What's with the Climate?

Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate Change


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BONN Ultimatum?

Saumya Chaudhari*

In March this year, the world-renowned physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking revised his Doomsday Clock and declared that humanity only has 100 years before a cataclysmic event destroys life on Earth. He accompanies these apocalyptic predictions with seemingly fantastic solutions for survival. These at best involve, a one-world government and at worst, colonizing other planets for multi-planetary human existence.  One would hope that these possibilities, both terrifying yet exciting, would evoke sincere efforts and accelerate collective global actions to combat disastrous climate change.

In this backdrop, the world once again gathered together in Bonn, Germany (8th-18th May, 2017) in the hope of furthering the climate negotiations at Paris and following through with their commitments. Every attempt at climate negotiation begins with countries standing at vastly varied footing, looking towards a commonly acceptable ambition and pace to achieve the same ends. Considering the enormous disparity between the economic and social positioning of all Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), arriving at a consensus on many issues at the Conference of Parties (COP) is undoubtedly challenging. However, it is the political considerations of a nation that reinforce this disparity and prevent a magnified outlook and a possible compromise between Parties. Some suggest that politics may be kept aside and a pragmatic approach be adopted in order to arrive at an agreement on an issue of such global importance. However, the recent political shuffle in the United States has visibly held progress of years of climate negotiations at ransom. Creating a vacuum in place of leadership at the Bonn climate talks, the new US government was suddenly seen denying climate science and hinting withdrawal from the Paris agreement altogether. The US, with a record of the largest contingent of diplomats from a single country, was represented by merely seven officials at Bonn with a clear agenda to advance US business and commercial interests.

In the eyes of a lay observer, the tussle at each Conference of Parties (COP) essentially surrounds the incompatible interests of the developing and developed nations. The Paris climate agreement of 12th December, 2015, was hailed as landmark since it culminated years of attempts by United Nations to forge an international and collective consensus. Nearly 200 nations had signed the agreement. The decision to contain the rise in global temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius (above pre-industrial levels) had been agreed upon by both developed and developing nations alike. In addition, periodic stock-take of progress on national commitments, provision for an adaptation fund for developing nations seeking to combat climate impacts, etc. were settled between all Parties. However, in seventeen months from Paris to Bonn, the positions of countries have altered and the unanimity between the Parties on these issues is less evident.

Put simply, the compromise between the developing and developed nations is essentially one that strikes at the question of equity. The developing countries believe that the major chunk of contribution to the climate change that manifests itself today has been caused by the developed countries due to their reckless economic and technological growth since the industrial revolution. Following this reasoning, they conclude that mitigation efforts today must witness ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibility’ (CBDR) with a focus on the developed countries that have nearly peaked economic and human development indices. This is opposed to the developing nations, some of which continue to languish and others that are inching towards economic goals along with efforts to alleviate poverty, hunger, diseases, and fulfilment of basic human rights for all citizens. As expected, the issue of CBDR is a bone of contention between the two blocks of nations. So is the issue of adaptation fund and technology transfer that puts the onus on the developed nations, firstly, to contribute towards the adaptation strategies of the developing nations; and secondly, to assist their transition to low emission economies by providing innovative technology. Despite having agreed upon these commitments in Paris, the developed countries were seen re-evaluating these at Bonn.

National agendas for progress lie at the heart of active political considerations. At this point it must become clearer why the international climate negotiations are largely at the mercy of the political regimes globally. Political shifts in countries that pivot on certain matters of primary concern to nations may leave other matters that are not perceived as critical unhinged and astray. Despite its urgency for over a decade or two, climate change has failed to occupy this central position in any national agenda. With the rise in global terrorism and the risk to national security, a jingoistic approach to development has overtaken most parts of the world. Many democracies have begun nurturing populist measures instead of measures that foot holistic and sustainable development of the country.  In such a situation, concerns such as adaptation to climate change lack the necessary political wind beneath its wings.

Clearly, political flux cannot be kept mutually exclusive from climate negotiations. However, for concrete results that effectively mitigate climate change, national commitments of Parties at COP cannot be as fickle as politics would render them. Nearly all Nationally Determined Contributions and goals for climate change mitigation fail to legally bind Parties. In the absence of real political will towards collective action, it becomes easy to evade these commitments. Therefore, every climate talk that seeks to build upon the previous efforts may appear more like another fresh start with countries possibly approaching the forum with altered political agendas.

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source: World Resources Institute

Being the two largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world as per the World Resources Institute, the US and China usually led the developed and developing fronts at the helm of climate talks. With the US taking a backseat, the mantle has now passed to the European Union. At Bonn, the EU was seen rising to the occasion, taking the lead and seeking future collaboration with China and Canada. At this point it is also worth considering that although EU is in principle a single entity, the positions of the EU member nations are not identical. This may raise doubts about the consistency in their position on climate change as a single entity in the future, especially in light of Brexit.

