Paris climate agreement and India's role

Apao Bunii *

As the World observed Environment Day on 5th June, 2017 there was a mixed bag of feeling towards environment and climate. While most countries renewed their pledges in mitigating and improving the climate, there was one country, the US, who withdrew from Paris Agreement, previously endorsed by the then US President Barack Obama. Paris Climate Agreement or simply Paris Agreement is an accord signed by 195 nations on the 12th December, 2015 within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), dealing with greenhouse emission, mitigation, adaptation and finance.

In it, the nations agreed to hold the increase in global warming well below 2°Cover pre-Industrial Revolution levels for a limit of 1.5 °C and by second half of this century, the member countries agreed to maintain the balance between emissions from human activities such as energy production and farming, and the amount that can be absorbed by carbon-absorbing "sinks" such as forests or storage technology.

The member countries also agreed that after 2018, and every five years thereafter, they will take stock of the overall impact of their efforts to rein in global warming. Thus some nations, including the United States, set emission-curbing targets at 2025, and others, including India, set the target at 2030. Both categories are meant to be updated every five years. It is also written in the agreement that the member countries have to update their pledges by 2020.

Moreover, rich countries are expected to provide funding to help developing countries in order to make the costly shift to cleaner energy sources and to shore up defences against the impacts of climate change. Those donor nations must report every two years on their financing levels i.e. both the current as well as the intended. In regard to finance, although the decision is not binding and not included in the agreement, the rich member countries also pledged that $100 billion (89 billion euros) per year have to muster by 2020 which is referred to as a "floor" — meaning it can only go up.

The amount must be updated by 2025. According to an OECD report, pledges made in 2015 alone would boost public climate financing (excluding private money) to $67 billion in 2020. The agreement makes provision for parties to withdraw, but notice can be given only three years after its entry into force in 2016. The actual withdrawal would take effect a year later.

A country can also withdraw from the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, under whose auspices the deal was negotiated. Withdrawal would take effect a year after notification. Thus when President Donald Trump announced that US will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement on 1st June, 2017 and refused to sign the related agreement in just concluded G7 submit, it peeved the world because US contributed one of the highest excess carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other country on earth.

Although China emits more CO2 than US if we consider overall emission, as per World Resource Institute Report, US are still responsible for twice as much as China, Japan or Europe in terms of per capita CO2 emissions.

Americans started burning fossil fuels earlier and at higher rates than the rest of the world, which contribute almost a third of the excess CO2 that's already in the atmosphere, despite having just more than 4% of the global population. Commitment from the US to reduce emissions and to help fund global emissions reductions is thus considered so important. President Trump, however, hinted that the United States, which had pledged to contribute $3 billion towards the Green Climate Fund, of which it delivered $1 billion under Barack Obama, will not honour its financing commitments.

One of the reasons cited by US President for his withdrawal from Paris Agreement is unfair advantages for India and China at the expense of his country which actually, is not true. It may be worth noting that the member countries are at their own discretion to set time frame for their nations and also to undertake the amount of gas emission reductions.

In-fact, if observe closely, the agreement is extremely unfair to a country like India who accounts for contributing only 3 percent of cumulative emissions compared to 27 percent cumulative emissions by USA. Moreover India is not a 'historical emitter'. This matters because climate change is product of historical and cumulative emissions.

For example, in 2011 India's per capita emissions were 2.ot CO 2 as compared to world average 6.03ot CO2 and India per capita emissions are also 1/4th of those of China. Nevertheless Climate Change is a world phenomenon. The task to reduce global warming cannot be left to few countries. For its part, India, notwithstanding US withdrawal, shows her grit by immediately reaffirming its commitment to the Paris Agreement even as Trump prepares for the four-year- long exit process.

She also has since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, backed the idea of "common but differentiated responsibilities"; recognising the inequalities between the Global North and South in causing and being able to mitigate climate change. She also ratified the Paris Agreement on Climate Change with the UN on October 2, 2016. It is important because if we look at the present Indian scenario, she bears the dual burden of both a highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and also being a major emitter due to the majority of the population depending on an agrarian economy.

Extreme climate and weather conditions such as droughts, cyclones, varying temperatures and floods directly affects the people which, more often than not, pushed many into poverty. Thus dealing with climate change by improving environment is integral to poverty alleviation efforts for the country. Her policy should aim at the co-benefit of development and climate change mitigation.

US withdrawal for the Paris Agreement should not dent our effort to tackle the menace of climate change but sees it as an opportunity to expand our role on the global front and strengthen our institutions at home to move forward. India and China should not only fill the vacuum left by the withdrawal of US but also grab the opportunity to strengthen the relationship with each other and also with European countries. They must also see that together, they can lead the future climate change negotiations.

This will not be possible if any of the countries pursue narrow short term interests. For national and global interests, it is pertinent to remember that climate change action is a must. The State Government of Manipur in toto with the Central Government policy on climate change shows keen interest on environmental issues in the wake of unprecedented climate change.

Besides launching 'Segregation at Source' campaign, CM Biren urged all the people to collectively take a pledge for conserving nature for sustainable development, concatenating environment related events. That is important because a single entity (Government or the people) alone cannot effectively implement or tackle the adverse impact of climate change.

It is heartening to read about the Environment Day Celebration organised by Private Institutions, Armies, Civil Society Organisation, and Governmental Agencies at different point of time in the state. The World Environment Day may be one way for the world to remember and renew its pledge to the idea of conserving the nature and to mitigate adverse impact of climate change. It is paramount for the government of an emerging economy to perpetually work in progress, driven by twin pulls of growth and sustainable development.

As suggested by the Union Environment, Forests and Climate Change Minister, Harsh Vardhan; we should remember that "the real sentiment behind World Environment Day should not be restricted to a single day, but must pervade every moment of the day, till the World Environ-ment Day next year."

* Apao Bunii wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The author can be reached at apaobunii(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on June 19, 2017.

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