16 December 2015 13:38:00 IST

The Paris Aggrieve-ment

If someone tells you the Paris Agreement was great, slink away. Because it is anything but that

Two friends were having a chat over coffee. Their conversation went thus.

“My friend, I love you so much that I am prepared to give my life for you, any time,” one said to the other.

“Oh, really? That’s great,” the second fellow said, genuinely touched.

“Yes. I consider our friendship the most valuable thing in my life. You mean everything to me. Without you, I’m as good as dead. You are my ‘first person singular’,” the first one went on.

“How lucky I am to have you for a friend! By the way, will you come down to meet me here tomorrow?”

“Well… Let me see… if it doesn’t rain, then perhaps yes.”

Some relationships are like that — the one shared by the developed and developing countries is the best example. And the scenario mentioned above was precisely what played out in Paris last week.

What played out

Two weeks of intense negotiations resulted in a big give and take. The developing countries gave, and the developed ones took. History ought to record the deal as the ‘Paris Aggrievement’!

The rich guys said: “Ah, yes. When the climate change effects hit us, it is you poor countries and small island-nations that will be affected the most. Terribly sorry... we should all do something about it, here and now. But don’t ask us to pay for your rehabilitation.”

Can you believe it? The Paris climate conference has decided, in writing, that “the Agreement does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation (emphasis added)”? In other words, “If the sea swallows a part of your island, all we will do is light a candle for your dead.”

What small countries want

Here is a sample of ‘give and take’ in the ‘historic’ Paris Agreement.

The poor countries wanted the words ‘loss and damage’ brought into the agreement. Wish granted! Loss and Damage, which refers to rehabilitation efforts after a climate event occurs, are included. But, crucially, sorry, no money will be given.

The small countries wanted the world (mainly, developed world) to be more “ambitious”. These countries have been clamouring for a more ambitious temperature target. The benchmark, up till now, was ‘2 degrees Celsius’ — which refers to the average rise in earth’s temperature by the end of this century, from the pre-industrial era (roughly, 1850-1900). The ‘2 degrees scenario’ might still drown many islands, so island nations wanted ‘1.5 degrees’. Wish granted.

But guess how the agreement speaks about it? “Pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.” In other words, they’re saying, “we will do our best”.

Developing countries have been demanding that the distinction between the rich and poor, which was enshrined in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (and later adopted as Annex-1 (developed) and Annex-2 (developing) in the Kyoto Protocol), be maintained. Wish granted! The agreement does mention ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ (CBDR) in many places, but is not specific on fixing responsibility on the developed countries.

On the other hand, in return for the CBDR mentions, developed countries have pushed into the agreement, something that the developing countries have long tried to avoid — the words, ‘in the light of national circumstances’ — which is the equivalent of ‘if the situation in my country permits’. True, the escape route is open to all countries, but a rich guy wriggling out is not the same as the poor guy doing so.

Climate finance

Finance has been a major sticking point in the negotiations. Developed countries are responsible for today’s climate mess — they grew rich by mauling the environment. In recognition of this ‘historical responsibility’, the rich countries are expected to pay for climate mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries. The agreement fails to convert this moral debt into a legal one. There is no reference to ‘historical responsibility’. There is no commitment to any number.

Nor is there an unambiguous definition of what constitutes climate finance. In the absence of such a definition, just about anything could be swept under the ‘climate finance’ carpet. Recently, the OECD — the rich countries club — brought out a report that said $62 billion of climate funds were mobilised in 2014. The number included loans (mostly), guarantees, and promises to lend.

The Government of India brought out a paper countering the OECD estimate, which said that the actual climate funds mobilised in 2014 were $2.2 billion. Incidentally, the World Bank deems several road projects as ‘green’, because new roads will result in better fuel economy.

The section on ‘finance’ does start off well. “Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties…”

But then comes the dilution. “As part of a global effort, developed country Parties should continue to take the lead in mobilising climate finance from a wide variety of sources…” Note the use of the word ‘should’, in the place of the legally-binding ‘shall’.

What the agreement lacks

The Decision document speaks of a floor of $100 billion a year for climate finance from 2020, which is like one banana to a hungry elephant. The ‘$100-billion’ figure was agreed upon in 2010; so, this agreement is no improvement upon that. Further, only $10 billion has so far come into the Global Climate Fund, that was meant to collect these contributions. The bill for climate mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage works out to trillions of dollars and $100 billion, even as a floor, is meaningless.

The agreement similarly lacks specificity on other important issues such as ‘technology transfer’ and ‘capacity building’. Overall, it reads like a Mission Statement of the world.

In hailing the agreement, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s choice of words couldn’t have been worse. He said the deal had achieved “climate justice”.

That’s terribly sad. If he had said that the deal was the best in the given circumstances, it would have been a good starting point to work on further improvements. But climate justice?

Impact on India

India will be severely impacted by the agreement. Given the low finance available, and the fact that the first claimants of whatever is available are the very poor countries, India cannot hope for any assistance after floods and droughts. Further, India will be under tremendous pressure to roll back coal-based power projects. Coal is India’s energy mainstay and the only way to burn coal and not maul the atmosphere is by using ‘carbon capture and storage’ (CCS) technologies, which are expensive. India will be under pressure to use CCS projects, but there will be no financial support for them.

So, if someone tells you the Paris Agreement was great, slink away.