For any effective progress, it is imperative that the commitments by Parties be made legally binding. Although there exist progress trackers and a framework for periodic reviews on various parameters such as individual efforts, implementation, transparency, adaptation, etc., a system for holding nations accountable for the results is lacking. Goals once agreed upon at COP must be unalterable by Parties despite any political flux or change in the national political regime. Further, any scope of deferring effective action must be eliminated. This usually involves ambiguity surrounding the agreements signed at COP. For instance, the meaning of the term ‘equity’ when applied to global stock-take of progress on national commitments was unsettled. Although the term was first introduced in the Paris talks, it was sought to be interpreted and clarified by the developed nations over a year later at Bonn. Such delays may be averted by timely and thorough discussions and in its absence pose as convenient opportunities to evade compliance. These measures among others may mitigate the effects of ill-conceived political decisions that risk undoing years of global progress. Maybe with some sincere strides in the right direction, we could hope for Mr. Hawking to revise his Doomsday prediction and lend us some more Earth time.

(Saumya Chaudhari is, a law graduate from the National Law Institute University, Bhopal, set to begin her career as an environmental lawyer in Delhi.)

 


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A Whole INDsea of Issues OR Incrementally Nonsensical Difficult and Confusing

Pandora Batra 

Seeing as large international organisations telling individual countries what to do and how to do it hasn’t really worked so far, in the lead up to the COP 21 countries have been asked to provide their own ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.’ (INDCs). These take the form of a report from each of the UNFCCC parties (countries) outlining what they are going to do to reduce CO2 emissions and help their populations adapt to the impacts of climate change.

You may have seen mention of India’s INDCs in the news recently as they were released on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday (2nd October, 2015) and have created quite a stir in the Indian and global climate change community.

The main Indian INDCs in the report were:

To reduce the emissions intensity of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 33% to 35% by 2030 from 2005 level.

Translation: rather than making absolute reductions in emissions they are pledging to reduce the amount of GHG emissions released per unit of GDP.  They are saying they will continue to develop but reduce the amount of emissions that this development causes.

To achieve 40% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030.

Translation: “installed capacity” means that lots of solar parks/ wind turbines/ hydro and nuclear power plants will be built but that the actual electricity generated from these non-fossil fuel technologies will be lower due to transmission and and generation losses.

To better adapt by enhancing investments in vulnerable sectors.

To create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of co2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

Translation: Plant many trees..but what kind of trees? And newly planted mono-culture trees do not a forest make!

To better adapt, to mobilize domestic and new and additional funding from developed countries and to build capacities for improving research and development (R&D) opportunities and implement the above mitigation and adaptation strategies.

The reactions to India’s INDCs have been varied; Climate Action Tracker  which assesses the ambitiousness of each countries targets places India in the medium category, better than countries like the US and Russia but not as ambitious as countries like Brazil and China. Climate Action Tracker also claims that India is likely to over-achieve on its targets without having to update or implement any new policies. i.e. If India sticks to the targets they had made before the INDCs came out then they will overachieve on the INDC targets. Basically, the INDCs don’t really change anything, they are a nice bit of motivation and publicity but the targets aren’t moving India towards reducing its emissions faster or more efficiently.

What does this mean in global terms? Do the INDCs add up to the 2°C target? Well, according to a recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) the answer, simply put, is no. In fact the IEA report stated that “If stronger action is not forthcoming after 2030, the path in the INDC Scenario would be consistent with an average temperature increase of around 2.6 °C by 2100 and 3.5 °C after 2200,”

Contact: Pandora Batra- pandora.batra@hotmail.com


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Which way will we walk?

Source: DTMMS

 A Story from Mother’s Tales and Imaginary Hot Air Balloons

by Nimesh Ved, Tobias Dorr, Daniela Boos

 
During school days, of which I have endearing memories, my mother used to teach me mathematics during evenings. This primarily dealt with basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. This ‘rough-work’ as it was then referred to, used to take place, on most occasions, on envelopes. Reverse of envelopes that had brought in letters, news-papers and magazines; after scraping them open with foot-rulers. White and colourful, large and small, it used to be fun to tear and get them ready for use.

Mother’s point was (and still is), to use a thing – big or small, expensive or otherwise – optimally and explore alternate use after the article was rendered unfit for its primary usage. Added to this was the dictum of only buying items that one needed.

