Sunita

Narain

Director General of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and the Editor of Down To Earth magazine. She is an environmentalist who pushes for changes in policies, practices and mindsets

Intolerance in Paris: an opinion by Sunita Narain

As I write this, it is two days to the endgame at the Paris climate conference. Despite problems, everybody is clear that there will be an agreement. Let me explain why

Illustration: Tarique Aziz

As I write this, it is two days to the endgame at the Paris climate conference. There has been little breakthrough on the contentious issues that elude an agreement, but still everybody is clear that there will be an agreement.

I am beginning to understand why they are so confident. Let me explain.

For the first time since the beginning of climate negotiations, the erstwhile climate renegades are in in control of the dialogue, narrative and the audience.  The Umbrella Group is a grouping led by the US and includes the biggest rich polluters,such as Australia and Japan, who have always been in the dock for not taking action to combat climate change. In Paris, these countries have done an image change.

They are now the good guys. They want the world to be ambitious in meeting not just the 2°C temperature threshold, they are pushing for even staying below 1.5°C. They say they are pushing because they care for the small island nations, which will suffer horrendous consequences with rising temperatures. They also want an effective arrangement to monitor progress and to ramp up actions to meet these targets.

How can this be wrong, responds a spellbound audience.

This makeover is not overnight, or sudden. These countries have also done their homework, so that the script is crafted skilfully and the propaganda is spread. Audaciously.

Their civil society has been cajoled that this is their time – the US NGOs’ allegiance is absolute because they (genuinely and naively) believe their government is doing all it can in spite of Republican Party opposition. Their media is in full attention – the likes of The New York Times and BBC have been seconded to scold and reprimand developing countries governments like India for misbehaviour. So, what the US government officials cannot say, their media spells it out. It is fine tactics and grand theatrics. And nobody speaks without a cue.

If you are not one of them, then the script is also pre-rehearsed for you. The promptness of the response – The New York Times published an article chastising the Indian prime minister for daring to speak about fair share of the carbon budget within hours of his speech in Paris – should tell you this.

The screenplay goes like this. If anyone raises an issue, it is first dismissed as being obstructionist. Then, it is said, these issue-raisers are anti-American or—even more reductively—anti-something. Then, if you persist, you are told you are merely an unwanted pest. You are basically told that you should get lost, because the party is over. Climate change is real and now all the emissions that could be burnt have been burnt and nothing remains.  

But you don’t give up. If you still persist and demand that the deal should be equitable – that their lack of ambition is what has put the world at risk today and that they must vacate space – their response is the ultimate shut-up.

They simply say: catastrophes are at our doorstep and you are asking for bread? How immoral and insensitive can you be? Shame on you! 

These countries forget that it is the very countries that ask for leftover crumbs that are the victims experiencing worst weather-related calamities. They have not contributed to the emissions that are causing the increase in temperature. But they are certainly worst impacted today. The stock of gases already in the atmosphere comes from the same countries that are on the high pedestal today.

The fact is the Umbrella Group has spurned all efforts to control their own runaway emissions.They have not contributed money. They have not contributed technology. They have not done anything to pay for a transition to clean energy in the developing world. Ironically, they want the transition to happen only in the developing world.

But it is also a hard fact, not an irony, that once the carbon budget is consumed – as they have done – there is little anybody can do about it other than cry injustice. It is also a fact that these countries continue to have unambitious plans to curtail their emissions. But since their takeover of the climate talks is complete, there is nobody to ask these inconvenient questions.

There is no other way to explain theabsolute lack of dialogue that exists now. In Paris, in this COP21, there seems nobody else is in attendance. There is only one narrative and no conversation. The Europeans who are hosting the conference are lost.The French, always adroit in managing conflicts, seem vacuous and irrelevant.

But it is clear that if we want live in an interdependent world, voices of dissent cannot become illegitimate or be put on mute. This is climate change intolerance. And like all intolerance, this must be resisted and won over.

