09 Oct 2016 17:02 IST

Ab aayega maja!

It’s time for another huddle and blows at the COP-22 at Marrakech

If Gabbar Singh had been a real person today, he would have said, “ Ab aayega maja”. (For the uninitiated, Gabbar Singh was the celebrated dacoit in the 1975 blockbuster, Sholay, and those words were among his more famous quotes)

Come November 7 and hundreds of climate change experts, negotiators and bureaucrats will swoop down on the Morrocan city of Marrakesh. Apart from drinking in the sights of the thousand-year-old North African city, its minarets, water palaces, hills and souks, these men and women will also lick their paws and get down to some hardnosed negotiations, a la last year, at Paris.

Only, this time around, the negotiations are going to be tougher.

The Conference of Parties-21, or COP-21, at Paris, delivered the baby called Paris Agreement. This baby was formally inducted into the human society on October 7 — well, that was a metaphor to say that the Agreement formally “came into force” after the requisite number of countries ratified it in their Parliaments. India did so on October 2, paying homage to the Father of the Nation.

And so, the world now has the Paris Agreement. Regular readers of this column would recall that we had called it, at that time, Paris Aggrieve-ment .

Now, because it is a year since all that tamasha happened, a bit of background is in order.

What happened?

As people burnt fuels and cut down more trees, more and more carbon dioxide (and a few other truant gases) rose to the heights of the atmosphere, and because it remained there, it became a shield.

This shield held back sunlight and heat that should have gone back to space after hitting the earth (You might ask how the sunlight came past the shield in the first place to hit the earth. It does. It has something to do with wavelengths of incoming and outgoing radiation, the discussion of which is outside the scope of this article).

So, as the ‘shield’ began trapping radiation, the earth began to heat up. Scientists determined that our average temperature today is 0.8 degrees Celsius higher than what it was around the time when industrial revolution began — say during 1850-1880. If you recall, that was when the petroleum era began and when we learnt to use electricity.

Hot problems

A hotter earth is a problem in many ways. It upsets climatic cycles; it causes oceans to swell, and causes various other catastrophic effects. Scientists have concluded that if the increase in global temperature (which is 0.8 degrees Celsius now) is not halted by 2 degrees before the end of the century, we are in for not-so-slight trouble.

Not that 2 degrees rise is benign — it is just about tolerable. If it goes beyond 2 degrees, or as high as 3, well, nature will fry us in some places, wash us out elsewhere.

And thus it was that several wise heads began scratching their scalps, wondering what the hell to do, when after a quarter century of bickering (since 1992, when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, was set up), the Paris Agreement came into being.

Undue optimism?

Many people hailed the agreement, using terms such as “historic”, “epochal” and “euphoric”. Perhaps such a build-up was necessary; psychologists say an undue dose of optimism is not without its advantages.

But some blunt, plain-speakers went to the extent of calling the Paris Agreement “fraud” for it was nothing but a sieve of words and sentences with holes large enough for the developed countries — climate change culprits — to escape accountability.

Basically, in the run-up to the Paris Agreement, the negotiations system said to all countries, “Folks, we tried and tried to come to an agreement but we failed, because we could not agree. But now, guess what? We have a new approach. Maybe we will succeed, if you guys tell us what you will do, rather than each other what we should be doing.”

So, before Paris, all countries announced their climate action plans, called ‘intended nationally determined contributions’, or, INDCs. The INDCs formed the basis of Paris talks. And at the end of a gruelling two weeks in December 2015, the Paris Agreement popped up, which said, in sum and substance, “Let’s all do what we said we would do”.

That was the ‘historic’ agreement.

In a surprisingly quick time of nine months, the requisite number of countries ratified the Agreement, so it “entered into force”. That’s the background for you.

Now let us go back to the beautiful, sun-kissed desert city of Marrakesh.

