Con­ven­tion”, which, in turn, is based on the prin­ci­ple of eq­uity.

But in the 2013 CoP at War­saw it was agreed that “all” coun­tries would sub­mit their In­tended Na­tion­ally De­ter­mined Con­tri­bu­tions (indc) by early 2015.In other words, now there is no agree­ment which spec­i­fies the tar­get for each coun­try based on its past con­tri­bu­tion .Coun­tries do not put for­ward their emis­sions re­duc­tion tar­gets based on common but dif­fer­en­ti­ated re­spon­si­bil­ity.

It is, how­ever, ar­gued (by top US ne­go­tia­tors) that the deal is based on eq­uity. This is be­cause each coun­try is free to de­cide do­mes­tic tar­gets ,keep­ing in mind its con­tri­bu­tion to the prob­lem and its ca­pac­ity to act. In­ge­nious in­deed.The game is, how­ever, not over.The next step is to put indc to­gether and to see how the ag­gre­gate of “all” adds to the magic num­ber needed to keep the tem­per­a­ture rise be­low 2°C, the guardrail of dev­as­tat­ing change.It is taken for granted that the sum of all will be way be­low what is needed.Now the real ques­tion kicks in: how to es­ti­mate the past, present and fu­ture emis­sions con­tri­bu­tion of each coun­try to de­cide who will re­duce how much emis­sions?

In War­saw 2013, the African Group pro­posed an eq­uity ref­er­ence frame­work, which has dif­fer­ent in­di­ca­tors of de­vel­op­ment and ca­pa­bil­ity to as­sess what each coun­try should do. In­dia stri­dently op­posed this.No doubt, the African pro­posal has flaws, but our gov­ern­ment has to put for­ward a counter-pro­posal on how to op­er­a­tionalise eq­uity. Oth­er­wise, eq­uity is only for block­ing con­sen­sus; empty word be­ing banged in noisy pans.

If we take cli­mate change se­ri­ously, we will ar­gue for an am­bi­tious agree­ment based on eq­uity be­cause that’s the only way it can be ef­fec­tive. This is the last chance to get it right.The chips are al­ready down and the die will be cast by the time of the Paris meet in 2015.

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