A well-hatched plot

A well-hatched plot

Indications are that India will be made the "fall guy". Developed countries will try at every step to propose changes in the 1992 convention, just to attract opposition from India

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  • Paris draft -- Recognizing the intrinsic relationship between climate change, poverty eradication and equitable access to sustainable development, and reaffirming responses to climate change should aim to meet the specific needs and concerns arising from the adverse impacts of response measures--.

    They used all types of jargons: creation of decent work and quality jobs development priorities; safeguarding food security and ending hunger, and the particular vulnerabilities of food production systems to the adverse impacts of climate change; promoting, protecting and respecting all human rights, the right to health, and the rights of indigenous peoples, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and under occupation, and the right to development, in accordance with their obligations, as well as promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women, when taking action to address climate change, Noting the needs and integrity of terrestrial ecosystems, oceans and Mother Earth. –

    All these refer to “climate change and pollution aspects only” and are nothing to do with the global warming and emission control.
    However agreement to be signed related to three scenarios of limiting global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels [below 2 °C, 1.5 °C, and below 1.5°C]. All this refers only global warming and yet they are shy of using this word and instead used climate change which has broader issues that were not dealt in the draft has the ramifications cited under jargon mentioned above. This is how UN is wasting public money for honey moon trips in every two years fooling the public.

    Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

    Posted by: Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy | one year ago | Reply
  • Implementation is a very different reality to be acted upon.Narrations,expectations,documentation this is the imagination we live in! Its clearly seen and knows economic profitability,developmental agendas stand importance and will environmental protection cannot be seen here! Either of this will have its base.

    Dhruvita.acharya@gmail.com

    Posted by: Dhruvita Acharya | one year ago | Reply
  • Madam Sunita Narain and Dr. Chandrabhushan, It is a pleasant surprise hearing from you ! Your real concern for the planet is evident by the post . I too share your anguish . Your concern is well expressed by your optimism that "There will be an agreement" True, the Sinners are posing like the saviours, while the sinned have to suffer humiliation by the Renegades or Apostates !
    Reading in the media about the inaugural speech of our beloved Prime Minister Mr. Narendrabhai Modi, I was a little piqued that he has made some tall promise of mitigation of GHG through harvesting Solar energy by India. It is true that solar panels are a must for a Country like ours which has a plenty of Solar Energy to harvest . But the enormous funding required would delay its deliverance !
    I have tried to reach Mr.Modi on a very easy and beneficial CDM which could be the appropriate process of mitigating Methane and Nitrous oxide and Carbon sequestration is another avenue available to us. Let me put it through stars(*) in the following lines :

    * India along with the other Asian countries, is accused of emitting almost 18 percent of the world's total of Methane, due to the cattle population. The mitigation could negate the emission and also provide Clean Energy ! The cattle excreta could be utilized by producing Methane as cooking gas . Excess Methane could be used to generate clean electric power. The Co2 emitted as by-product could be sequestered to be fed to the garden plants. The Slurry from the gasification plant could be value added fertilizer for the farmers. Even vermi-composting would be a welcome input to the farming practise ! The Methane could be bottled to use as combustible gas. The holy cow is no more a burden to the farmer and a living one could support a family even if it doesn't provide milk.

    * Same as above, the Urban Waste too could also be processed for Biogas production ! This supports the "Swachch Bharath" program of Modiji. While, individual house-holds could be provided with Gasifiers for cooking using their own wet waste.

    * Another green area is the so called Green Revolution of the sixties which depended for higher farm yield on the Chemical Fertilizers ! More than the intake of the cropping plants, excess Nitrous oxide (severe by 300 times the CO2) escaped into the atmosphere ! If the farmer reverted to the farm house manure the ground water toxicity would reduce too ! India is paying a huge price by way of subsidy on the imported Naphtha and reverting to farm yard manure would help reduce the burden ! That would mitigate N2O emissions!

