Climate Change

Muted presence

India's participation at the recently concluded 22nd Conference of Parties was passive and lacked vision

By Vijeta Rattani, Shreeshan Venkatesh
Published: Thursday 15 December 2016
The 22nd Conference of Parties was held in the Moroccan city of Marrakech during November 7-18 (Source: IISD.CA)

The 22nd Conference of Parties (CoP22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held in the Moroccan city of Marrakech during November 7-18, was supposed to usher in a new era and play a key role in the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The Agreement, adopted by 195 countries in December 2015, seeks to restrict global warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels and will come into effect in 2020.

Optimists saw Marrakech as an opportunity to step up immediate efforts to tackle climate change. Even for the realists, who thought of the conference as more of a procedural step towards operationalising the Paris Agreement, the event marked an opportune moment to untangle contentious issues between the developing and developed countries. But by the end, it became clear that if CoP22 would be remembered, it would be for the uncertainty that afflicted it. The reason for the uncertainty was largely the result of presidential elections in the US, where Donald Trump, a climate change denier, emerged victorious.

For India, CoP22 provided an opportunity to voice its concerns because it is one of the worst sufferers of climate change. Rainfall has reduced, extreme rain events have increased and agriculture is becoming an increasingly precarious livelihood option in India. According to the World Bank, the country is home to 276 million people living on less than US $1.25 a day and 200 million people facing hunger. These are the most vulnerable sections of the society when it comes to climate change impacts. One would imagine that under such conditions, India’s presence at CoP22 would be assertive and discernible. The reality, though, was starkly different.

India’s lack of position was evident during the press conference of BASIC (a grouping of Brazil, South Africa, India and China) ministers on November 17, the eve of the closing day of the conference. While other ministers engaged with the media and put forth independent assessm ents and expectations within the group, the Indian environment minister, Anil Madhav Dave, seemed satisfied simply to agree with his counterparts.

Issues, such as the vulnerability of the agriculture sector, adaptation to changing climate and loss and damage caused by it, all directly affect India’s poor. Yet Indian participation in the discussions was passive. India had no representation on loss and damage due to climate change, which impacts developing countries more than developed countries because of their large populations and low coping capacity. Other developing countries made interventions to push for financial support.

A similar tale unfolded when it came to the contentious and vital area of agriculture, the primary occupation in India. India should have argued for inclusion of agricultural losses due to climate change in loss and damage calculations; but there was no official Indian representative in the discussions until the final sessions. With regards to adaptation (coping with climate change), the discussions remained futile and India had nothing to offer to break the deadlock (see ‘More loss than gain’).

Indian delegates mostly kept repeating the official lines of fighting for “financial flows” and prompt “pre-2020 action”. The “pre-2020 action” that India seems adamant on seeing through is based on the 2012 Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol. The amendment was meant to improve pre-2020 targets and actions. The amendment remains to be ratified even four years after it was signed. Moreover, since India has not ratified it, the demand it is making is hollow. Nonetheless, India recommended a deadline of April 2017 for ratification of the amendment. The deadline was not accepted and the countries merely reiterated that pre-2020 actions should be enhanced.

The other area of discussion where the Indian delegation showed keenness was the procedural elements for further guidance on the form and implementation of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). NDCs are climate actions plans set by countries and were submitted last year to UNFCCC. India advocated that heterogeneity of NDCs should be accounted for in the next cycle of NDCs. India also made active interventions on the issue of global stocktake, which refers to a five-yearly review of the impact of countries’ climate change actions and will happen for the first time in 2023. India said that this process should not burden developing countries and should take into account their differentiated capabilities.

The Paris Agreement talks about a “built-in flexibility” with regard to transparency framework to report progress on countries’ climate action efforts and emissions. The built-in flexibility has been understood in terms of differentiation, especially by developing countries. But developed countries have contested this and want parity of efforts.

India used the issues of transparency mechanism and global stocktake to press its long-standing demand of equity. The delegation argued that equity should be reflected in the formulation of modalities, procedures and guidelines (MPGs) of the Paris Agreement. However, despite the apparent determination, India had no implementing strategy on how equity should be operationalised or reflected in the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Talks on these issues will continue next year, when the countries make their submissions on MPGs.

Away from the negotiations, one of the catchphrases that India’s representatives repeatedly harped on was “sustainable lifestyles”. The phrase was even plastered across the extravagant Indian Pavilion. India argued that a sustainable lifestyle was at the heart of Indian culture and tradition, and pointed out that rich countries must curb their unsustainable consumption. Yet it failed to elaborate or quantify what exactly it meant by sustainable lifestyles and consumption. In the absence of such qualification of the phrase, the argument made for calling the Indian lifestyle sustainable could be dismissed as a circumstance of the widespread poverty and resource scarcity in the country.

One small achievement that can be credited to India was the signing ceremony of the International Solar Alliance on the sidelines of CoP22. The Alliance, launched during the Paris Summit in 2015 as an initiative of the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Francois Hollande, aims to mobilise more than US $100 billion in investments for encouraging the use of solar energy. More than 20 nations have joined the alliance and it will come into force when 15 nations ratify and adopt it domestically.

But on the whole, India’s performance at the meet left a lot to be desired. It is ironical that a country reeling from climate change impacts should have a mitigation-centric negotiation strategy. Our focus should have been on agriculture, loss and damage, and finance for low-carbon growth. India now needs to rework its negotiating strategy before the Bonn climate talks in May 2017, where these issues will be discussed again.

More loss than gain
At Marrakech the task at hand was to thrash out ways to implement the Paris Agreement. While CoP22 failed to deliver ground-breaking progress on most agenda, there was little attempt to address crucial issues

Agriculture: CoP22 was expected to produce some tangible measures to protect the sector from climate change impacts. But it got muddled in the divide between developed and developing worlds. Developing countries wanted agriculture to be primarily treated as an adaptation issue so that farmers can be supported through finance and technology transfer to adapt to climate change impacts. Developed countries proposed that agriculture be considered a mitigation issue, meaning countries need to cut down emissions from agriculture.

Adaptation: The Paris Agreement states that adaptation must be treated on a par with mitigation. When parties sat down to discuss ways to ensure this, utter confusion ensued. Some of the sticky points were how to report progress on adaptation, how to assess it and what should be the global goal of adaptation. However, there was one achievement. CoP22 agreed that the Adaptation Fund, set up under the Kyoto Protocol, be continued under the Paris Agreement.

Loss and Damage: One of the mandates of CoP22 was to review the two-year work plan of the Executive Committee of Warsaw International Mechanism meant for addressing loss and damage due to climate change, and adopt its five-year work plan. The adoption of five-year work plan has been shifted to next year. Parties agreed to developing countries' demand of support for loss and damage, though the conclusion paper does not mention any figure for the support.

Finance: Developing countries wanted a roadmap for Green Climate Fund being set up by developed parties, who have committed to mobilise $100 billion per year by 2020. Developed countries claimed that the roadmap has been published in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's October 2016 report that says they were on their way to secure $67 billion by public finances. But developing nations questioned the methodology used to prepare the report and insisted on more transparency in channelising money to the fund.

Transparency framework: The Article 13 of the Paris Agreement requires an enhanced transparency framework for action and support, meaning activities related to mitigation, adaptation, finance and support provided to developing countries. At Marrakesh, parties started to discuss common reporting criteria, methods and baseline years for these activities.

This story was published in the December 1-15, 2016 issue of Down To Earth magazine. 

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