Heavy rainfall forcing the authorities to close Chennai Airport; Beijing choking under a thick, brown smog; Delhi mulling to introduce odd-even formula — all these are signs of rising pollution, resulting in climate change. This is the reason why leaders from 147 countries assembled in Paris for the opening session of the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference on November 30.
One of the objectives of the COP21 (it’s the 21st session of the Conference of Parties) is to review the implementation of the 1992 Rio Convention.
In Brazil, leaders had agreed on a UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC), aimed at stabilising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and avoiding 'dangerous anthropogenic interference'.
During the COP3 in Japan, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted; then the COP11 in Canada agreed to the Montreal Action Plan, while the COP15 in Copenhagen could only acknowledge that the Kyoto Protocol targets had not been achieved; this triggered the creation of a Green Climate Fund during the COP17 in Durban.
This time, the aim is to find an effective and equitable agreement to limit global temperature rise to two degree Celsius. Will it succeed? Probably not: Because the interests of different players are too divergent. However, one should look at the COP21 in another perspective.
Never in the history of mankind have so many heads of state and governments congregated at a single place. For months, the world’s chancelleries put tremendous efforts to enable a consensus at the meet. France, as the host of the COP21, has emphasised that 'it is committed to the role of an impartial facilitator for forging an ambitious agreement.'
Laurent Fabius, the French minister of foreign affairs and COP21 Chairperson, has been criss-crossing the world for months trying to look for possible solutions. Each and every capital has done some homework.
Take Beijing, for instance. It recently released its latest scientific assessment, a 900-page document called 'Third National Climate Change Assessment Report'. About 550 scientists have participated to sum up the present knowledge and environmental consequences of rising greenhouse gas levels for China.
If you multiply these efforts by more than 100 nations which have taken the issue seriously, the COP21 is already a success. The human race has realised that its fate is in the balance. Of course, the West and Asia do not see eye to eye.
Steffen Böhm, a professor in Management and Sustainability at the University of Essex, is one of the few Westerners who understands the less-developed nations' point of view. He writes, 'Stop blaming India and China for the West’s 300 years of destroying the environment.'
The Indian prime minister, while addressing the opening session, expressed similar views. 'Over the next few days, we will decide the fate of this planet... The consequences of the industrial age powered by fossil fuels are evident, especially on the lives of the poor. The prosperous still have a strong carbon footprint. And, the world’s billions at the bottom of the development ladder are seeking space to grow. So, the choices are not easy. But, we have awareness and technology.'
As several drafts are being discussed, India's environment minister Prakash Javadekar propounded once more India’s position, 'The latest draft is a starting point for our final push. But at this stage there are many points of departure. Much work is needed to reach a point of convergence.'
The minister added, 'The agreement that we are crafting must carefully balance climate ambition and the principle of differentiation.' This is practically an impossible task.
A Western journalist wrote in La Libre Belgique: 'India claims the right to pollute.' This represents the view of many in the West, but this type of attitude can lead nowhere.
There are, however, several positive initiatives. Modi, along with French President Francois Hollande, launched the International Solar Alliance. It will be hosted in the premises of the National Institute of Solar Energy in Gurgaon, and India will provide land and contribute about $30 million to build the Secretariat.
'This day is the sunrise of new hope — not just for clean energy, but for villages and homes still in darkness; and for our mornings and evenings filled with a clear view of the glory of the sun,' said Modi.
The world event in France has seen the participation of the 'civil society', the green NGOs, 'stakeholders' of every hue and, of course, the climatosceptics, who do not believe in climate change but only see it as a conspiracy of the rich nations.
Probably, in all this, a crucial concept gets ignored, that is sustainable consumption, which means that humanity has to start consuming less, if it wants to survive. Humans need to realise that the resources of the planet are limited and need to be shared by all. But who should start acting first — the rich or the poor?