Paris agreement is not to tear up the UN climate change convention: J M Mauskar

Interview with Former negotiator for India

J M Mauskar

J M Mauskar

New Delhi
J M Mauskar, the first co-chair of the negotiations that began in 2012 and will culminate in the Paris agreement, spoke on how the negotiations have evolved since 2011 when work began on a new agreement. An ex-IAS officer who has negotiated for India from 2006-2011, Mauskar spoke at length with Nitin Sethi. Edited excerpts.  

 You were the first co-chair of the negotiating process in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that will end with the Paris agreement. Tell us a bit about it

The fact is, the Asian group which nominated me as the first co-chair from the developing countries for these negotiations. Mind you, the Asian group is the most diverse group including countries like Saudi Arabia, developed countries like Japan and OECD members such as South Korea, besides Pacific Islands. This nomination, more than my ability, reflected India’s perceived role in fulfilling the Durban mandate to enhance the implementation of the convention before and beyond 2020.

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When Harald Doveland from Norway, who represented the developed countries, and I from the developing countries sat together the first task we thought we had at hand was to re-establish the trust between various countries, which very frankly had been impacted by what happened at Durban (in 2011). We tried to bring the issues out in the open with frankness so that aspirations of all the parties are there for others to know. We wanted everyone to know what are the green lines and the red lines of each country.

Red lines mean what the parties didn’t want to happen and green lines mean what the parties wanted to happen. As co-chairs our task was to work between the red lines and the green lines and come out with a conclusion that reflected their views in a constructive manner. I wouldn’t comment about the nuances of the negotiations at the moment but the fact is the global environmental imperative is a promise we made at Durban and we need an agreed outcome at Paris. I optimistic that we shall achieve that outcome and the attendant administrative decisions that will have to be implemented before 2020 and the enhanced climate action between 2016-2020.  I am happy that India has asked me to attend Paris, where the culmination of what we began will take place. I would miss Doveland and wish he could also be there.

Have France learnt the lessons from the failure of Copenhagen meeting in 2009?

The first Conference of Parties (Cop or the annual negotiations at the climate convention) I attended was in 2006 in Nairobi. I must say France, as the incoming presidency, has done marvelously well. They have assimilated the experiences of all the previous COPs – positive and negative.

The outreach efforts mounted by the French embassies supplemented by the efforts from Paris is appreciable. In India, of which I know more intimately, the embassy interacted with all the important stakeholders and I am sure that varied inputs were indeed sent back to the headquarters not only from Delhi but from other capitals as well. The Presidency of France therefore has a better sense of what countries want from the agreement – including what was explicitly said and what was implied.

In a sense this may be the game-changer as compared to Copenhagen. This could be the difference between failure and success at Paris. The intent of the exercise now at Paris should be to optimise and not minimise or maximise the efforts to the fight climate change. Various stakeholders want to do this or that but it’s the task of the co-chairs and the French presidency to bring about an optimised pact that yields reasonable satisfaction to all.

What is the controversy over whether the Paris agreement will be under the existing UN climate convention or not?

In 2011 in Durban I was wearing the Indian negotiator’s hat and saw it from that perspective. There were some hold-all phrases like “Under the convention” and “strengthening the regime under the convention” that were agreed to by all countries for the Paris agreement.

These had two purposes. It gave the overall direction to what kind of results were expected eventually out of what started in Durban. On the other hand, they concealed differences between the parties which would have come out had the language being more explicit or sharper. We agreed that the Paris agreement would be under the convention which means it would be solidly based upon the Convention and not a rewriting or tearing-up the Convention and having a new agreement in place. Similarly, it was agreed that Paris agreement would aim at strengthening the convention. These were phrases used as mutual reassurances between countries.

We would anchor our efforts like we have done now in Paris solidly under the convention but it was also promised that the imperative of the unfolding climate challenge as the IPCC reports show would also be taken on board in the new agreement. This has to be done now keeping in mind the 5th assessment report of the IPCC and the review of the implementation of Convention done in 2013-15 as well as work of the convention’s subsidiary bodies.

What are the major differences between developed and developing countries at the moment?

