Chennai Floods : Why India Must Support 1.5°C goal at Paris Climate Summit

By Sanjay Vashist

Chennai, India’s fourth-largest city is being battered by record-breaking rainfall that continues to pound the city. The weather and subsequent flooding have already claimed 270 lives, disrupted electricity and phone service in many areas, and forced the city’s airport to shutdown.

The deluge has raised many questions about the catastrophe and the increasing incidents of such extreme weather phenomena that has once again demonstrated that only growth and development cannot move us higher on Human Development Index unless we do not address the sources and prepare for the impacts of climate change.

The global concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – the primary driver of recent climate change – has reached 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in recorded history, and scientists have predicted that this is going to trigger more such disasters severely impacting ability of developing countries like India to cope, making it vital that the Indian delegation at the Paris Climate Summit must play a proactive and constructive role in the framing of a robust climate treaty as much to protect its present interest as to ensure a safe future for generations to come.

The general perception in the UNFCCC meetings is that “India is a difficult country” to negotiate with, particularly its “lack of flexibility” on key issues like ‘Review of Ambition’ by developed and developing countries, absence of alternate or bridging proposal on ‘Differentiation’, and lack of willingness to engage in proposals put forward by other countries and most of all its ongoing justification of ‘need’ for coal for development and economic growth.

The Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi’s speech on 30th November 2015 at the inauguration of Paris climate summit (COP 21) clarified India’s stand on key issues and   its willingness to be flexible on certain key issues to achieve a fair, just and durable agreement. The speech shows that India will contribute constructively in ‘Paris Outcome’. The issues that needs special notice are –

Long Term Goal (LTG) – The official Indian position has been to oppose ‘Long Term Goal’ of ‘Decarbonisation’ or ‘100% Renewable Energy by 2050’ or ‘Carbon Neutrality ‘in the coming decades. The opposition could be due to the fear of added responsibility of mitigation that could fall on emerging economies in absence on adequate and predictable technology transfer and finance commitments from developed countries.

In my view, instead of its apprehension of added burden of mitigation because by agreeing to the LTG, India should proactively put forward its proposal and make rich world accountable towards higher ambition on mitigation in context of its historic responsibilities and un-sustainable lifestyles. ‘Long Term Goal’ needs to be agreed with long term ‘Means of Implementation’ and compliance on both aspects. We support agreeing on no more than 1.5 degree C Temperature rise as a long term goal that will move us towards less climate induced disasters.

Differentiation – The definition in Convention on differentiation of Annex 1 and Non-Annex 1 is old and outdated, thus needs to be revisited in present context. By making this demand we are protecting interests of developing countries polluters like Qatar (44 metric tonne Co2/ capita), South Korea (11.8 metric tonnes Co2/capita) , UAE (19 metric tonnes Co2/capita), Saudi Arabia(18.1 metric tonnes Co2/capita), South Africa(9.3 metric tonnes Co2/capita) etc.

In the present World, we need to make those living with luxury (read Wasteful!) lifestyle accountable to vacate carbon space for poor and vulnerable to grow and thus if we expect developed countries to reduce its carbon footprint, we also need to make polluting developing countries accountable. Differentiation is a justifiable demand to avoid taking others burden and make them accountable to pay for interfering with our natural phenomenon but since we are growing and adding economic capacity, we should be open to take up our fair share of responsibility to contribute towards saving people and planet from the devastating impacts.. Thus we support ‘dynamic differentiation’ to be defined based on certain criteria that places India in a category as per its vulnerability, responsibility and capability. India should also be willing to graduate as per its added capability in future.

Review of Ambition in ALL Elements – Conidering the backtracking of countries that we witnessed on mitigation targets and following the lowest common denominator in Kyoto Protocol, it is imperative to regularly monitor the ambition of GHG reduction and implementation of commitments by countries to stabilise at 1.5 degree temperature goal.

Therefore, India should support ‘Ex-Ante and Post-facto’ review of mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation. In my view, the review needs to ensure that those with capability should raise the ambition based on its responsibilities. We believe that as the gains on renewable energy and implementing adaptation will be visible, that will add confidence to planners, clarity for long term actions and enhance political will in countries, thus we should capture the positive sentiments in Climate Agenda for Long Term Goal. The review should also be based on an ‘Equitable Framework’ to ensure the highest efforts with common goal.

`To a large extent there is an agreement even amongst the hard core India-baiters that its dependence on coal is justifiable in the context of development challenges it faces. But what flummoxes most is that even as it talks about its need for coal, it has announced massive renewable energy targets and is demanding finance, technology and infrastructure support from the developed world.

We are not here to judge others’ proposal but to build a climate regime for future and it is now vital more than ever that the climate change agreement to be forged at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) to keep global warming to the minimum at below 1.5 degree Celsius for a safe and sustainable world.

About the Author:

Sanjay Vashist is the Director of Climate Action Network in South Asia (CANSA) and also advising Climate Change Programme of Heinrich Boell Foundation in India.