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Politics of climate change

World leaders have gathered at Paris to attend the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC). There is hope among world leaders, especially among the developing countries, that the Paris Climate Change Conference could establish a framework to establish a just and equitable agreement that supports carbon-free growth. In the India context, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken of the need for a “global commitment balancing responsibilities and capabilities on one hand with aspirations and needs on the other”. Unfortunately, those in the developed world, led by the US, have already drawn the fault lines that could undermine the Paris Conference. In his remarks to the Financial Times, US Secretary of State John Kerry said that India was a “challenge” to the climate regime taking shape because of its “restrained” attitude and that its move to expand domestic coal use were “not in the direction we out to be moving in”.

India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar had shot back, saying that India poses no obstacles and will commit to doing its fair share. Suffice to say, India does not live under the illusion that climate change is a myth. India is one of the worst affected countries when it comes to climate change. In fact, India has taken greater initiatives than the US to reduce carbon emissions. Countries across the globe have committed to creating a new international climate agreement by the conclusion of the Paris Conference. In preparation, countries have agreed to publicly outline what post-2020 climate actions they intend to take under a new international agreement, known as their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Suffice to say, India’s INDC’s are significantly more ambitious than the US in terms of moving away from fossil fuels. By 2030, the US will have only 30 percent of non-fossil fuel in its energy mix whereas India has committed to 40 percent. Moreover, India has pledged to reduce emissions intensity in 2030 by at least 33 percent from the 2005 levels. What the likes of Kerry seem to overlook is that unlike the US, India does not possess large quantities of cheap shale gas that can substitute coal. Moreover, even today, the US has more per capita consumption of coal. And finally, America’s shift to shale is only indicative of its move away from renewable sources of energy.

The attempt by developed nations to embrace an ambitious agenda for climate change ignores the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility (CDR) that was evolved in the 1992 Rio conference and 2005 Kyoto conference. Under the principle, it was recognised that stupendous rise in carbon emissions has been the result of 150 years of industrialisation by the West. The logic was that greater responsibility lay with the West to clean up the mess they created. The CDR principle, therefore, sought to combine this notion of historical responsibility with a country’s individual capacity to act against rising carbon emissions. Unlike poorer nations, which have the responsibility to alleviate their poor from the throes of poverty, their richer counterparts must bear the cost of mitigation. India, for example, has 400 million without access to electricity and power generation is highly dependent on coal, a fossil fuel. Under the first UNFCCC in 1994, 20 countries had committed to emission cuts. When push came to shove though, the US refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol, which had committed nations to reduce greenhouse gases emissions. Washington’s rationale was that climate change could not be mitigated unless the likes of India, Brazil and China, also agreed to cut emissions. In this context, the latest draft of the UNFCC published before the Paris Conference, willfully ignores the CDR principle and stipulates heavy emission cuts across the board. These legally-binding cuts, according to certain projections, will cost developing countries a disproportionate $790 billion per year. The draft has no mention of how developed countries will aid their fellow developing counterparts in their attempts to cut carbon emissions in terms of both financial aid and transfer of cleaner technology. 

 However, this does not take anything away from the fact that India and the world need to urgently combat the dangers of climate change. In India, farmers are hit again and again with unseasonal rain, hail and extreme rain and temperatures, which are crippling their livelihoods, driving them to destitution and even death. Therefore, Paris needs to arrive at an effective and ambitious agreement to reduce emissions and to keep the world below the 2°C rise guardrail - an increase that is seen to be least risky and most attainable today.” Nonetheless, the likes of India and other developing nations must not give in to the West’s demands, without receiving guarantees for greater financial aid and transfer of technology. 
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