In December 2015, undeterred by the miserable failure of the Kyoto Protocol, world negotiators had come together once again to innovate in crafting a global start-up called the Paris Climate Agreement to address the formidable global challenge of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C above the pre-industrial times.
The 196 countries that are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have now in front of them a blue print of start-up — a product of six-year-long and tedious but path-breaking negotiations — in the form of the Paris Climate Agreement.
That agreement has now emerged out of its incubator and entered into force on November 4, 2016. On Monday, November 7, 2016, at Marrakech, negotiators began writing the rules to implement it with optimism to pull the world from climate disaster to a greener and cooler future.
The bold, aggressive, intense and ambitious characters of this giant and gargantuan global venture are evident.
The boldness of the global start-up comes from the historic compromise reached among the countries. Leaving behind the legally divisive commitment of emission reduction of Green House Gases (GHGs) between developed and developing countries, that became the hallmark of the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, the agreement has now been transformed into universal commitment to address the climate challenge.
More than 190 countries have given written commitments to UNFCCC of their specific quantifiable reduction of emissions of GHGs. Many think of such universal concurrent commitments as negation of the well-accepted principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR). The negotiators at Paris boldly thought it otherwise. They considered CBDR, which still is treasured in the preamble of the Paris Agreement, to be more relevant in this new start-up for technological and financial support from the developed countries than for differentiated emission reduction commitments.
Aggressiveness of the startup is palpably demonstrated by the countries by making the Paris Agreement enter into force in less than 12 months after it was agreed. Never before in history has any UN treaty — environmental or otherwise — ever entered into force so aggressively by countries, rising above the economical and geopolitical uncertainty of our times. Even the most successful Montreal Protocol for the protection of the ozone layer took two years and the Nagoya Biodiversity Protocol took four years to enter into force.
The intense character of this climate agreement penetrates into all its 29 articles. Passionate intentions like equitable access to sustainable development, eradication of poverty, ending hunger, promoting human rights particularly of vulnerable, indigenous, migrants and poor by maintaining inter-generational equity have been enshrined as overarching and underlying doctrine apart from the main objective of limiting the rise in temperature.
Negotiators in Marrakesh have the dispassionate task to lay the foundation for rule books for agreeing to the seminal need of urgency, accelerated scale-up and highest degree of global cooperation, accompanied by punitive measures if the commitments are not kept. Such rules are going to be the bricks and mortar to stay on track in the race against time.
The business-as-usual scenario, with continued use of fossil fuels at current levels, will be taking the anthropogenic emissions to reach between 54 and 56 giga tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2030. That would lead to more than 3 degrees C increase in the global temperature by the end of the century according to the latest UNEP report. Global emissions need to be cut to 42 giga tons a year (25 per cent less) to limit warming to 2 degrees C. The window of opportunity for this is closing fast and, to keep to 1.5 degrees C, window will be closed within a couple of years, as per a World Bank report. The concerted action equivalent to a war on climate change is needed to trigger low carbon economy and to eliminate fossil fuels by 2050.
The urgency of making hard choices on low or zero carbon infrastructure is not yet ingrained in the financial planning of the majority of high-emitting countries including the US, China and India, as also the EU; though China is certainly ahead of others in making such choices early.
The OECD has estimated that by 2030, $90 trillion would be needed globally for maintaining existing infrastructure including energy, transport, agriculture and building new ones for catering to rising population. Two-thirds of this is needed in the developing countries. Apart from the expected gap of more than 20 per cent in financing the infrastructure development, embarking into making new and existing infrastructure green would incur additional costs. Allotting $100 billion per year in addition for the developing countries, therefore, appears tricky.
Apart from the gap in emissions and in financing, the gaps in trust needs also to be bridged as the climate start-up gets operationalised. According to the developing countries, that trust would be built if the developed countries demonstrate their own transformation away from fossil fuels in an accelerated way, fulfil pre-2020 commitments and provide financial and technology transfer to the developing countries speedily by scaling it up according to the needs. The developing countries’ acceptance of the GHG-emission reduction commitment, under the Paris agreement, concurrently with the developed countries, need to be matched by effective collaboration stewarded by the developed countries.
The Paris Agreement has not only entered into force but also entered into a race against time. It is said that the value of an idea behind any start-up is in deploying that idea. This is more than true for the global start-up on climate. Unless the rules that would be formulated in Marrakesh are not hard and fast, just and must, the start-up runs the risk of going from incubator to intensive care unit.
Chairman TERRE Policy Centre, former Director UNEP and an IIT-alumni