Working for climate justice in a non-ideal world

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New Delhi must leverage its green commitment to secure carbon and political space for its development aspirations

Joe Biden’s election as President of the United States has propelled climate change to the top of the global agenda, enabling him to deliver on his promise to “lead a major diplomatic campaign” to increase global climate ambition. It also works well for him in rebuilding the transatlantic alliance, besides keeping the inner cracks of a tenuous Democrats’ hold in the US Congress at bay while being determined to tackle climate change. This is also in line with the ambitions inherited from his team, led by former US Secretary of State John Kerry (and now the President’s Special Envoy for Climate), many of whom are former climate warriors, some even from the era of the United States. President, Bill Clinton.

The movements of the United States

Interestingly, the United States is not only returning to Obama’s signing of the Paris Agreement with his voluntary commitments, but also back to the Bush era. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the presidential call to reconvene the Major Economies Forum (MEF) starting with a Leaders’ Climate Summit in April this year.

The MEF, which was first convened in March 2009, was born out of the Bush-era US efforts to attract major issuers.

It was also advancing climate change without taking into account the principle of differentiated responsibilities and the recognition of historical responsibilities, which are rightly enshrined principles of the climate discourse given the decades of persistent greenhouse gases. (GHG) in the atmosphere. The serious reluctance of emerging economies to qualify as “major emitters” resulted in the meeting being renamed the “Major Economies Meeting” given the obvious link between GDP and GHGs. While the purpose of the meeting was not hidden, the title change provided a pleasant feeling and one that was not possible for emerging economies to withdraw.

Severe message, border levies

This time around, the push seems to have come to an end, with all countries being urged to commit to net zero (GHG emissions) by 2050 with credible plans to ensure that this national target is met. Indeed, the Chinese, who posed to get there by 2060, were sternly informed to be there a decade earlier.

Inspired by the new US administration, the UN Secretary General has even called on countries to declare national climate emergencies in addition to forming a coalition for a carbon neutral world by 2050. To date, countries accounting for around 65% of global CO2 emissions have already accepted this. The UN Secretary General wants this figure to reach 90% by 2021.

These plans and their implementation will undoubtedly be subject to international review and verification. Not yet said, but the non-compliance may not just be denunciation and shame. Historical responsibilities and differentiation, of course, have no place in this discourse; but neither is the level of development. India, with its huge population and now one of the largest economies in the world, can easily be in the crosshairs of such talk, regardless of its extraordinarily low carbon footprint in per capita terms and its enormous imperatives. of development.

Added to the challenges of this proposed global target is the distinct possibility that the EU imposes carbon taxes at borders on those who do not agree to carbon reduction targets and do so unilaterally if there is no such thing. no global agreement. If for the moment the US administration appears ambivalent about these border levies, the possibility of their circumvention cannot be ruled out. In such a scenario, the rules of the World Trade Organization which currently exclude the use of tariffs for environmental reasons will certainly be changed.

An idea of ​​payment of funds

The issue of money, in particular the lack of it, is perennial in climate discourse. In this context, Raghuram Rajan recently presented a proposal to India – she calls on countries to contribute amounts to a global fund based on their carbon emissions above the global per capita average of five tonnes. This obviously discourages coal considerably while encouraging renewable energies. Those above the world average would pay, while those below would receive the money. While this suggests some fairness, it may be unacceptable to developed countries even if Mr. Rajan has lent himself to the drumbeat of forgetting historical responsibility.

As far as India is concerned, to begin with, such a proposal may seem appealing as India today has per capita CO2 emissions of just 2 tonnes and is a world record in promoting renewable energy. But will real policy allow a large economy to benefit from such flows of funds or even be the beneficiary of any form of concessional climate finance? Unlikely.

In addition, the long-term implications of such a proposal in the context of a rapidly growing economy and dependence on electricity produced from coal for several decades must be examined in detail, independently of the consideration of twists and turns that the negotiations could give to such an idea. And then, of course, there are alternatives such as emissions trading.

In addition, the proposal focuses on current and future emissions and, in line with the contract and convergence approach, allows practical considerations to trump fairness by not only neglecting historical responsibility, but denying also priority access to the remaining carbon space for developing countries. . In this sense, it penalizes them doubly while giving a certain laissez-passer to developed countries. It should be noted here that over 75% of the carbon space available to humanity to keep the global temperature rise at 1.5 ° C has already been used by the developed world and China.

The climate negotiations are not only about the environment and human well-being or even energy, but also about global governance, and will now be pursued with a vigor that requires India to calibrate its approach. economically and politically. Climate justice is imperative for India, which must leverage its green and pro-nature commitment to secure carbon and political space for its development and global aspirations. India’s diplomatic and negotiating efforts must be swiftly directed towards this end.

Manjeev Singh Puri is a former Ambassador and Chief Negotiator of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. He is also Distinguished Fellow, TERI: Institute of Energy and Resources. Opinions expressed are personal


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