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India's wins and losses at Katowice Climate Change talks

From adaptation to finance, a good degree of balance on all aspects is advantage New Delhi

Nitin Sethi  |  New Delhi 

The Indian team at Katowice could have achieved a better result

The result of bad bargains India struck at the political level in accepting some provisions of the came to haunt it in the shape of final rulebook three years later at The rulebook to the had been under negotiations for three years, starting 2016. During these years negotiations were hit by a change of regime in the US and developed countries at large strategically driving the starting point of the talks far away from the It took a collective effort of developing countries, in which India played its role, to make sure that the rulebook stays largely loyal to the letter of, if not in conformity with the spirit of the Paris agreement.

In the face of these geopolitical realities, and that the global community had decided to do its bit to try keep the US in the agreement, therefore allowing the US more leeway than it had got at Paris, the developing countries, including India achieved what looked a distant goal at the beginning of talks.

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For India, one of the key wins was to help bring a good degree of balance between how the rulebook elaborated on all the pillars of the Paris Agreement, from mitigation, to adaptation and finance. The evidence of this lies in the way India lead and ensured that the nationally-determined targets of countries under Paris Agreement can reflect actions on all fronts and not just emission reductions. In the climate negotiations jargon this meant making sure the nationally-determined contributions or NDCs are full-scoped. The detailed guidelines on the NDCs required of counties would apply from the second phase of the Paris Agreement - in India’s case when it revises its NDCs in 2030.

It also showed in how india worked closely within the Like-Minded Developing Countries. and in alliance with the Africa Group of Nations, to make sure the finance pillar of the agreement also got substantially beefed-up in the rulebook when the developed countries want it hollowed out.

Along with its allies, India particularly ensured differentiation was peppered across the rulebook, even if sparingly, after the US had repeatedly said that it saw no case at all for ‘bifurcation’ between countries’ obligations under Paris Agreement.

There were, however two nodes of the rulebook on which India lost some strategic space it could have avoided had the small negotiating team been given the mandate by the government back home to hold its ground. To a lesser extent, the fact that India did not have a minister in attendance, leave alone a minister well versed with the negotiations, during the critical second week of ministerial level negotiations in handicapped it from being more forceful during the crunch hours.

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Making some compromises, India did not stand in the way of the rulebook being gavelled through. But, candidly confronting the developed countries in an open forum - developing countries mostly do this behind closed doors - India formally expressed reservations about specific rules to operationalise equity under the Katowice climate package.

Transparency regime

One strategic loss it suffered was on the transparency regime under the rulebook, to review and assess how countries have done against their nationally-determined targets under the Paris Agreement. The rules came out more onerous and restrictive for developing countries than was desirable, believe several experts. The second loss, of a slightly higher order, was the inability to embed equity deeper into the rules for what is called the global stocktake mechanism.

The Indian team at Katowice could have achieved a better result if it had had been given a wider mandate, to stand alone if the need arose, by the cabinet. Ministers and negotiating teams of several other developing countries and groups came armed with such a mandate at Katowice to defend their redlines and consequently they either secured a better deal or ensured the contentious issues were deferred rather than get decided against them. Butm each country also played to its larger geopolitical heft and space in the global arena.

India went to Katowice seeking a degree of differentiation between developing and developed countries over how the transparency regime is imposed. Developed countries, including the US, on the other hand, wanted the transparency regime to have three basic characteristics that militated against Indian interests. One, that a common set of metrics and reporting obligations should be imposed on both developing and developed countries starting at the earliest, with exception and flexibility available only for small island developing states and least developed countries. They wanted the reporting obligations on emission reduction efforts to be granular and deeper and that on their obligations to provide finance and technology to be as weak as possible. Third, they wanted the transparency regime to not help throw light on the linkage between their financial obligations and the conditional emission reduction targets of developing countries that the Paris Agreement still provides for in a weakened form as compared to the mother on Climate Change.

