Climate Talks: Hope In Times Of Hypocrisy And Hype

Was India truly in the dark about getting shafted?
Climate Talks: Hope In Times Of Hypocrisy And Hype
Climate Talks: Hope In Times Of Hypocrisy And Hype
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Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) made an interesting appeal to journalists in Bonn this week. The analogy is simple enough for people to understand, she said!

Work took her frequently from Bonn to Paris via Brussels. When asked if she was going to Brussels she would say yes, but the final destination was Paris. It was important for people to understand this and make sure they and their governments were on the train to Paris she said in a not-so-subtle put-down. What if there were several trains covering the same trajectory via different routes? If this was an analogy to reflect the principle of shared but differentiated responsibilities – a core principle - it was a poor one. The G-77 countries are angry.

Countries are meeting in the German city of Bonn (October 19-23) for their penultimate conference before the Paris talks in December also called the Conference of Parties 21 (COP 21). The talks hope to keep global warming from going over two degrees Celsius by 2020. For that to happen, global emissions need to be 25 to 40 percent below 1990 levels, climate scientists have said.

At the same press conference, former French Prime Minister and COP21 President Laurent Fabius referred to the large developing country grouping as the ‘so-called G-77’. The prefix did not go unnoticed.

The draft of the Paris climate change agreement has given short shrift to New Delhi and the G-77. The problem is two-pronged and both are related to resources that poor countries must get to mitigate their emissions and adapt to newer and cleaner technologies. The Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) has introduced numbers which have skewed the talks further. It says $62 billion has been mobilized for climate finance between 2014 and 2015 as opposed to $100 billion by 2020. While developing countries say the numbers have no official status, the methodology is wrong and they were not consulted, Fabius and Figuere referred to them generously. Figuere tweeted later that Europe had decoupled its emissions from economic growth giving the numbers a back-door entry of sorts and implying that developed countries had done their bit.

With the new government in Canada committed to changing its position on climate change before Paris and after the Australian shift, almost all OECD countries are aligned with the European Union (EU) and the United States (US). The result is that instead of arriving slim and trim for signature in Paris on December 12th the text has turned into an avalanche of accusations and counter accusations. Some commentators see the EU as the main culprit while others point to the United States (US).

It is unlikely if not impossible for India and developing countries to not have seen this coming (I write from experience*). There have been several indications in the past six months to show which way the wind was blowing. Read our reports in May, June and September here.

The quasi-official Indian signal of what the OECD, EU and US now want came from India’s Chief Economic Adviser (CEA) Arvind Subramanian who suggested that New Delhi should desist from asking western nations to underwrite developing countries’ financial needs to combat climate change. In his note addressed to the Prime Minister, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Environment and Forest Minister Prakash Javadekar, Subramanian asked India to make common cause with coal-rich countries like China, Australia, Poland and the US and move on from its calls to differentiate between rich and poor countries outlined in the annexures of the UNFCCC’s text. Shorn of verbiage, the CEA was standing India’s long-held position of climate justice on its head. Dismissing the note, Javadekar told The News Minute the CEA’s views were not shared by the government of India.

However, a new position had sought entry into the conversation much like the OECD’s attempt to foist their numbers on the talks. European and American lobbies are active in India individually and as groupings as are members of the OECD. Developing country groupings are also trying to evolve common positions. That is the nature of the beast. So what happens next as the talks before Paris fork between developed nations’ opposition to straight-talk numbers and the developing countries digging in their heels saying show us the money?

One scenario – and probably the most likely – is that there will be massive back-room negotiations between countries trading with each other bilaterally. The US has not commented officially on the text but its special envoy to the talks Todd Stern has said the OECD numbers fall short of expectations. Should a Republican government take over from the Democrats, the Paris deal will most likely be shelved as many of the GOP presidential candidates have questioned President Barack Obama’s climate policies.

Ahead of the talks in Bonn this week, ten energy companies including Saudi Arabia’s state oil company have committed themselves to work towards climate change. The Obama administration hopes to lean on the companies which have a combined market capitalization of $5trillion to assuage the concerns of developing countries. The French have frowned on this and the coal industry has questioned it asking why the energy companies have been let off while the coal industry is propped up as a villain.

To see the negotiations as one between developed and developing countries is to ignore their recent history. For over two decades as old orders made way for new ones, developing countries have not stood together for a wide set of reasons, many of them valid. Within the EU too, there are different priorities. For example the United Kingdom (UK) is cutting back on renewable energy subsidies while maintaining fossil fuel subsidies. But they are held together by a common economic and geographic reality.

To think the enemy is outside also reflects an incomplete appreciation of realpolitik. There are many in India who may have already cast their vote for the OECD, the US and EU. That leaves China who many believe will carry the day sitting astride between the developed and developing world. In the next post, I will deal with the importance of civil society voices and their struggle to gain observer status in the negotiations. At the time of writing, there was no clarity on this for the Paris talks.

*The writer was a member of WHO’s core team for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) negotiations.

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