It important to deconstruct the politics of differentiation
The core aspect of disagreement, or distrust, that has emerged at the Paris climate conference is “differentiation”, or how to differentiate the actions of developed and developing countries. This isn’t the first time this issue, that can only be resolved at the level of political decision-making, has figured or emerged as a core issue in climate negotiations. It has been there since the Bali Action Plan of 2007. In Paris, though, this issue has acquired a more serious dimension than ever before. At stake is the very integrity of the climate convention, the basis for all the negotiations that have taken place, and are taking place.
Developed countries want the annex-based differentiation to go. In the 1992 climate convention, two annexes, or lists of countries, were created. Annex 1 (developed countries) and non-Annex-1 (developing countries). This was created, and listed in the Convention via a rigourous INC process that lasted two years—INC stands for the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, that finalised the text of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as it stands today, 1990-1992—to reflect the fact that some countries were historically responsible in causing the "forcing" that led to climate change and that some countries had pressing, important priorities such as poverty eradication and therefore had the right to emit, for their economic development. Under the Convention, developed countries were also mandated to support developing countries with finance and technology development and transfer, so that they could better adapt to the impacts of climate change and, also, better transition towards a low-carbon economy.
But now, developed countries believe that such differentiation is no more valid. They point to countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE who are non-Annex 1 countries. These countries have high per capita emissions, high per capita income and high human development index. Lately, the North has also started including China, Brazil, South Africa and India in this "new", "changing" list because of their high aggregate total emissions and rapid economic growth.
Developing countries, on the other hand, are convinced that Annex-based differentiation must continue. Their conviction is based not only on the fact of historical emissions, but also that Annex 1 countries, even now, have very high per capita emissions. If we take 1850 as the starting point, then more then 60 per cent of all CO2 emitted so far has been from developed countries. Developing countries believe the historical responsibility of developed countries remain as valid, today, as they were in 1992.
What adds to this belief is the sad fact that, since 1992, developed countries have hardly met their commitments. They have failed to meet their commitments on finance. They have failed, collectively, to reduce Annex 1 emissions as significantly as they promised. Whatever emissions have reduced in Annex 1 countries is because of outsourcing of emissions to countries such as China and India. That is, the developed countries, instead of manufacturing products in their own countries, are now outsourcing industrial products from the developing countries.
This contest now threatens to rip apart the Convention. Developed countries are now saying that the Paris agreement need not be under the UN Climate Convention, rather could be “supportive” to the convention. This is a red line for many developing countries. They will never accept this. Here is a devastating impasse.
To break this impasse, it important to deconstruct the politics of differentiation. So far as developing countries are concerned, even if some developing countries are not comfortable with annex-based differentiation (such as some least developed countries and AOSIS), all want, in greater or lesser degree, the Convention principles of Equity and Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR), to get reflected in each and every element of the Paris deal.
But developed countries are out to bypass the Convention, going by their press briefings and by their negotiation behaviour—the new redlines they keep proposing. The ‘differentiation’ quotient they have for different elements of the deal are all different. Whether it is mitigation, adaptation and providing finance and technology. For mitigations or emissions reductions, they have proposed (and now it is universally accepted) “self differentiation”. That is, countries will self-differentiate their mitigation targets through the bottom-up process of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). As President Obama put it in his original style at the opening of the Paris climate conference: "Targets that are set not for each of us, but by each of us’ (emphasis added)”. And as Todd Stern unilaterally declared in his first press briefing of December 2: ‘the [INDC] targets are not legally binding’ (emphasis added).
Formulations such as these are in the advantage of developed countries. In such a regime stark "self regulation", no one can push nations such as the US to undertake deep de-carbonisation of their economies. They, therefore, have provided significantly weak mitigation targets in their respective INDCs. In fact, they will continue to misappropriate the remaining carbon space.
The world just has 1,000 gigatonnes of atmospheric, emitting, space. Shouldn’t the developed world vacate this space so that countries like India, South Africa, Bolivia, Brazil, Angola, and another 129 developing, least-developed, existentially threatened nations survive and grow? This is the question the developed countries are assiduously avoiding at the Paris CoP.
On finance, they are talking about “dynamic differentiation”. They are using terms like “evolving responsibilities and capabilities” which means that when a developing country crosses a certain threshold (say in terms of per capita emissions or income), they too should contribute to finance. Lately, developed countries have started saying the developing countries “a position to do so” should contribute to finance.
Developed nations have been vocal about their financial support to Least Developed Countries and AOSIS and not to countries like India. This is pure "salami tactics": break the unity of developing countries in Paris. They are offering money to some of the poorest countries of the world, so that they just keep quiet vis-a-vis the positions of countries like India.
So, at this juncture, it is important for the developing countries to be smart about differentiation. They cannot keep parroting the old melody.
On the mitigation side, it is quite clear the bottom-up, self-differentiated approach is built on weak climate integrity. It will always be "lowest common denominator". We will never be able to keep global temperature increase within the 2-degrees safety threshold under this approach.
Similarly, on finance it is impractical on the part of developed countries to say that their financial support will only be for Least Developed Countries. Simply because countries such as India have a very large number of poor people and they, too, need support for adaptation and loss & damage.
Lastly, it is in no one’s interest to say that countries like South Korea, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait or Singapore should not do more. But it is unfair to treat these countries as if they were developed countries. The reason is very simple. Their historical responsibility in causing climate change is still far lower than that of developed countries.
So how should we move ahead?
The above 10 point approach is a honest way to deal with differentiation. It keeps the annexes yet encourages more developed non-Annex countries to contribute more to strengthen global solidarity around climate change. It also operationalizes differentiation is true sense through fair allocation of carbon budget.
All the above things can be done within the Convention and therefore there is no need to rewrite the convention or the annexes.
Let’s be smart. It is too late to get bogged down.
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