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India, not particularly keen to seek global financial support for itself, had greater interest in countering the first of the three objectives of the developed countries - maintenance of differentiation in the transparency regime. What it ended up agreeing was the most minimalist form of differentiation and that too limited to a timeframe it shall have to publicly declare.

Developing countries will now have the right to self-determine what bits of the common transparency regime they accept based on their national capacities. But they would have to inform what those capacity constraints are and submit a deadline against which they shall remove these constraints.

This time-bound and minimal differentiation shall present a challenge to the government as well as the industrial and agricultural sectors of the economy. India’s emission inventories till date are built on an easier set of metrics, a rudimentary primary base and large areas of extrapolated data.

This challenge could still be overcome with some degree of adroit and a large dose of rigour in inventorising emissions from different sectors of the economy.

Taking stock of equity

The principle of equity has continued to hold a place in the decisions and agreements under the on climate change over years, though each year it’s been rendered relatively more diluted. The principle is of value to India - a large emerging economy with large number of poor still deprived of basic material standards and living at low and extremely low income levels.

The Paris Agreement ended up a much diluted version of the the principle with the Indian government forsaking a more rigorous version in a bargain that instead brought short-term fame for the political leadership in 2015.

The rules under negotiations at Katowice, presented an opportunity to operationalise the principle even in this diluted form.

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The hook to operationalise equity lay in the rules for the global stocktake process.

Under the Paris Agreement, starting 2023, every five years an aggregate-level assessment is to be undertaken of how well the countries have collectively done through their nationally determined targets to keep the global temperature rise in check. The countries are required to revise their targets in successive phases of Paris Agreement in light of this assessment. This is called the global stock take. It was in India’s interest that equity form an intrinsic basis of this periodic assessment, besides the science on emission reduction gaps. It would have ensured that India’s efforts to reduce emissions are seen in light of how much it has contributed to both, the stock of greenhouse gas emissions historically and the current and likely future flows of emissions that it generates. The Indian delegation asked that the inputs to the stocktake, the assessment process and the results of the assessment, all three, consider equity as a central parameter. The US and the Umbrella group of countries initially refused to even see the word equity reflect in the rules for global stock take.

Till the penultimate day of Katowice talks, India insisted that equity find center-stage in the specific rules. The G77+China developing countries drew a common stance on it even in these late hours - but as expected, it drew towards the lowest common denominator that even reluctant sub-groups such as the Least Developed Countries could live with. It was an idea closest to India’s interests and required India to take a harder position till the end. The Arab group had done so on its priorities, the US on its and Brazil for its interests in the new carbon market that will be set up under the Paris Agreement.

But, India’s negotiating mission, under restraints from the political leadership and other larger geopolitical concerns decided not to stand out alone, and ask for deferring the decision to next year. What it got as a consequence was a face-saving language but not an operationalised principle of equity. The overarching reference to equity was ensured. It was left to the countries to give inputs if they wish on equity - rendering greater burden on India to continue to pitch it up high in every stocktake. It was deleted from the outputs expected from the stocktake.

To several observers, the steady dilution of differentiation and the principle of equity that went a step further at Katowice reflected how far the world had come from the original on Climate Change without having ever really implemented it. But, as one of the observers said, “This war of attrition did not begin at Katowice. It will not end with Katowice. A new climate regime is being rendered. A law was written to try upend the Convention. At Katowice developed countries tried to upend the law through the rules. They won a little, like every year since 2010.”

Key areas where India protected its redlines

Rules allow countries to cover all pillars of the Paris Agreement under the Nationally Determined Contributions or targets it presents

A balance in the level of detailing in the rules governing different pillars of the agreement.

A higher degree of details on climate finance than that the developed countries had fought hard against.

Two Strategic losses

A highly diluted operationalising of equity in the global stock take process of the agreement

A more onerous transparency regime for developing countries scrutinising their performance

First Published: Wed, December 19 2018. 18:13 IST