How India failed at Paris Climate Conference

Gopal Krishna

Gopal Krishna

Gopal Krishna is an activist and associated with Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, ToxicsWatch Alliance, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), IMOWatch, MediaVigil & WaterWatch Alliance. He is also researching the corporate crimes in India after Independence. He can be contacted at krishna2777[at]gmail.com.

India failed to do even what a small country like Nicaragua did in the Paris Climate Conference by raising its flag questioning the autocratic change introduced in the final draft at the last moment (from ‘shall’ to ‘should’ ) while adopting the 12 page long Paris Agreement dated 12th December, 2015. The Agreement being a legal text required application of basic legal knowledge by India. In law schools across the globe students are taught that “shall” is “mandatory”. The drafters of legal documents are trained into the use of “shall” as it conveys “a duty to” be performed. It conveys obligation. Had “shall” been not important 76 pages of Words and Phrases, a multi volume work of legal definitions would not have been devoted to case laws around it. The word “should” does not express a legal obligation, the word “shall” expresses a legal requirement.

Initially, Article 4.4 of the Draft Agreement read: “Developed country Parties shall continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets. Developing country Parties should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts…” This formulation aptly captured the historic responsibilities of rich countries and differentiated responsibilities of poorer countries. But disregarding the voice of a Central American country like Nicaragua which is a member of Group of 77, succumbing to the USA’s demand shall was substituted with should. India’s decision to maintain a deafening silence when the voice of a fellow member from G77 was disregarded is contrary to its stature.

The Agreement adopted by the countries that are Parties to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which was adopted on 9th May, 1992, is an articulation of how ‘climate-inequality’ shapes the text of an international treaty supposedly aimed at climate justice and for the protection of Mother Earth. Had India done what Nicaragua did Paris Conference would have found it difficult to ignore.

Like other world governments India too adopted an Ostrich policy with regard to climate crisis under the influence of undemocratic economic organizations and autocratic dictates of a supposedly democratic government.

What Indian environment minister, Prakash Javadekar did not disclose to the Parliament has already been admitted by Nozipho Joyce Mxakato-Diseko, chairperson of the Group of 134 developing countries (G77 and China Group). India is a member of this Group. Diseko has revealed that Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) for mitigating climate change is “a perversion of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities” because it undermines the “legal obligation in accordance with historical responsibilities for finance” accepted under the bullying influence of USA and its allies. It is quite outrageous that INDCs are not legally enforceable.

The paragraph 52 of the Decision of CoP 21 makes a categorical declaration that Article 8 of the Paris Agreement which deals with the issue of addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.”Although such announcement sets a regressive precedent in international negotiations, given the fact Paris Agreement is not legally binding by implication, this attempt to escape liability for loss and damage appears unsuccessful. These provisions and INDCs of top polluters of “High Ambitions Group” show that they are unwilling to pay the “ecological debt” that global North owes to the global South.

As per Article 2 of the Agreement, it aims to hold the increase in the global temperature to well below 2 degree Celsius (C) and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degree C above pre-industrial levels to “significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

What is charitably referred to as “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” in the text of the UNFCCC is in reality an act of industrial warfare against climate and its allied ecosystem whose impact has become glaring. It is quite surprising that green house gas emissions from the war industry which is reaping unprecedented profits amidst conflicts around natural resources has not been included as one of the key sources of climate crisis.

It may be recalled that the false solution of carbon trade and off setting was introduced in the Kyoto Protocol at the behest of USA which had made it a pre-condition to sign the Protocol. Notably, after diluting the Protocol USA unsigned the Protocol. Unmindful of the fraud and corruption ridden carbon trade projects, instead of discarding this fake remedy the Paris Agreement makes way for global carbon market through Article 6 of the Agreement. It makes space for
“voluntary contribution” among countries in the implementation of their emission reduction targets and “to allow for higher ambition in their mitigation and adaptation actions”. It creates a new class of carbon assets namely, “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes” (ITMOs) for trading and “support for results-based payments to implement policy approaches”. This new mechanism of UNFCCC has been incarnated as Sustainable Development Mechanism (SDM) as main mitigation tool in place of pre-existing Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Joint Implementation post-2020.

Richer countries became prosperous and dominant due to carbon emission since 1750. Between 1850 and 2011, USA, European Union, Russian Federation, Japan and others contributed over 2/3rd of total global emissions. Both USA and EU both emitted 10 times more CO2 each than India. It is the stock of this emission in the atmosphere which has caused the climate crisis. Paris Agreement fails to address the issue of past emissions and remains focused on current and future flow of carbon in the atmosphere.

Over 160 countries have submitted their INDCs to UNFCCC taking into account both their historical responsibility as well as their current capability to act. It is evident from the “synthesis report” that the ambition of all major developed countries fall well short of their fair shares unlike majority of developing countries. The contribution of USA and EU each represents about a 5th of their fair shares, and Japan a mere 10th of its fair share. Notably, developed countries have been outsourcing their carbon-intensive industries to developing countries like India. If these ‘consumption-based’ or ‘imported’ emissions are taken into account, emissions of developed countries are in reality as much as a fourth higher than reported.

