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G20 meeting: India defended climate change red lines

Developed countries wanted to pre-decide the contours of the Paris climate change agreement, which would have hurt India's interests

Nitin Sethi  |  New Delhi 

India defended climate change red-lines at G20 meeting

At a recently concluded talks of G20 countries, India prevented an attempt to pre-decide the contours of the Paris climate change agreement outside the formal United Nations (UN) climate convention negotiations, to start on November 30.

The proposals from the developed countries at the G20 meet to include a joint communique, which the 20 heads of states were to sign, would have breached Indian interests. The diplomatic tug of war with the developed countries in the meeting at Antalya, Turkey, on November 16 delayed the final communique by the heads of states for hours.

India was represented by the National Institution for Transforming India Aayog Chairperson Arvind Panagariya as the Sherpa for Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 talks. “It was surely a very tough and long-drawn negotiation,” said an Indian negotiator. The developed countries pushed for inclusion of three contentious issues in the communique, which have been difficult to resolve at the UN negotiations, and wanted to keep a reference to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities out.

An Indian official said: “We have always been opposed to plurilateral forums, such as G20, dictating terms to the rest of the world when all countries are engaged to deliver at the Paris meet. That is the right forum, where all countries get an equal voice.”

The decisions at a G20 meet are not added to the formal UN climate negotiations. But these hold great weight because some economically and politically powerful countries are members of the club. An endorsement of ideas at G20 often becomes difficult to fight off at the formal UN talks.

“The first draft of the communique did not have any contentious ideas but then these were introduced, which got us worried,” said one official. Business Standard reviewed the draft communique independently too.

A reference was brought in to endorse a recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report on climate finance, which said developed countries would deliver the promised $100 billion annually by 2020. As many as 134 developing countries in the G77+China group had publicly criticised the report for counting unrelated funds as part of climate financing. “How could we let that report be endorsed through the G20 ... when all of us acknowledge there are many problems with it?” said the official.

At the Turkey meeting, developed countries demanded the G20 endorse a mechanism to review and ratchet up the climate targets of the countries under the Paris agreement.

Countries have largely agreed to a periodic review of the targets as a collective. But large differences persisted over how countries would revise their targets periodically. The Paris meet would settle how these targets are periodically revised. For now they are determined at the national level and not the international level.

Developed countries raised only the issue of emission reduction targets but had no such review of their commitment to deliver finance and technology. Developing countries such as India wanted the wall of differentiation to continue in the review process, while keeping alive the linkage between their actions and the commitments of the rich countries to deliver finance and clean technology.

Another contentious issue brought to the table by the developed countries at the G20 meeting was a reference to what the long-term goal of the Paris agreement should be. At the UN negotiations last year in Lima, It was agreed the goal would be to keep global temperature rise in check below two degrees Celsius by the turn of the century. The developed countries recently proposed new terms, which were introduced in to the G20 communique as well, sources said. While the terms were not clearly defined, the developed countries were keen to get these in to the Paris agreement. Countries such as India opposed these, saying these do not retain the differentiation between the responsibility of the developed world and the poor. At the same time, these restricted growth of emerging economies, which depend more on coal.

India was able to ultimately prevail at the G20 talks and bring back the reference to the two-degrees Celsius goal that all countries have agreed to. It was able to also force back the reference to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities — the bedrock of the UN convention on climate change that developed countries are keen to weaken through the Paris agreement. On India’s insistence, along with some other developing countries, the G20 communique also ultimately said: “We reaffirm that the UNFCCC is the primary international intergovernmental body for negotiating climate change.”

This is not the first time that developed countries have used forums such as the G20 or the Major Economies Forum that the US hosts to push their views through the formal UN mechanism. “The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is a legal treaty and any negotiations outside of this forum is an attempt by developed countries to delink discussions from the legal context and obligations they have under the UNFCCC,” says Meena Raman of Third World Network, a think tank observer at the climate talks.

“This is unfair and an attempt to ‘steal a march’ from the sensitive and complex negotiations happening under the UNFCCC. Moreover, these processes outside the UNFCCC are not representative and inclusive of all countries. They are overly dominated by developed countries,” she adds.

When EU officials were anonymously quoted in media after the G20 meeting blaming India for “blocking” language favouring an “ambitious climate change agreement” it got a strong counter reaction as well.

“Ridiculous. You only have to as much as disagree to be called a blocker. Sad!” said Amit Narang, Counsellor, Permanent Mission of India to United Nations at New York and one of India’s climate negotiators. He had tweeted this.

“It is unethical and unfair to label developing countries who defend their positions as ‘blockers’ when developed countries advance positions that deviate from their obligations under the UNFCCC and against the interest of developing countries,” said Raman.

First Published: Mon, November 23 2015. 00:34 IST