How to make Paris climate change talks successful

The success depends on the nature of deliberations and admissibility of the final agreement among major world powers.

 |  5-minute read |   01-12-2015
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The issue of "climate change and global warming" has been one of the most dominant themes in post-Cold War world politics. It was only after the much celebrated work of the American marine biologist and conservationist, Racheal Carson that climate change and its implications became the subject of discussion globally. In a very beautiful quote from his book, Silent Spring (1962), the author has emphasized that, "those who contemplate the beauty of the earth must find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts".

Later, the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) published a report in 1987 named "Our Common Future", also known as the Brundtland Commission Report calling for the "multilateralism and interdependence of nations" in the search for a sustainable development path. Similarly, in 1992 more than 150 nations agreed at a meeting in Rio de Janeiro to take necessary steps against climate change that would "prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system".

The ongoing climate change talks in Paris hold significance because unlike in Kyoto (1997) and Copenhagen (2007), this meeting of 196 countries under the aegis COP 21 (Conference of Parties) is being dubbed as, "our last hope", in the words of Fatih Birol, the new director of the International Energy Agency. The Conference of Parties is an annual forum to tackle climate change on a global political level.

The global concern to get the deal done in Paris, COP 21, stems from increasing global emission levels and surface temperature, persistent rise in droughts and untimely rains, melting of glaciers and ice caps with possible effects for rise in sea level. As US President Obama noted in his speech, "What greater rejection of those who would tear down our world than marshaling our best efforts to save it". In a similar note, French President Francois Hollande remarked, "never have the stakes been so high because this is about the future of the planet, the future of life."

The success of Paris climate change talks depends much on the nature of deliberations being done and the admissibility of the final agreement between the major world powers. In addition, there'a a need to also reach the agreement with an approach of "evolving consensus" among the developed and developing states.

Firstly, learning from previous experiences of "fallout among parties", it is clear that, as of know, the decision to submit the "national plan for emission cuts" that falls short of any "mandatory obligations" for the participatory states is a welcome idea. It reflects a commitment of the organisers to take on board every possible opinion from states and strive towards an agreement rather than coming with any kind of "top down formula" to the unease of developing world.

It is yet to analysed how much these plans calling for emission cuts will be helpful in mitigating climate change, but there is no doubt that it will put the world on a safer trajectory towards action against global warming. To make it a "breakthrough deal", it must be followed by establishing a "regulatory framework" towards greater "monitoring and reporting" of a country's performance towards the goals laid down under their respective plans. Even the "periodic revision of targets" could be a possible way to make it a more effective instrument against rising carbon emissions.

Secondly, the Paris talks must come with an "acceptable and fair formula" towards the objectives based on certain reports which have inspired claims that wind and solar power could carry the entire load of energy transition in the developing world. India has already scaled up its renewable energy target which is expected to result in the country cutting around 326 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.

Towards this, India and France have also proposed an International Solar Alliance to "seize the abundant resource of sun energy", in partnership of states with private stakeholders from around the world,

However, this shift in energy production also relates to the issues of "technology transfer" and "financing problems" among developing countries. Even in the earlier climate change negotiations, and under the "north-south cooperation", the developed world has failed badly on these fronts.

Nuclear power has a long gestation period and safety issues. Hence, the shift towards renewable sources of energy will not be an easy option before the developing world until their concerns remains non-addressed. The success of Paris talks depends much on the developed world's assistance in mitigation plans and their sincere desire to provide clean-energy technology to poor countries.

Thirdly, any final agreement is bound to fail if it falls short of "common but differentiated commitments" from countries. To quote Prime Minister Narendra Modi, any agreement without this would be "morally wrong".

Taking the call from the developing world, India has clearly expressed that the success of Paris agreement must include a "clear differentiation in responsibilities and action" between the rich and poor states in all proposed elements of the deal, such as, mitigation, adaptation and the transparency to fight against climate change.

Thus, it is quite clear that the test of success of Paris talks will depend on whether it produces not only a stronger commitment from states but also a "shared but differentiated" sense of urgency at all levels to meet them.

To quote the Chinese President Xi Jinping, any success of Paris climate change talks will remain less tangible until "legitimate needs of developing countries to reduce poverty and improve their people's living standards" is not addressed in any final agreement that comes up after the 12 days of insight and analysis.

Writer

Abhishek Pratap Singh Abhishek Pratap Singh

Doctoral Candidate, Centre For East Asian Studies,JNU

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