Energy imperatives of ratifying Paris pact
Now that the government has decided to sign the agreement, it should move to rework on national commitments in consultation with state governments and civil society, says the writer Dinesh C Sharma
In a few weeks from now, annual climate change talks will begin in Marrakesh. In the run-up to these talks, the process of ratifying the agreement which was signed in Paris in December 2015 is underway. Making a u-turn from its earlier stand on ratification of the Paris Agreement, the Modi government has decided to formally ratify the agreement on the Gandhi Jayanti day. With several other countries likely to ratify the agreement before the end of this year, it is expected that the Paris deal will enter into force soon.
While a sense of urgency is being seen in the ratification of the agreement in the context of the upcoming climate talks, the so-called climate action envisaged in the agreement pertain only to the post-2020 period. In the years prior to 2020, provisions of Kyoto Protocol remain in force requiring emission cuts by developed countries. However, it is unlikely that there will be any emission cuts by anyone now that the world is moving on to a framework of voluntary actions, as opposed to a mandatory reduction in greenhouse gas emissions based on contributions to historical emissions which have led to global temperature rise in the past few decades. India and other developing countries were forced at Paris to agree to the new system of voluntary pledges, and stop insisting that rich countries should take deep cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases. The rich countries painted India and China as big emitters, ignoring the fact that India is at a level of economic growth where emissions are bound to grow. The agreement brought all nations onto a common platform to combat climate change, irrespective of their contribution to the problem. That’s why the agreement was considered a weak deal when it was adopted in the French capital.
While agreeing to ratify the Paris Agreement, the Indian government has asserted that “the country will treat its national laws, its development agenda, availability of means of implementation, its assessment of global commitment to combating climate change, and predictable and affordable access to cleaner source of energy” as the context in which the Agreement is being ratified. This is because Agreement requires all parties to articulate their actions through ‘nationally determined contributions’ (NDCs) and then report regularly on their emissions and implementation plans. Under its intended plan – which will now have to take the shape of NDC - India has committed to achieving about 40 percent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030. India has set renewable power deployment target of 175 GW by the year 2022, which includes 100 GW from solar and 60 GW from wind energy. India also intends to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 per cent by 2030. Clearly, joining the Paris Agreement will mean recalibrating India’s energy policies over the next 15 years.
However, the achievement by a party of its NDCs is not a legally binding obligation. The agreement is basically a set of binding procedural commitments. Parties to it have to commit to ‘prepare, communicate and maintain’ NDCs and promise to pursue domestic mitigation measures aimed at achieving their plans. They will also have to report on their emissions and progress to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The agreement is considered a ‘treaty’ under international law, but only a few of its provisions are legally binding. This was done mainly to accommodate the US which wanted a deal at Paris but something for which congressional approval was not needed.
If the Paris Agreement is only a system of emitting and report, then it is clear that emissions may not see any substantial reduction in short to medium term. The goal of stepping up global response to keep global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to even try to limit the temperature increase 1.5 degrees Celsius, remains a pipedream. Also, there is little in the agreement to boost the ability of poor countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. For two decades, these countries have been promised additional finances and technology assistance to meet the challenge of climate change. But the rich have failed to deliver on any of their promises. Finance and technology remain two sticky points in climate change talks.
Now that the central government has decided to make India a part of the new climate framework under Paris Agreement, it should move to rework on its national commitments in consultation with state governments, experts, communities and civil society.
(The writer is New Delhi-based columnist and author.)