India signed the historic Paris climate agreement at United Nations headquarters in New York along with more than 170 countries, marking a significant step for beginning work on cutting down greenhouse gas emissions to combat global warming.
Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar signed the agreement in the UN General Assembly hall at a ceremony hosted by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The ceremony was attended by heads of government, ministers, corporate leaders and artists. "This is a moment in history. Today, you are signing a new covenant with the future," Ban said, adding that, "We are in a race against time."
However, plenty of work remains to be done before the agreement becomes operational. For the agreement to come in to force, it would have to be officially ratified by at least 55 countries accounting for at least 55 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions. The signing on Friday, under international law, is one small and ceremonial step towards ratification. Under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, signing without formally depositing a document of ratification implies that the country has decided to act in good faith to not defeat the object and purpose of the treaty. Only a handful of small developing countries were expected to complete their ratification process on Friday. When negotiations for the Paris agreement began, it was meant to come in to operation in 2020. But the final wording of the pact leaves it open to being put in place earlier than 2020.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat listed out 135 different tasks of detailing the agreement that have to be completed before it can be operationalised - each of these is subject to negotiations between the 190-plus countries and requiring their consensus approval.
One key negotiator for India at the Paris talks explained, "If I was to draw a parallel to the Indian system, the law has been put in place, now rules are to be built to make it work." These rules will be put in place through negotiations over the next three-four years, away from the kind of public attention the Paris meet in 2015 garnered. But the rules, history of negotiations for Kyoto Protocol shows, require as laborious a process of negotiations with countries wary of the devil in the details and holding on for a bargain.
The agreement also entailed several actions, primarily by the developed countries, by 2020. On top of these actions was to ramp up financial support to developing countries. A decision taken in parallel with the Paris agreement asked developed countries "to scale up their level of financial support, with a concrete road map to achieve the goal of jointly providing $100 billion annually by 2020."
Similarly, accounting and reporting provisions are to be developed to put all countries at equal level of scrutiny. India had opposed this move initially but finally accepted parity in the accounting system under the Paris agreement.
Some think tanks such as the Third World Network, which engage with developing countries, had advised against a hurried signing of the Paris agreement in order to push the developed countries to come through on their pre-2020 commitments. But all major developing countries including India and China agreed to sign the agreement. Two senior negotiators for India and another for a large African country said there was a diplomatic push to ensure the agreement comes in to force during the Obama administration. One Indian negotiator said, "There is little benefit - apart from being seen as a 'good guy' - in singing on. On the other hand, I am also not sure of the negotiating benefit of holding on too long."
EU has still not ratified the second phase of Kyoto Protocol, years after it was cleared by all countries. The original Kyoto Protocol also took four years to be ratified after its finalisation. "Ratification is the real deal. The eyes will be off the ball in the next few years and that is when the negotiations will lead to rules that make or break the agreement," one of the Indian negotiators said.
In 2018, the countries are to also assess if the current target levels are adequate to keep global temperature rise under control. Alongside, developed countries have to biannually report how they provide the committed funds.