Clean Tech

COP 22: Now begins the fun

| Updated on January 16, 2018

Firm resolve? While many have praised the Paris Agreement, others have said it’s just ‘worthless words’

The Paris Agreement on climate change was like the birth of a baby, at Marrakech this November the baby has to begin to walk, writes M. Ramesh

The global movement for climate change mitigation crossed a key milestone on October 7. The Paris Agreement formally ‘entered into force’, after 55 countries with cumulative emissions accounting for 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions ratified the Agreement, whose text was agreed upon at the Conference of Parties-21 meeting at Paris last December.

All parties and observers have noted with glee that this ‘entry into force’ has happened a lot quicker than earlier expected, an indication that there is political will to do something about climate change.

As this paper has pointed out earlier, the ‘Agreement’ is more a consensus that increase in global warming has to be limited to 2 degrees (above circa 1850 levels). Towards this end, countries voluntarily committed to doing what they put on the table as ‘intended nationally determined contributions’, or INDCs. For instance, India has said it would bring down emission intensity of GDP by 30 per cent over 2005 levels and 40 per cent of India’s electricity generating capacity in the year 2030 will be non-fossil fuel based. Other countries said they would do other things.

While many have hailed the Paris Agreement as “historic”, others have laughed at it. Prof James E Hansen of Columbia University, a former NASA scientist, has described it as “worthless words”. Because, if a country does not do what it said it would, there is no provision to enforce due performance, except shaming it in public. But even that is not possible, because many countries have allowed themselves sufficient wriggle room in their INDC promises. India, for example, has said that its aim to have 40 per cent of installed power capacity based on non-fossil fuels would take place “with the help of transfer of technology and low cost international finance.”

Furthermore, even assuming all countries do everything they promised, earth’s temperature will still rise by 2.7 degrees—a significant deviation from the target. The food on the table is not enough to satisfy hunger.

Baby steps

Anyway, the Paris Agreement was like the birth of a baby, and now, a year down the line, the baby has to begin to walk. The first baby-steps are expected to be taken at COP-22, which will be held in November in the Moroccan city of Marrakech. And that’s where the real fight begins.

The Marrakech meeting will be more important than Paris. Here is where ‘modalities, procedures, guidelines’ – MPG – will be evolved for countries to meet their ‘nationally determined contributions’ (the word ‘intended’ has been dropped after the agreement at Paris.) Discussions will revolve around mobilising finance, technology transfers, developing carbon markets, global stock-take (of a five-yearly review of progress) and so on, each of which is contentious. Jo Tyndall of New Zealand, who co-chairs the Ad-hoc working group on Paris Agreement (APA), cautions that “while political heat has been turned down, the fault lines that existed before Paris have not gone away.” Since Marrakech conference is ‘getting down to business’, these fault lines will be even starkly visible. “The hardest work is ahead to turn the transformational promise of the Paris Agreement into reality,” say experts at the World Resources Institute, in a recent article.

Funds is the key

For COP-22 to take matters anywhere near reality, it should discuss finance. How to make funds available for green projects in developing countries. While Article 9 of the Paris Agreement says that developed countries “shall provide” financial resources to assist developing countries, there is no mention of how, how much and what counts as financial resources. These will be discussed at COP-22, and one might expect considerable heat when that happens.

The Paris Agreement (Article 15) speaks of a “facilitative” compliance mechanism. (“We don’t know what that means,” says Jo Tyndall.) The mechanism shall also be “non-adversarial and non-punitive”. At the heart of ‘compliance’ is a system that measures, verifies and reports whether each country has been as good as its word. COP-22 will begin the process of evolution of such a mechanism – not an easy task, because countries (including India) baulk at outsiders checking out on them.

The COP-22 will also discuss trade issues – such as what to do when there is a clash between climate agreements and, say, WTO. For instance, if an Indian company exports its product cheaper because it has received a subsidy for using green technology, will that subsidy be WTO-compliant? Or, is a country justified in putting a carbon duty on an imported good if it thinks that the exporting country has lax carbon regulations?

India flexing its muscles

India, for one, has made it clear that it is not in a mood to take things lying down at Marrakech. In a statement issued on October 1, a day before it would ratify the Paris Agreement, the Indian government forthrightly expressed its disappointment over the flow of climate funds. The statement notes that the $ 10.3 billion committed to the Green Climate Fund cumulatively in the last six years, (in contrast with the aim of reaching annual commitments of $ 100 billion by 2020,) “does not match the enormous finance and technology requirements indicated by developed countries in their INDCs.”

The statement further stressed the need to remove barriers to access green technology and provision of finance to meet the costs of cutting-edge technology. The message is simple. If, for example, India wants access to a technology of a superconducting wind turbine generator, which GE has developed, to help it ramp up its renewable energy roll-out, GE should give the technology, and the developed countries should pay for it. Regardless of whether India is justified or not, only a simpleton would expect developed countries to play ball.

India is bent on holding developed countries to account, at COP-22. “People in developed countries live extravagant lifestyles with high carbon footprint,” the statement says – something that is likely to resonate with the thinking in many other developing countries.

Thus, some tough negotiations are ahead at the African city. Don’t forget that any country can still walk out of the Agreement after three years. So, if President Donald Trump dislikes the deal, he only needs to wait out the period. Delivering the Paris baby might have been without much labour pain. But raising it to adulthood is not likely to be easy.

Published on October 11, 2016

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