These values I somehow imbibed. Years later when I was part of teams in Saiha (Mizoram) and Baghmara (Meghalaya), we used to regularly get Sanctuary Asia, Down to Earth, Seminar India and other engrossing reading companions to these endearing places. Envelopes that brought in these were put to use as ‘sorters’ in the office files.

Mother’s reasoning, then, was guided more from the point of saving money (a scarce resource itself!) than others. This could be, without much difficulty, today shrugged off as a miserly approach to life. But is not this facet the same as espousing a lifestyle that is low on ecological foot-print and climate friendly?

Evidence of climate change and its impact can be already observed today in daily life, at a time when we are still able to make a change. Most farmers in multiple states across the country observe changes in rainfall patterns, a decrease in duration of the winter season, uncertainty of arrival of seasons and other issues that impact farming. They may have never heard of terms like climate change or global warming, but they understand the associated phenomena well.

For instance, a researcher working on the impacts of climate change on agriculture shared that farmers lamented that their festivals have lost their bearings during recent years due to changes in climate. These changes lead to alteration in cultivation cycles and most of their festivals revolved around these cultivation cycles. It is heartening, she said, that farmers, in different regions, have designed and implemented strategies to adapt to climate change. Many farmers in Odisha, in areas affected by soil salinity owing to the Super Cyclone in 1999, had switched from paddy to crab cultivation and betel leaf plantation. Apple cultivators of Himachal Pradesh had shifted to higher altitudes owing to the rise in temperatures; apple requires a cooler climate for a certain period.

After dwelling in my childhood memories and recognizing the challenges of climate change the earth faces these days, I moved to imagining the world 50 years down the line. How would India look like some time in 2065? Where and how would people live? I closed my eyes and I flew over the country in an imaginary hot air balloon – and I was surprised: Continue reading


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Climate Finance Missing from the Agenda: How do We Achieve Equitable Deal?

by Ram Kishan

Many UNFCCC stakeholders see climate finance as one of the linchpins holding together the entire climate negotiation process, and for good reasons. First, climate finance is key to closing gaps: delivering funds to implement mitigation and adaptation activities is required in order to ensure the highest possible efforts. For mitigation, this means keeping the planet on a pathway that limits global warming to 2°C or less; for adaptation, this means enabling climate-resilient development. Second, the provision of climate finance fulfils developed countries’ financial commitments to developing countries under UNFCCC obligations. Third, some stakeholders maintain that developed countries, which provide the means to implement climate change projects (finance, technology and capacity building) will determine developing countries’ level of commitment and buy-in to a new climate deal in 2015.

There is only one year left before the COP in Paris, where the Parties are expected to adopt a protocol – another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the UNFCCC – that is applicable to all Parties. There are few political openings left to reassure developing countries that their domestic climate actions will receive commensurate international support. In this context, the COP in Lima is a critical opportunity to provide the necessary predictability, which is currently missing in the negotiations.

Now that we are 3 days away from the end of negotiations at COP 20 in Lima, lets reflect on the past few days…

An [In]equitable Climate Treaty in Paris 2015?

World leaders have been touting COP 20 as the conference to pave the road to a legally binding treaty in Paris in 2015. By Day 9, however, divisions between the Global North and Global South are making themselves known, particularly around the ADP (Ad hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform) also known as the fundamental base for negotiations to get to Paris. With many of us pushing for equity to be at the heart of next year’s climate deal, it is disheartening to see the degree of division among member states. Particularly upsetting is that it is the so-called “developed” countries that seem to be actively working against equity thus far.

We are already seeing problematic comments from the EU, U.S., Australia and Switzerland — supported by Canada and New Zealand — on climate financing. Likewise there has been strong pushback on linking climate finance through the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund to international law. This is deeply troubling as it essentially opens the door for countries to set their own terms for funding adaptation and mitigation efforts in the Global South. Continue reading


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Developing Countries Unsatisfied with New ADP Text @Climate Talks

The men of paper are still negotiating the future of life in Lima. Clarity has started evolving on number of issues including watering down of the language of old draft decision text. The new text has been drafted by the co-chairs Artur Runge- Metzger and Kishan Kumar Singh of Ad- hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhance Action (ADP) with the help of UNFCCC Secretariat. It was done after the agreement in an informal conversation termed as “Friends of Chair” meeting. The idea was to propose synthesized version with consolidated inputs of all parties. For developing countries, the given text in no manner looks like consolidation and reflect the views of few parties and not all.  Developing countries are raising red flags as according to them, most of their suggestions have not been included where- as the interventions of certain parties (in all probabilities referred to developed countries) have been added to it.

