Climate change matters, not the deal

 Joe C Mathew        Last Updated: December 14, 2015  | 13:36 IST

Joe Mathew, Senior Associate Editor, Business Today
Early this year, India commemorated the 50th anniversary of its victory against Pakistan in the India-Pak war of 1965. The move had raised eyebrows across the border as this was the war which Pakistan also claims to have won against India.

Depending on who talks, and on what basis, contrasting conclusions are often drawn on the outcome of landmark events. It happens not only in wars, but also in global multilateral agreements as has been proven by the accord reached at the just concluded climate change summit in Paris.

The representatives of 195 countries who had attended the summit - United Nations conference on climate change - on Saturday agreed to jointly work towards the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to limit the increase in global temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius. The attempt is to do everything possible to check global warming that may result in calamities that can threaten the existence of small island nations, submerge low lying areas, and push additional millions of people into poverty due to the devastating effect of floods, droughts, storms etc.

None of the participating nations had any opposition towards this larger objective. It was only on the implementation side that countries had different opinions as it involved lots of money, and use of technology. Over the last few weeks, there has been intense debate over the leadership role developed nations should play in driving this global mission. Developing countries including India demanded that the responsibility should largely be with the historic polluters such as the US and the European Union and wanted these countries to set aside finances to help others mitigate the risks through capacity building and reduce pollution through adaptation of clean technologies. The developed nations were willing to offer assistance, but did not want to make any binding financial commitments.

Going by the statements attributed to environment minister Prakash Javedkar, in Indian media, the country has been able to successfully negotiate a "balanced" agreement, which addresses all the points it raised.

The New York Times though gives a different narrative. It clearly states that the game has changed from the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities to uniform responsibilities. In other words, along with the historical polluters, the emerging nations, where pollution levels are increasing due to their developmental pressures, will also have to shoulder more responsibilities. The developed nations have also got away without making a binding commitment on the finances they need to contribute, and the carbon emission reductions that they will have to make, prompting India's premium environment think-tank Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) to call the Paris Accord a "weak and un-ambitious climate change deal".  

CSE points out that the biggest winners of the deal are developed countries as their historical responsibility has been erased. In the case of India, CSE says, there has been no short term gain, or loss. "India has got all the right words in the agreement, but failed to operationalize equity and get fair share of carbon space", it says.

The full impact of the Paris deal will be understood only after it gets implemented, but as it stands today, India has nothing much to cheer about.

As in war, claims do matter a lot for the rulers. But peace is what ultimately matters for humanity. It is not the climate change deal that matters, it is climate change itself.

 

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