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The Geneva round of negotiations for a Paris climate deal, as well as subsequent pronouncements by key governments, indicate that the Paris summit this December will be bogged down by the usual bickering, and end up with a treaty too weak to combat global warming

(image by Mikael Miettinen)

(image by Mikael Miettinen)

Every time bureaucrats sit down to draft a climate deal, the draft balloons with more square brackets – the UN euphemism to indicate lack of agreement. Last month’s round of negotiations in Geneva was no exception, though bureaucrats around the world are still saying the ballooning did not go “out of control”, the negotiating text is now “only 86 pages”, so they should be congratulated.

Now the only way this is going to work – especially if the latest deadline of a new draft by the end of May is to be met – is through informal consultations, and as the host of the next summit, the French government has started such consultations in right earnest. Now other governments need to show more urgency to start intra-bloc talks, since most countries do their climate negotiations through blocs. The current text of a climate treaty draws up the broad boundaries within which governments have to work. Now is the time to start looking for convergences and compromises.

What are the main contentious issues that have resolved if there is to be a deal in Paris?

Differentiation, equity and effort sharing

This remains the area of maximum disagreement. The bloc of Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) – of which India is a member – perceives differentiation of mitigation effort between developed and developing countries as static concept. On the other hand, the Umbrella Group of countries – led by the US – and the European Union see this differentiation as dynamic, evolving over time.

Two recent attempts have been made to get over this issue. At the last climate summit in Lima, Peru, the Brazilian delegation came up with the concept of concentric differentiation, by which a country would move from outer to inner circles as its GDP improved, and would take on progressively more mitigation responsibilities.

India did not oppose the idea, but expressed concern about the lack of identified criteria that would move a country from one circle to another. That is the lacuna which has now been corrected by a proposal from Ethiopia during the Geneva session. The criteria suggested by Ethiopia are open for discussion, and it is important for India to come up with a set of reasoned responses by the next negotiating session in June.

Intended Nationally Determined Contributions

It is now apparent that the Paris climate treaty will essentially be a summation of all country INDCs. So what goes into the INDCs is crucial. EU and the Umbrella group want INDCs to be limited to mitigation action, which India and most developing countries want issues of adaptation, finance and technology transfer to be added.

India is on a very strong wicket on this, and it makes sense for the country to submit a concrete INDC that includes all aspects of the fight against climate change. Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar has said India will probably submit two options in its INDC – one, what the country can do on its own, and two, what it can do if it receives adequate finance and technology transfer.

India’s 2015 budget has taken the articulation of the country’s mitigation actions a major step forward, by calling excise duties on petrol and diesel a de facto carbon tax. Now it is time to put all these together in a strong INDC statement.

Pre-2020 ambition

Rich nations are keen on a Paris agreement, which will come into effect after 2020. Developing countries, led by India and China, have been consistently pointing out that industrialized countries are not raising their mitigation ambitions between now and 2020.  Developing countries have also been alleging that this is an attempt by rich nations to shift the mitigation burden to poor nations. They have said their mitigation ambitions in a post-2020 world will be lowered unless developed countries raise their own ambitions right now.

This is probably the weakest and most vulnerable spot in the negotiations. Without substantial movement on this point, it may lead to a disaster at Paris.


This is going to be the key bargaining chip for developed countries in the run up to Paris. The positive momentum before Lima was produced through pledges amounting to $10 billion by the developed countries. This momentum should be kept up during the current year which would lead to meeting the goal of mobilising $100 billion a year by 2020.

Developing countries are not convinced that this target will be met. But if developed countries show some honest attempt to put money into the Green Climate Fund, the negotiating atmosphere can change very quickly. The Geneva talks made very little progress in this regard, so the pledging conference at Addis Ababa later this year is going to be crucial.

Positioning India

Due to various reasons, in recent years India has been seen as a regressive force in climate negotiations. Now the Prime Minister has communicated the country’s resolution to provide solutions instead. Indian diplomats and other negotiators need to understand that if the country is to secure its demand for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, the constructive role it plays in UNFCCC negotiations is going to be an important stepping stone.

But constructive suggestions need technical backing, of which there are few available at the moment. India needs to come up with a GHG emissions trajectory that will meet its development goals while enabling the country to play a constructive role in climate geopolitics.

India also needs to improve its ties with smaller developing countries. Far too many of them, especially among the least developed countries (LDC) and small island states (AOSIS and SIDS), see India as an obstacle to a strong climate agreement. Indian diplomats keep denying this, because nobody says this to their faces – but diplomats from many countries do say it in private.

Maldives is the current chair of the LDC group. Repairing relations with it has become more complicated due domestic developments in that country, but perhaps an attempt can still be made, at least at the level of climate negotiators. It will be important to get support from LDC, AOSIS, SIDS and the Africa Group in the areas of adaptation, finance and technology transfer.

The BASIC countries – Brazil, South Africa, India and China – need constant coordination with the other developing country groups. There is an advantage right now, as South Africa is the chair of the G77 and China group. Indian negotiators need to work more closely with their counterparts in South Africa and all other developing countries for a Paris treaty that will secure India’s interests and effectively combat climate change at the same time.

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