    * Farmers in India have a traditional knowledge of Carbon Sequestration through the post harvest agri-waste.The biological waste is burnt under a heap of soil before the onset of monsoon to produce what, in scientific term known as Agri-char/ Bio-char. This is nothing but pure Carbon which when supplied farm crop sequesters CO2 from the atmosphere for higher rate of Photosynthesis.! CO2 is the limiting factor in the process of Photosynthesis.

    All the above would substantially mitigate GHGs ! All the above, along with the Solar Power would be our contribution to Mitigation of Climate Change.

    Madam Sunita Narain and Shri.Chandra Bhushan ji, I have just thought over the above matter and if you find merit in that please use your good offices to bring it to Indian Delegation so that our stand would be vindicated .
    Once again I thank you for remembering me.
    Regards
    Prof.B.Harishchandra Bhat




    *

    Posted by: Harishchandra Bhat | one year ago | Reply
  • This is a very powerful piece, and gets across a very important truth. These countries insist they want a 1.5 degree world, but there's nothing in their promises to suggest that. Greenwashing is not just for companies--Bill McKibben

    Posted by: Bill McKibben | one year ago | Reply
  • Hi Sunita. Eloquent piece. But I am wondering if this view (I am assuming this is also the general standpoint of the Indian party to the negotiations) is too cynical and in the end damaging. I have followed the American climate change politics for quite a while, and yes there has been an image makeover, but surely in a positive way. The obama administration has been doing everything it can over last two years to ensure Paris is a success. Amongst others, they pulled off agreement with China last year on climate change that gave hope to everyone, even the environmental movement in US. After so much the Obama team has single handedly pulled off despite the vast network of corporate interests, does an obstructuonist viewpoint help in protecting our common home?

    Posted by: Shiv Vembadi | one year ago | Reply
  • To portrait India as a victim is a no-solution.

    This strategy was a wrong choice made by your government at COP21. It went nowhere and made India loose its intellectual credits. The Chennai flood confirmed it very well during the COP21 : Climate change is here, ok, but the Chennai's problem was Indian mismanagement of its own environment (your low quality of urbanism) and own killing of your life system (your destruction of farms, trees, ponds). Nobody in Paris entered into your guilt-trip. The motto of the COP21 was "nature is winning the war we are making against it : The time is to be global and human first, national and political after". India missed it totally.

    This strategy is also the choice made by your communication. It will go nowhere but lure your public in a no-future. You are paving the way to a shock therapy : the shock of climate change and biodiversity loss coming your way will open opportunity to your own rich to exploit you more... because you are misleading your public against foreigners and letting insiders robbing them.

    My opinion is that your guilt-trip will make you loose more than you can imagine. You will not only loose your nature but also your culture. It is a pity to see India loosing its philosophy and then intellectual leadership specially when the world needs it.

    Posted by: Cdp | one year ago | Reply
  • To portrait India as a victim is a no-solution.

    This strategy was a wrong choice made by your government at COP21. It went nowhere and made India loose its intellectual credits. The Chennai flood confirmed it very well during the COP21 : Climate change is here, ok, but the Chennai's problem was Indian mismanagement of its own environment (your low quality of urbanism) and own killing of your life system (your destruction of farms, trees, ponds). Nobody in Paris entered into your guilt-trip. The motto of the COP21 was "nature is winning the war we are making against it : The time is to be global and human first, national and political after". India missed it totally.

    This strategy is also the choice made by your communication. It will go nowhere but lure your public in a no-future. You are paving the way to a shock therapy : the shock of climate change and biodiversity loss coming your way will open opportunity to your own rich to exploit you more... because you are misleading your public against foreigners and letting insiders robbing them.

    My opinion is that your guilt-trip will make you loose more than you can imagine. You will not only loose your nature but also your culture. It is a pity to see India loosing its philosophy and then intellectual leadership specially when the world needs it.

    Posted by: Cdp | one year ago | Reply
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