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Developed countries are backtracking on their commitments: Ajay Mathur

Interview with Member of the Prime Minister's Council on Climate Change

Nitin Sethi  |  New Delhi 

Ajay Mathur
Ajay Mathur

Ajay Mathur, member of the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change, director general of the and India’s principal media interface on the talks, speaks to Nitin Sethi on India’s interests in the negotiations.

What are India’s objectives at the talks?

There are two. The whole world should start moving on a path that shall ultimately take us to a world in which the temperature increase is not more than 2 degree centigrade above the industrial era. And at the same time we do this in a manner that we are able to provide the benefits of energy and therefore carbon space to peoples’ lives, whether it is lighting their homes or from moving from point A to point B or whether it is machinery, all of that would need energy. Those are the two broad objectives. We therefore think, a system that is based on countries pledging – what is called nationally determined contributions – is a good way ahead. It allows countries to do what they can. It allows them to meet those goals and get the confidence that they can do that much and more. It helps countries to build up the trust that everyone shall deliver. This virtuous cycle of trust and confidence is a good way to move ahead.

But if this virtuous cycle does not produce adequate effort from the world to keep temperature rise below 2 degree Celsius. Then, there is the suggested review process and subsequent ratcheting up of pledges and there is the stock-take proposal. How does India see this happen?

We see that each country would be reporting – we already have the biennial update report – these would be done in a manner that we have already agreed to. The monitoring reporting and verification is happening according to the ICA (International Consultation and Analysis) for developing countries and IAR (international assessment and review) for developed countries – this is how we see it. So the world comes to know what is happening. What the global stock take does is see where everyone’s effort collectively takes us. We therefore would like that global stock-take be an indicator that provides a measure or signal of what countries need to do more and not just on mitigation but also on finance, technology. So it’s a global stock take on both mitigation as well as means of implementation. This would provide the information that is needed for countries themselves and for groups within countries and then decide how they want to do more. We agree that each country should do more every time they make a nationally determined contribution. So this time if you say India has said India’s emission intensity would be reduced by 33-35% below 2005 levels by 2030, we certainly expect that when we give our next target it would be even greater, we won’t slide back.

So if I understood you right, you said the targets would be nationally determined and not internationally?

That is right.

If nationally determined numbers of countries collectively don’t add up to what is needed, and not just on mitigation but on finance and technology, then what happens?

One of the things we have learnt over last so many years of working together is that what works is public Therefore I think what is most important is that there is a periodic and transparent mechanism by which countries actions as well as the resources that are provided are put out in the public domain. We believe that is the best driver for each country to not only do what they have promised but even do better than what they have promised.

Did you also suggest differentiation between developed and developing countries in the review process? Please explain what is meant by operationalization of the principle of differentiation in the agreement?

We are looking at differentiation across all elements. When we are giving our INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) there is a kind of self-differentiation that is already occurred. Countries that are early in their development are promising that the carbon intensity of their economies will become less. Those countries that are already developed are pledging that their emissions will reduce by absolute levels. So, what we are seeing is that there is a self-differentiation that has occurred. This is in the mitigation goals. Similarly in the measurement reporting and verification or MRV we would like to see a differentiation occur in the way the monitoring and review system is set up in developed and developing countries. So this is the particular way we want to move the concept of differentiation. Another place where we would like to see differentiation occur is on commitments to provide resources. The commitment is that of Annexe I countries and that is what should be included in the agreement.

So you are against ideas that countries willing to do so or with the capacity to do so, besides the developed countries, should also contribute to climate finance?

You know the phrases like capacity to do so it means someone else is making a judgement whether you have the capacity to do so or not – that seems very strange. Willing to do so – what does that mean? Is it a pressure tactic? So I think you have to stay true to the intent of the UN Framework Convention on which is that there is a historical responsibility and obligation of the countries which have this historical responsibility to provide this support. Beyond this what the countries want to do they can do it but that is outside the agreement.

Is this one of the key differences between India and the US as we saw with the sabre-rattling between the US secretary for state John Kerry and Indian environment minister Prakash Javadekar? Is differentiation the key problem between the two countries?

We see that developed and developing countries are very different and they are different from variety of reasons. As the famous and often noted phrase says: common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities – there are a huge amount of differences between these countries. To paper over them that would just mean that in the future that paper would be ruptured.

Are you indirectly saying that the US is trying to breach the firewall of differentiation and you don’t want that to happen?

The differentiation was done for a very specific purpose. It was to make differentiation between those who are responsible for historic emissions and those who are not. That calculus and those numbers haven’t really changed. We don’t see why that concept should be swept under the carpet.

Do you think Paris can deliver a road-map for climate finance from the developed countries and is it essential for India?

In Copenhagen and Cancun the annexe I countries committed – it is their commitment – that they would enable flows of up to US $100 billion a year annually by 2020. We are nowhere near those numbers. You know the Green Climate Fund numbers. So if we want to have a good chance of 2030 goals be met there would need to be a game-plan as to how this is reached. This is always an urgent issue for us. Not just for Paris, it was urgent in Lima and it was urgent in Warsaw. It will always be urgent. Why? Because a backsliding of commitments has been happening. There has been a backsliding of commitments in mitigation – many countries have not met their targets. There has been a backsliding of commitments in finance. In technology you can’t say there has been backsliding but there is nothing that has happened. So in this context there is an urgency to address the issues in every COP.

