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Arunabha Ghosh: 10 principles for climate negotiations

Refocusing attention on 10 principles could mean an agreement that is good for the planet, equitable for developing countries, and promotes India's interests

Arunabha Ghosh 

Arunabha Ghosh

Earlier this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India would "set the agenda for the upcoming Conference of the Parties", referring to the climate negotiations that will convene in Paris next week. On the sidelines of the opening ceremony, India will launch an International Solar Alliance (ISA), setting the stage for a new kind of cooperation among the parties. Hopefully the spirit of the ISA will reflect in the negotiations as well. Developing countries need a robust agreement that expands economic opportunities, not one that erodes their interests even as climate risks grow. Refocusing attention on 10 principles could mean an agreement that is good for the planet, equitable for developing countries, and promotes India's interests.

Principle 1: The primary purpose of the agreement ought to be to facilitate initiatives that make clean development technologies affordable and lower the cost of the required finance, in the interest of those who need them most. All parties are well aware that the sum total of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) does not add up to sufficient emissions reductions. The ultimate objective of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change would be fulfilled if technologies and finance became cheaper, thus making low-carbon development progressively ambitious, rather than forced or inadequate.

Principle 2: Collaborative and complementary efforts are needed towards this end. The development of new solutions to climate change (which could be designed as collaborative efforts) has often been conflated with country-specific short-term responses to climate change (which is a collective action problem). Countries have hidden behind each other (ignoring their historical responsibilities), setting up climate action in a "you first" formulation. But the same free-rider challenge need not apply when developing and deploying new technologies, business and institutional innovations, and financial products, which could put cleaner energy solutions or means of adaptation within reach for all.

Principle 3: Concrete results can be achieved if the focus were on domestic measures for clean energy, energy efficiency, sustainable transportation, low-carbon agriculture, better building design, etc. with emissions reductions as co-benefits.In fact, investments should be directed to developing countries, where the potential is greater for exploring, experimenting and deploying clean pathways for economic development.

Principle 4: It is in the interest of developing countries to showcase their efforts in deploying clean development solutions and contributing to developing and reducing the costs of such solutions.Rather than be defensive, Mr Modi has recognised that the "the world needs to be convinced that developing countries are not enemies of environment". On the contrary, India's targets, articulated in its INDC, are disproportionately greater than those submitted by wealthier and more polluting countries and regions.

Principle 5: Differentiation must be operationalised, not abandoned. Contributions must be complementary,efficiently contribute to reducing the cost of clean development solutions, benefit developing countries, and differentiated in a way that is consistent with climate justice. Some have argued that since all countries are now submitting INDCs, differentiation is no longer valid or has been compromised beyond repair. That need not be the case. Differentiation is still necessary in intended effort, outcomes, financial contributions, technology, monitoring, review and compliance.

Principle 6: In the spirit of equity and climate justice, a change of lifestyles is necessary to shrink our energy and resource footprints. When all countries are contributing effort towards climate action, it is no longer tenable to argue that lifestyles are not up for negotiation. The world's majority (countries and people) cannot underwrite the profligacy of the minority. Above baseline levels of consumption, resource use must be appropriately priced and/or taxed.

Principle 7: In the same spirit, countries that have emitted more greenhouse gases historically should help those combating the impacts of climate change. There is sufficient evidence to illuminate the rising direct and systemic risks associated with climate change and those responsible have to bear the costs of damages imposed on others.

Principle 8: Access to adequate finance, including for adaptation,is key. Negotiations cannot be restricted only on how to secure $100 billion committed under the Green Climate Fund, but instead reoriented to how trillions of dollars could be directed to low-carbon initiatives. Towards that end, public funds should serve specific purposes: covering licensing costs of clean technologies; lowering risks associated with clean tech R&D; lowering the cost of private finance; and leveraging public funds by several multiples for private investments.

Principle 9: Solutions are no longer the sole preserve of developed countries. Innovations in technologies, business models, financial solutions and community participation within developing countries have lessons for other poor and rich nations. The emphasis must be on: open membership to all countries willing and able (now or in future) to join targeted technology partnerships; recognising and rewarding both cash and in-kind contributions to build and leverage the capacity and institutions within developing countries; and co-development and co-ownership of new technologies, which respects intellectual property but minimises mercantilist trade barriers.

Principle 10: If efforts were coordinated globally, costs could be reduced faster. This is indeed ISA's purpose: developing common standards, increasing diffusion and absorption of solar technologies, promoting R&D collaborations, and lowering financing costs across member countries.

These principles can be translated into textual negotiating proposals, acceptable to developing and developed countries. India is setting the agenda in international partnerships; it can do so in the negotiations as well.

The writer is the chief executive, Council on Energy, Environment and Water (