China is not happy with the procedure of not including its core ideas and questioned the rationale of the co-chairs in proposing the new text. It’s important to note that many of China’s inputs are there including those on “annexure-1” i.e. complementary information on Intended Determined Contributions of parties (iNDCs) which is now “annexure -2” in the new document. China’s interventions are covered in Option -3 & Option- 5 of annexure and more to do with detailing of actions taken by parties to mitigate and adapt to climate change.  Ecuador and Bolivia, chair of G-77 + China, raised questions about fairness of the process.

Venezuela was too loud in expressing its lack of clarity as the new draft makes reference to number of texts which are yet to be prepared. This makes the process very confusing. India sided by all of them. I’m sure while reading this you must also be left perplexed. But what can I do, the whole process is complex, leave aside lay men like you and me, the negotiators are also clueless of the happenings. Continue reading


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Environmental Justice and India’s Stand on Climate Change

by Manish Gautam*

The last past weeks have observed a slew of activities on the front of climate change discussions. IPCC released the Synthesis Report AR5, that basically syntheses and integrates the findings and recommendations of the three working groups of the fifth assessment report, entailing a ripple of negations and affirmations on the findings, and the mitigation targets. Almost at the same time, the world witnessed the historic China-US deal to cut their carbon emissions, an immediate and necessary step, ending a long stand-off between the two leading and the biggest polluting economies.

The Indian government has been giving mixed signals to take action against this lurking threat. Indian government has recently reconstituted the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change that will inform and advise the government on domestic actions on climate change, indicating that it is determined to combat and take measures against Climate Change. Beginning 2008, the National Action Plan on Climate Change, a scheme well-informed with IPCC findings and recommendations, has been evolving; it paved ways for several State level Action Plans, and the Indian government claims to pursue voluntarily set targets with commitment and conviction. Moreover, there are plans to boost up solar power capacity five folds to 100 GW by 2030, highlighting significant step towards adopting renewable energy.

India has been asked, along with other countries, to announce its GHG emissions peaking year, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, by the month of June 2015. Interestingly at the same time, the government has been avoiding any involuntary commitment to set up a mitigation agenda. The ministers reiterate the growth mantra at the global fronts stating that the priority is to eradicate poverty, although the Indian government claims to pursue an alternative pathway for its growth that will curb greenhouse gases emissions and asserts that this growth will be equitable and fair. Continue reading


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Conspiracy Theories, Linguistic Politics & Tech Inefficiency Hijacked Day 3 @Climate Talks

Dispatches from COP 20, Lima.

Another day passed at COP 20 Lima, is the best expression to inform the readers about what happened on the last day (3rd December). Science is recommending urgent action, but there seems to be no urgency in the talks. The negotiations are taking place in English, better say “English with overflowing jargons” which is not the first language of most of the delegates present. As a result clarity is sought on almost every phrase mentioned in the text. All this is justified and helps in democratizing the process, but it is a painfully slow process and progress is being made at snail’s pace. I’m following the discussion on the draft decision text of “Advancing the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP)”. Last day in the session dedicated to ADP, countries had cat fights in very diplomatic still unkind language.

To fasten the conversation on ADP, Co-chair of the session, Kishan Kumar Singh, proposed to start with general reflection of countries that are called parties on draft text. Their thoughts in the form of interventions can be gathered at the same time through email and placed on website for everyone to access. The chair with the support of secretariat can later incorporate those inputs, synthesize and place it on wider screen for longer detailed discussions. This was considered undemocratic by many countries. Nigerian delegate with “newest version of Apple Laptop” on his table registered his protest against the proposition in high pitch, by saying that he and others are not very tech-friendly, and will prefer the text on the bigger screen to begin with. To me, that act seem to be nothing more than a delaying tactic as they can see the draft text on their laptop screen and avail the interventions  from the UNFCCC website, and reserve and share their thoughts by notifying the chair. Too much to ask for from those who own Mac devises?!

South African delegate hinted that the inability to display on the text on screen is a conspiracy of developed countries to impose their agenda, delegation from Argentina also voiced similar concerns. Developed countries which include Switzerland, United States suggested toeing the line of the chair and moving further. Frustrated with the slow progress chair- Kishan spoke in harsh and sarcastic terms, and said tomorrow the session will begin with the text displayed on screen- “we will go line by line, word by word, comma by comma, and full stop by full stop”. On which South African delegated reacted with humor and wit, saying- “Mr. Chair, are you threatening by saying-‘line by line, word by word, comma by comma, full stop by full stop’”. Tuvalu whose existence is being threatened by climate change chose to facilitate the conversation. Tuvalu’s intervention was to constitute “Friends of chair” to define the procedures. Kishan still angry and frustrated, went on to question whether there are any friends left in the room? Continue reading