If at Paris US says we are blocking the negotiations because we can’t give you a roadmap on finance. Then what happens?

As I said, this is an issue which has been important for many years. We will keep insisting that we need a way forward. Individual countries may have their own problems but it is the collective response that matters and it is the collective commitment that we seek.

Can it come out as a political statement or would it necessarily have to be part of the legally binding core Paris agreement for you to accept it?

You know, we are going to Paris to negotiate, you cannot say it has to be my way and no other way. Yes we are going with some ideas about the issue but the point of getting together to negotiate is to get to an agreement that is agreeable to you, to me and to the other 190 odd countries in the room.

Indian environment minister Prakash Javadekar has said ‘let us not bring in new phrases and terminology at this time of negotiations’? He refers to phrases like decarbonisation and climate neutral. What do these phrases mean and what are its implications?

That’s the point, what do they mean? When phrases are introduced at a very late moment they mean different things to different The one who introduced it may have one meaning, those who are reading it have a second and then others who want to hijack it to have a completely different meaning. It takes time to all of these phrases to stabilise for all to have at least a similar understanding if not exactly the same meaning. That is why the minister would like that let us focus on the kinds of at least terminology whose meaning we already have. If we start negotiating everything from scratch then two weeks is too short a time.

The other thing the minister talked of was pledging of pre-2020 targets by developed countries at Paris and its review in 2018. Can you elaborate on it? Are pre-2020 discussions back on the table at Paris?

As far as we are concerned pre-2020 never went off the table for us. We want the developed countries not only to take of ambition in terms of 2030 – we certainly like it – but also think of ambition in terms of 2020.

Why is it so important?

Because we have five years. The kinds of institutional reforms, signals that the economies require to move are needed upfront. It’s like this. You have a stream of water coming out of the water pipe and you want to change its trajectory, you need to put the finger on the outlet of the pipe to redirect the water from the start where it is coming from. You can’t change the direction of the flow of water if you put your finger when it’s already half way across the lawn. Similarly in the case of carbon emission reductions, these trajectories are now being drawn so early achievement of action is a reflection that it is possible to achieve the final outcome. Otherwise what will happen is that when 2030 comes we will find the goals have not been met.

How likely is it that at Paris they will do so, considering developed countries have refused to ramp up their pre-2020 commitments so far?

It is something India has been saying consistently. The challenge is most important that Annexe I countries have to be brought to agree that the need for 2020 targets is serious and that they can be enhanced. Again, this is about negotiations. Our point of view is enhanced 2020 targets would signal to us that you are serious. And these targets include the US $100 billion dollar goal which we are very far from. My own feeling is that if developed countries are able to do so it would be a very strong signal that they are serious and they shall find us to be serious too.

Can an ex-ante review of the first round of pledges take place before 2020?

Doing an ex-ante review of INDCs is in a sense meaningless because are you asking to change their INDCs even before they have started on them? I think the more important issue would be to judge countries by their 2020 goals. We start judging after we are past 2020-2030 targets after we have passed it for their 2030 INDCs. We don’t know what an ex-ante review achieves except naming and shaming and pointing fingers. What else does it do? It doesn’t do anything useful in moving us forward to the less than 2 degree centigrade path.

On several issues I find India has similar views as that of the US. You seem further away from EU on this, which is also not willing to provide finance and technologies but wants a more strictly binding regime. Is it a fair assessment of the state of play?

What you have done is bundled various things in to baskets. Again, in a negotiation, by its very definition we will see there are areas of commonalities between different groups on something and with others on something else. In itself I don’t find anything surprising about it. You can make these basket of these commonalities but I wouldn’t draw anything much out of it.

Tell me more about how do you see the differences between EU and US at climate negotiations and not lump them together as just developed countries?

The differences reflect a very long historical tradition of very sturdy personal independence in the US which is based on an ever expanding frontier that they have and a very community-based experience that the Europe has had. But, both have huge caveats or provisos. While Europe is community-based, as EU has expanded we have seen we see differences of opinions between different EU states. As migrants comes in to Europe that has become a very contentious issue – again pointing fingers to how homogeneous those communities have be or want to achieve to be. And, these differences also flow in to the climate talks. Remember EU is a very large number of countries who negotiate together. This is both a strength but it is also a little bit painful in as much as they have to first negotiate amongst themselves so on the international negotiating table with other countries they are a lot more inflexible than the US.

On India’s membership in the Like-Minded Developing Countries, what is the cohesive force that keep the group together?

There are two factors that taken together put them in the same position. One is that they are large enough in terms of population and second that they are all at stages where their population still need more energy in order to have decent quality of life. When you multiply the both it means their growth in future is going to be substantial. Consequently, they have an interest in how we can meet the climate goals while also ensuring that their citizens get the energy that we need.

First Published: Sat, November 28 2015. 21:42 IST
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