People who are more touch with negotiations from 2013-2015 have written in great detail about these differences. What I want to say is that if you have clarity about certain aspects then the resolution of differences would become easier. The first key issue to my mind is the relationship between the Convention and what we are going to have as the Paris agreement.

Second key issue is how the INDCs (the pledges given by countries) are going to be treated. The way they have come out, after the agreement in Lima in 2014, they are the sovereign contributions of the countries. If one glances through the INDCs – they have been determined at the highest level of government in each country and after consultations with various national stakeholders. Now it is not clear to me whether these very INDCs will be implemented post-2020 or countries could be asked to revise them.

If countries can agree to the sacredness of the INDCs submitted by countries after their sovereign and domestic consultation then it would be a big step forward. The idea to review these INDCs in order to amend them before implementation – this could be a problematic issue. I have also read about the question of the legal form of the Paris agreement – the bindingness of agreement and its contents. We should remember the worthy maxim: Contents decide the form of the agreement and this issue needs to be handled sensitively.

There is a lack of trust between the countries and back-sliding on the existing commitments by the developed world. Your comments?

The fact is that 2007 global economic slow-down had its own impact on climate change efforts and the specially the provision of finance and technology from developed countries to the developing countries who are in need of these means of implementation. There is not only a trust deficit but a real physical deficit. We all hope as world progresses it will become more equal and balanced. The ambitious INDCs from the developing countries appear to be is a good effort to address this need for balance.

What is the controversy over the principle of common but differentiation responsibilities (CBDR) being reflected in the Paris agreement?

I don’t think there is any difference of opinion about the principle of CBDR being the basis of the Paris agreement and that Paris agreement would have to be equitable and fair. In fact, you remember, when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were recently finalised by the UNGA CBDR was very clearly anchored there. If it is anchored there then the logic and need for it to exist in anything to deal with climate change challenge is even stronger.

The issue that is apparently dividing developed and developing nations is how to implement the differentiation in each element of the Paris agreement. A solution to this is must and I still think that what was decided by all countries – to solidly base the agreement on the convention and that it is ‘under the Convention’ – is our best way forward.

What you must understand is that the world is not likely to undergo a sea-change by 2030 and SDGs give us a clue of the agreed thinking – remember it was agreed by all countries as recently as September 2015.

Then why are we shy of anchoring the differentiation principle in the Paris agreement?

I am hopeful and expect that in 25-30 years the world would be much more equal. When we reach that point the efforts between countries would also become less differentiated. But that is something in the far future. The suggested way where the cycles of INDCs (pledges) in the Paris agreement is the way to go about to achieve this equitable world. Periodically they can be revised and nations can domestically decide how to after a global stock-taking.

The approach of having a cycle where each country enhances its efforts on the conclusion of previous cycle is also done keeping mind what science has to say about needed efforts and what the global stock-taking says about what countries have done and what kind of help they have been given for finance, technology and capacity building. This will build up a virtuous cycle. And I think that is the way out but I can’t imagine that while finalising an equitable and fair Paris agreement the principle of CBDR can be given a go-by.

How could countries resolve the problem of mistrust in Paris?

While it is often said that the past is the guide to the future but the unfolding of the climate change due to greenhouse gases is something that should make us look more to the future than the past. This again is a problem of mutual reassurances.

The developed country parties need to reassure the developing country parties that whatever happened in the past would not happen in the future and that they would fulfil their leadership role, which includes doing more to reduce emissions (mitigation) and provide enabling finance, timely transfer the clean technologies and help build capacities. On the other hand developing countries, to a large extent, appear to have shown their commitment to fighting climate change through their INDCs. If something more is required I am sure the negotiators can find the language to reflect it in the Paris agreement.

Many developing countries complain of lack of transparency in the climate negotiations. Your comments

I find that the word transparency has different connotations in the negotiations. Developed country parties use the word transparency to express their apprehensions that the developing countries may not actually be doing what they promise to do. The developing country parties use this word to express their apprehensions, learning from past events about the reality of global politics that has weighed in on international negotiations.

The fact is in this world which we want to make more equitable and more connected in future, issues of transparency should not be difficult to address provided there is nothing to be read in-between the lines.

First Published: Dec 2 2015 | 0:34 AM IST

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