The essence and spirit of Paris
The Paris Agreement on climate change ensured that climate leadership became diffused and distributed globally. With the US announcement to withdraw from the agreement, the primary objective at the recently concluded Conference of the Parties (COP23) should have been to retain and defend the essence and spirit of the Paris Agreement. In fact, the summit appeared to be veering away from that objective.
The essence of the Paris Agreement is to allow each country to submit its own plan to tackle climate change, rather than be obliged to adhere to a top-down imposition of emissions reduction targets. The spiritof the agreement is to diligently work towards one’s national targets – in a transparent manner – so as to build trust and ratchet up goals for more effective global collective action against climate change.
Three controversies emerged during the COP23 negotiations, conducted under the Presidency of Fiji in Bonn, Germany. First, India (along with other developing countries) strongly protested against the absence of any reference in the agenda to the pre-2020 commitments under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In 2012, Parties had agreed that the second commitment phase of the Kyoto Protocol would be implemented from 2013 to 2020. Only 21 Annex I Parties (including only 14 EU memberstates) have ratified that decision so far. All the attention has been on the Paris Agreement, which focuses on climate actions after 2020.
India is likely to suffer significantly from a warming climate. Even a 2oC rise in temperatures will have severe implications for precipitation, heat stress, crop losses, and more extreme weather events. It was both morally and legally justified in raising the issue of pre-2020 actions, since the wider emission gap (post-2020) would lead to heavier burden of mitigation on developing countries at a higher cost. If current commitments were not fulfilled by rich nations, why should it be assumed that goals in future would be met? Eventually, Parties decided that there would be a review of pre-2020 actions in 2018 and 2019. But any further reluctance would certainly lead to falling trust among Parties, necessary for enhanced climate action (as Article 13 of the agreement seeks).
Secondly, there were concerns about how transparently the negotiations were being conducted. COP23 was meant to be a staging summit, seeding the preparations for the 2018 conference when the Paris Rulebook is expected to be finalised. But on several occasions, developing countries felt that issues that mattered to them were being sidelined, either deliberately or inadvertently. A critical issue – inclusion of climate finance under additional matters for implementation of the Paris Agreement – went missing completely from the penultimate draft of the decision document. The UNFCCC Secretariat explained this away (unconvincingly) as a typographical error, when the changes were quite substantive!
Thirdly, the way COP23 handled the affairs of transparency and enhancement of actions risks locking in an unbalanced architecture. Article 9.5 – on exante information on public financial resources – has made little progress in achieving transparency, especially in comparison to the formalised provisions for reporting mitigation actions. Developing countries want formal procedures on climate finance reporting via the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA), which has the mandate to supervise all additional matters related to the Paris Agreement work programme. Developed countries wanted the COP to handle the matter, which meant that the issue would not have been discussed until COP24 in December 2018. Pressed for time, the Fiji Presidency then assigned the task to the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) to handle this matter at inter-sessional meetings. Instead of one body, an ill-defined mandate is now spread across three (APA, COP, and SBI), leaving little faith in the modalities that would govern reporting on climate finance.
These instances illustrate that climate negotiations could unravel next year if commitment, transparency and balance were compromised. India must demand greater action and accountability (mitigation as well as finance and technology) by the largest historical polluters. It must leverage the pre-2020 decision to secure more credible action from developed countries beyond 2020. Its second priority should be to ensure that the enhanced transparency requirements retain flexibility for developing countries to build the capacity for more frequent and detailed reporting and review. And India must showcase its international climate leadership, by helping the International Solar Alliance (ISA) develop practical solutions.
Government and civil society have to work independently but in a coordinated manner. On balancing mitigation and finance, ISA (which will become an international legal entity on 6 December 2017) is working with non-profit institutions to design financial instruments to mitigate risks in clean energy investments. On transparency, Indian civil society organisations now have the capability to catalogue emissions across sectors at a granular level. This institutional capability could assist other developing countries to adopt such methods. On commitments, Indian (and other developing country) institutions must conduct independent assessments of emissions gap, adaptation support, delivery of finance, and technology platforms promised or promoted by rich nations and the world’s top emitters.
The Paris Agreement belongs to the world, not one country. We must take up the challenge of enforcing commitments, enhancing transparency, and ensuring balance. Otherwise, the essence of the deal would be diluted and its spirit would evaporate.