Admittedly, the estimated aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from INDCs do not fall within least –cost 2 degree C but rather lead to a projected level of 55 gigatons in 2030. The Decision underlines that in order to hold the increase in global average temperature to below 2 degree C above pre-industrial levels there is a need for reduction of emissions to 40 gigatons.

It is quite bizarre that while almost all the countries have stated their commitments to reduce emissions from 1990 levels, USA has decided to count its reduction in emission using 2005 as the base year. Thus, its commitment of reduction is only 14 % instead of 28 % as has been claimed quite deceptively.

Such announcements by the top polluters are far from what was required to be done based on scientific evidence to limit global temperature rise by 2°C. There was a need to cut emissions to the tune of 70 % below 2010 levels by 2050 to be on the path of limiting 2°C temperature increase.

What is not being paid attention to is how China’s agreement with the USA in November 2014 wherein it agreed to match its emissions with that of the USA at 12 tonnes per capita per year in 2030, thus, appropriating the carbon space between them had pre-determined the outcome of Paris Conference. This happened in a situation wherein corporations have emerged as the state and in the case of China, state is the corporation. The state of affairs in the world trade regime and most countries is moving in the same direction because of the regulatory capture by the corporations.

Where does India stand?

It has been estimated that India’s current per capita income is close US’s per capita income in the 1890s. Like most developed countries where coal remains unavoidable, India continues to argue that it will continue to use coal as its primary source in its energy mix. What is not being talked about is the adverse health impact of hazardous wastes like fly ash and bottom ash from coal based power plants which is contributing to massive air pollution crisis-‘airpocalyses’ and suffocating populations in India and China. The heavy metal and radiation laden ash which is being used for making
bricks by construction industry is compromising public health in an unprecedented manner.

Paris Agreement has a stark lesson for Indian Government and its INDC which promoted “Nuclear Power as a safe, environmentally benign and economically viable source to meet the increasing electricity needs of the country.” The word “nuclear” does not appear in the Agreement despite efforts by countries like India and agencies like International Atomic Energy Agency, World Nuclear Association, US Nuclear Energy Institute and organizations like Nuclear for Climate (NfC) who misleadingly claims to be grassroots environmental group. In a major goof up, NfC claimed that radioactive waste is good for the climate. It is high time India followed the path of those who have no nuclear power reactors and remain opposed to nuclear power.

It is high time India followed the path of those who have no nuclear power reactors and remain opposed to nuclear power. Countries like Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand Norway and Germany merit emulation in this regard.

India should join efforts to ensure that nuclear power is kept out of the $ 100 billion/year Green Climate Fund (GCF), a very small player in climate finance established five years ago in Cancun, Mexico. It should struggle with other countries to ensure that GCF creates an accountability mechanism and adopts an information disclosure policy.

India should do all it can to cut down its emissions through domestic action through amendments in the Environment Protection Act and Rules therein given the fact that despite India having the lowest per capita emissions in the world. Its measures must be tangible as it is the world’s third largest emitter.

The reality of average an Indian emitting 10 times less than an American, 4 times less than a French national, one-third of Chinese per capita emissions and less than half the global average should not become a reason for any complacency given the fact that the carbon footprint of 1 % of the wealthy class is being veiled by 823 million poor class of the country and the emissions of top 10 % of urban Indians is about 27 times the emissions of the bottom 10 % of rural India. This creates a compelling logic for delinking economic prosperity from carbon emissions which depletes the principal amount-the natural capital, the Mother Earth.

Meanwhile, World Bank Group feigned surprise on 17th December “to see the extent and detail on carbon markets” included in the Paris Agreement that paves the way for “Carbon Markets 2.0”.

Paris Agreement panders to the whims and fancies of commercial czars who are obstinately commodifying and monetizing nature and interfering with climate and allied ecosystems. The natural resource dependent communities are facing unprecedented deprivation. This has created an episteme that blindly bulldozes technical and market solutions as “real” solutions.

The outcome of CoP 21 reveals how the entire exercise suffers from structural democracy deficit wherein “Mother Earth” and social and public institutions have become subordinate to institutions of profit.

For several years, the formal initiatives to mitigate and adapt to impacts of climate change has largely been unsuccessful because of an embedded insincerity of the institutions involved. They fail to decode the shared fate in the global village which is faced with climate induced emergencies and disasters. The Agreement fails to make top polluters liable for “dangerous anthropogenic interference” and for endangering human ecosystem which is the substratum for the existence of living beings.

A new, non-market, climate finance mechanism is needed to support the formalization and expansion of mitigation and technology transfer as a genuine solution to combat the propensity of promoting free trade in carbon at the cost of climate system. Climate talks remain relevant because fate of the communities and global order is linked to the decision by the richest countries to undergo mandatory fossil fuel de-addiction.

In effect, despite the brave effort of a G77 country, Paris conference failed to save climate and intra generational and inter-generational equity from the banks and markets that threaten our planet by integrating carbon pricing policies in all sectors of economy. India should have taken ethical leadership by declaring carbon trading as a fake solution and by choosing not “to pursue the reckless and environmentally harmful path to development” that the developed countries have taken so far.

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