Ten days before it hosts a key UN summit, France’s foreign minister and special climate envoy have started a four-country tour in an effort to ensure a Paris deal

The Foreign Minister of France, Laurent Fabius met Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in an effort to ensure a Paris climate deal (Image by Press Information Bureau, Government of India)

Foreign Minister of France, Laurent Fabius met Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi as part of efforts to ensure a Paris deal (Image by Press Information Bureau, Government of India)

“We are in New Delhi to pay a visit to a particularly important country,” said Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister. “India is a key player and it is important that we understand exactly what is India’s approach to climate negotiations.”

Fabius was speaking in New Delhi on Friday at the start of a whirlwind four-country tour ahead of the UN Paris climate summit, a last ditch effort to ensure smooth negotiations towards a deal to combat climate change. He met Narendra Modi, India’s Prime Minister, and Prakash Javadekar, the Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change.

From New Delhi, Fabius and France’s special climate envoy Laurence Tubiana are going to South Africa, Brazil and Canada, making an unprecedented diplomatic effort to bridge the still yawning developed-developing world gap on crucial climate issues.

Acknowledging that a Paris deal “cannot be found without consensus of a country like India”, Fabius said, “we need every party (country) to engage pragmatically and in a constructive spirit.”

Outstanding disputes

Fabius threw broad hints about the key areas of divergence that are still holding up a Paris agreement.

The most crucial area is finance. Developing countries are seeking a roadmap that will guarantee the rich world will pay the US$100 billion a year promised by 2020. At last count, this figure stood at US$62 billion, according to the OECD; or $10.3 billion, according to negotiators from developing countries. As yet, there is no way to reconcile such a gap.

India leads the developing world in another contentious area that goes by the portmanteau term “differentiation” – how to differentiate the responsibilities of rich and poor countries. By the original UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), developed countries bear responsibility for climate change and hence for controlling the greenhouse gas emissions, while developing countries have no legal obligation.

Rich countries led by the US point out that the world has changed since 1992 when the convention was drawn up. Today China is the world’s top emitter, followed by US and the European Union (EU) and India. In response India points out its per capita emission is still one-tenth of that in the US.

In preparation for Paris, all countries are supposed to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) – national proposals for cutting emissions. Of the 195 countries in the UNFCCC, 170 have already done so, and they represent 91% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Legal wrangle

But the pledges submitted as INDCs have no legal standing, and that may become one of the key bones of contention. The EU and French President Francois Hollande have said the Paris agreement must be legally enforceable, which is a complete no-no for US, India, China and a clutch of other countries.

Speaking together with Fabius, Javadekar said, “We expect a fair and equitable Paris agreement that is under the convention, with its principles of common but differentiated responsibilities” between developed and developing countries kept intact.

India has been consistent on this demand, leading US Secretary of State John Kerry to remark recently that India was going to be “a challenge” when it came to the Paris agreement.

The draft text of the Paris agreement is now 56 pages long and full of square brackets, which is UN jargon for lack of agreement. Apart from finance and differentiation, major areas of disagreement remain the same as they have done for decades:

  • Technology transfer versus intellectual property rights;
  • The rich world’s focus on mitigating emissions versus the poor world’s focus on adaptation to climate change impacts already evident;
  • The degree of ambition that is necessary to keep average global temperature rise within two degrees Celsius, when the INDCs are not adding up to what is necessary for this;
  • The transparency of the action taken by different countries; and
  • How and when national efforts will be evaluated by the international community – India is against ex ante review, something the EU is pushing for.

Copenhagen syndrome

The Paris summit will have another first – heads of state and government will open it on November 30 instead of closing it. Asked why, Fabius said, “The heads of state and government are speaking first because they can provide political impulse to the negotiations. We want to avoid the Copenhagen syndrome, where the heads of state came at the end, and not enough work had been done before, because people were waiting for their leaders. When they came it was too late.”

He was referring to the failed 2009 Copenhagen climate summit.

The French government has tried its best to get these differences sorted out before the start of the Paris summit, but that has not worked. Now comes the last-ditch diplomatic effort to ensure an agreement.

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