Back to Morocco

At the COP-22 at Marrakesh, they are going to hammer out rules for playing out the INDC game. Now that the baby has been delivered, how to develop it is the issue.

Agreeing on what to do was not such a big problem. Agreeing on how to do it, will be. Keep in mind, however, that even if all countries do everything they said they would, in terms of climate change action through INDCs, the earth will still warm up by 2.7 degrees Celsius.

That is why Gabbar Singh would have said, “ Ab aayega maja”.

Action plan

A number of things will be discussed at Marrakesh, each of them highly contentious. For instance, the ‘Ad-hoc working group on Paris Agreement’, or APA, is going to start by saying, “Folks, now that we have all agreed on what we will do, how do we make sure each one does walk the talk?”

The APA would want “transparency” and strive to develop ‘modalities, procedures and guidelines’, or MPG. It is likely to meet with resistance, for no country would want foreigners snooping and sniffing at its activities, especially when it is doing so with its own money.

Let’s talk money

Talking of money, well, finance is going to be a highly contentious issue under discussion. The Paris Agreement breezily says that developed countries “shall provide” financial resources to assist developing countries’ green projects, such as wind, solar or energy-saving measures. But it stops short of defining ‘how, how much and what counts’ as funds made available. The trend is not encouraging.

Back in 2010, they set up a Green Climate Fund and said that developed countries will contribute handsome sums into it each year. So handsome, in fact, that by 2020, the yearly contribution would (should) amount to $100 billion!

Well, six years have passed so far, and guess how much has been pooled in? A mere $10.3 billion! All the six years put together. In a government statement put out on October 1, India has signified that it will raise hell at Marrakesh on this point, and you can bet your shirt that other developing countries will join in.

Tech transfer

And then, the other contentious issue of ‘technology transfer’ will be discussed. Technology transfer is “mandated” in the Paris Agreement, but do you ever wonder how that will pan out? Let’s look at an example.

Suppose Siemens has developed a technology for a motor that will consume half the energy that conventional motors do. An Indian company then asks Siemens to share that secret know-how, so that India could save electricity. Siemens is not likely to cheerfully grin and give the technology on a silver platter, decked with flowers.

It will say, “Ok, Paris Agreement says ‘transfer technology’, so we will transfer the damn technology, but pay us for it.” The Indian company will peer into its wallet and shake its head. Whereupon, the Indian government will ask, say, the Green Climate Fund to pay Siemens.

The man in-charge of the Fund will throw his head back and laugh heartily. “With $10.3 billion, I have not enough money to buy snuff powder, and you want me to buy you lunch at the Ritz?”

COP-22 is going to wonder what to do in such situations, and chances are slim that it will figure out an answer.

Gloves off

The government of India statement I alluded to earlier is a marvel in bluntness. It says that India will “insist for concrete roadmap from developed countries” for finance. It notes with dismay that the developed countries are loathe to pay up, and asks for technology transfer.

Further, in a tone that is unusually straightforward, it says, “People in developed countries live extravagant lifestyles with high carbon footprint.” The message is clear: we are not going to take things lying down.

But as is their wont, the developed countries will not give in easily. A lot of verbose bargaining will happen.

Language of the negotiators

And do you have any idea about the language negotiators use? Well, here is a sample. I give you my honest word that these are the words of Jacob Werksman, a lead negotiator from the European Union: “As we put in place policies that may be required to make distinction between products, we not do it in the way that is based on national origin of those products, or if we are distinguishing between products that are otherwise like, then we don’t do it in such a way that it is arbitrary and unjustifiable.”

Now what do you do when somebody speaks like that! (What he is saying is, if we are buying a product, we should not worry too much about where it was made. If we must choose between two similar products from two different countries, the choice we make must be fair.)

But things are never so simple in negotiations, especially when stakes (and tempers) are high. At (and from) Marrakesh, we will see the beginning of the process that will spook climate action, and the unforgiving Nature is going to let us have it.

Ab aayega maja!

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