COP21 & Its Implications for India

Published on 21 Jan, 2016

COP21 & India

The Paris summit held in December 2015 marked a ground-breaking global agreement on climate change.

The summit was organized under the umbrella of the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21), wherein leaders from more than 195 countries joined hands to seal the historic deal. The landmark agreement takes forward the unfinished agenda of the 2009 Copenhagen Summit (COP15) and 2010 Cancun Summit (COP16), wherein the concept of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) was first discussed.

The Agreement

The new deal is a result of several scientific studies that suggest we’re on the cusp of a drastic change in the global climate if global temperatures increase beyond 2°C of their pre-industrial levels by the year 2100. However, the Alliance of Small Island States argued that any temperature rise beyond 1.5°C would put existence of the low-lying island nations in danger. Keeping these arguments in mind, the Paris summit reached a consensus to curtail a global rise in temperature to 2°C while trying to achieve a more ambitious target of 1.5°C.

During 2009’s COP15 held in in Copenhagen, participating countries were asked to submit their emission pledges — known as INDCs — to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The 146 INDCs received from member countries (before October 1, 2015) revealed that if countries continued with their national contributions, global temperature would still rise by 2.7 – 3.0°C by 2100. While that’s a significantly lower figure than the expected rise of 4.5 –6.0°C if they followed their current trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s still higher than the 2.0°C threshold set by scientists.

To tackle this issue, the participating nations in the Paris summit agreed to review their commitments every five years beginning 2020. Under the deal, participating countries are encouraged to peak their emissions as soon as possible and to increase their commitments in further rounds of negotiation. The agreement also calls for carbon neutrality after 2050 and reducing the use of fossil fuels in favor of renewables.

Contentious Issues of the Summit

The entire argument between developed and developing countries at the Paris summit can be summarized in the following points:

  • Climate finance to be provided by developed countries to their developing counterparts in order to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change.
  • Distinguish between developed and developing nations by considering a country’s overall emissions.
  • Advanced countries to provide greener technology to poor countries, at a low cost.
  • Compensate vulnerable countries, especially island nations and African countries, for the losses and damage caused by climate change.
  • Develop a transparent mechanism to assess the national contributions submitted by countries to the UNFCCC.

Climate Finance

The most contentious issue between developing and developed countries in the Paris summit was climate finance. Developing countries argue that the majority of carbon emissions are due to developed nations; however, the impacts of climate change are equally disastrous for every nation. According to a December 2015 report from Oxfam America, nearly 49% of global carbon emissions are released by the world’s richest 10%, while 50% of the poor countries contribute just about 10% to total emissions.

% of CO2 Emmision - World

% of CO2 Emmision - World

The concept of climate finance emerged in the Copenhagen summit to assuage such differences between developing and developed countries, wherein developed nations — under the leadership of the US — pledged USD100 bn to developing countries by 2020 in order to help them mitigate and adapt to climate change. To fulfill this commitment, developed countries set up the Green Climate Fund (GCF) at the Cancun summit. The GCF boasted just around USD10.2 bn in funds by November 2015 however, with the US’s contribution totaling around USD3 bn.

Continuing on the same lines, the Paris agreement strongly urges developed nations to provide USD100 bn to developing countries annually by 2020. This is meant to facilitate adaptation and mitigation, with a special focus on adaptation to climate change effects. The Paris deal even encourages developing countries to join climate finance on a voluntary basis. In case of climate finance beyond 2025, it was decided to fix the amount of USD100 bn as the minimum supporting contribution.

Historical Emission of Countries

The concept of common but differentiated responsibility of the developed and developing countries arose due to the historical emissions of developed countries.

As of 2011, cumulative greenhouse gas emission data revealed that America is the top polluter in the world, accounting for 27% of overall emissions, followed by the European Union at around 25%. India, which has witnessed strong growth in the past few decades, is responsible for just about 3% of total historical emissions.

CO2 Emmision in 2011

CO2 Emmision in 2011

Since the commencement of climate negotiations in the 1990s, developed countries have been against any emission control that is legally binding based on the historical emissions of a country.

For instance, the Kyoto protocol, which had legally binding commitments, was rejected outright by the US. In the Paris agreement however, any connotation to ‘historical emissions’ has been omitted, thus absolving rich nations from their ethical duty to steeply reduce emissions. Currently, member nations are required to submit their INDCs, which are emission pledges submitted by different countries depending on their individual circumstances.

Easy Transfer of Cleaner Energy

At the Paris summit, India took the helm in raising the issue of easy transfer of greener technologies at lower costs from developed countries to the developing nations. However, the Paris summit abstained from any clarity on the subject, and the issue was left open for future negotiations.

Provision for Loss and Damage

The Paris climate deal contains provisions to compensate vulnerable countries for the occurrence of climate-related disasters using funds sourced from developed countries. The deal mentions no legal mechanism and liabilities however, making the clause related to loss and damage ineffectual.

Assessment of National Contributions

In the past, India and China have advocated the use of different monitoring and reporting systems for developing and developed countries, citing a lack of necessary capabilities for stringent reporting among developing countries. However, the current form of the Paris deal calls for a common system of review, thus removing the difference between the developed and developing countries. Additionally, the draft calls for a first review in 2023 and every five years beyond that in order to discuss countries’ progress on their pledges.

Impact of the Summit on India

India’s action plan emphasized striking a balance between emissions reduction and sustainable development among developing countries.

Its viewpoints were in resonance with that of other developing countries. India wanted developed nations to substantially reduce their greenhouse emissions and provide sufficient time to the developing countries to expand their economies using fossil fuels.

Likewise, India was in favor of climate finance to be provided by the developed nations, free access to green technologies to the poor countries and expected the climate deal to include the idea of historical emissions by the developed nations.

On the national front, India was under pressure to declare a peak year for emission. It was also concerned about the possibility of stringent sanctions against the use of coal. The joint statement by China and the US in November 2014 declaring that China’s emissions would peak by 2030 exerted pressure on India to disclose its peak emission year. However, as the per capita annual CO2 emission in the US is close to 17 tons — more than 10 times that of India — any announcement of peak emission year by India would have compelled the country into consuming lower levels of energy, thereby restricting the level of development.

The Paris summit turned out to be a satisfying agreement for India.

As far as declaring a peak emission year is concerned, the Paris agreement mentions that countries ought to peak their emission as early as possible. It also acknowledges that developing countries may need more time than their developed counterparts to do so.

Moreover, the deal doesn’t really broach the topic of coal.

Coal is not only a major source of energy in India (accounting for 75% of India’s energy needs) but also the cheapest of all other energy sources. Furthermore, the availability of abundant coal deposits in India makes it a prime choice for energy generation.

Although the agreement calls for the adoption of greener technologies, it abstains from stating a complete boycott of fossil fuels. Any restrictions on coal would have implied a lack of funds from international financial institutions for India’s coal-linked projects and a major setback to India’s plans of generating an additional 500,000 megawatts of electricity from 455 of her proposed coal-fired power plants.

By not resolving issues related to restrictions on coal usage, the climate summit has postponed, if not solved, dilemmas of several countries. Germany for instance, employs nearly 21,000 individuals in coal-based industries. Any outright ban on coal would have left the country with significant unemployment levels to contend with.

The Paris summit is among the first in a series of important steps toward tackling the immediate and drastic problem of climate change. Although several past climate summits faltered due to non-compromising stand of participants, the actions of all the countries participating in COP21 reflected their strong resolve to find a workable solution. The success of the Paris summit now relies on how countries work together to meet their INDCs, and it’ll also depend on nations resolving (in the future) those issues that weren’t discussed at the summit.


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