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The Paris agreement needs to be ratified by national parliaments, so it is scheduled to take effect only after 2020. So the post-COP world is divided into two phases – one between now and 2020, and the second after 2020. Here is a preview of challenges that lie ahead for world to combat global warming once the UN summit ends in Paris

Climate protest in Madrid, Spain (Image by Adolfo Lujan)

Climate protest in Madrid, Spain (Image by Adolfo Lujan)

Negotiations for the Paris climate agreement started with the host French government trying its utmost to avoid what its Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called the “Copenhagen syndrome” – a situation where global leaders arrive at the end of a climate summit and find that negotiators have not been able to agree on key questions; and it is too late by then.

So France and the UNFCCC started the process of negotiating a text of the Paris agreement right after the 2014 summit ended at Lima. There have been four rounds of negotiations in 2015, plus two rounds of meetings between environment ministers of most countries.

It has not worked. At the last round of textual negotiations in late October, recriminations flew thick and fast, and the draft of the agreement swelled from 18 pages to 51 in that week. Much of it is in square brackets – UN-speak for proposals that do not have any consensus.

See Climate talks fail to clear major obstacles ahead of Paris summit

France convened the second meeting of environment ministers in early November in an effort to give a political push to the stalled negotiations. It has now released an aide-mémoire on the basis of that meeting. The co-chairs of the textual negotiating group – one from the US and the other from Algeria – have also produced what they call a scenario note on how they plan to talk to governments before the COP and then conduct discussions during it. Whether this move is a help or a hindrance remains to be seen – the last two notes produced by the co-chairs were roundly criticised by developing countries.

The other big move made by France is to call heads of state and government to open the summit, rather than close it. The hope is that global leaders will provide the final political direction that will enable negotiators to make much-needed compromises and come up with an acceptable Paris agreement. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is among the leaders scheduled to speak at the opening. Together with French President Francois Hollande, Modi is also scheduled to inaugurate the International Solar Alliance that India is leading.

Common minimum programme

With the stakes so high, negotiators and observers all expect that a Paris agreement will be finalised and signed. However, expectations on what that agreement will contain are low. Observers fear that the process of UN negotiations and decisions by consensus among 195 countries will ensure that the agreement will end up with a common minimum programme that will fail to keep average global temperature rise within two degrees Celsius by the end of this century.

The bedrock of the Paris agreement will be the INDCs. With countries that account for over 90% of global greenhouse gas emissions having submitted their INDCs already, academics have calculated that at best they can limit global temperature rise to 2.7 degrees Celsius. In its latest Emissions Gap Report, The United Nations Environment Programme has calculated that there is a nearly 60% gap between the mitigation proposed in the INDCs and what the scientists say is needed to stick to the two-degree goal.

COP graph2

The post-COP world

The Paris agreement needs to be ratified by national parliaments, so it is scheduled to take effect only after 2020. So the post-COP world is divided into two phases – one between now and 2020, and the second after 2020.

Developing countries argue that a strong agreement in Paris depends on actions by the developed world between now and 2020. On paper, the world is now in the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol, under which developed countries are supposed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions straightaway. Not only have they not done so, in the negotiations they have tried their best to move these commitments to the post-2020 period. In the latest draft, rich countries have sought to add green actions by their private sector companies to their government commitments, a move unappreciated by developing countries.

Negotiations under this head have not even been moved from a quasi-informal setup to a formal one. There is such a deadlock that nobody expects a real resolution in Paris, and that is bound to affect the post-2020 agreement.
It is also clear that support on technology transfer through the currently functioning Technology Mechanism is going to be mostly limited to small scale pilot projects, while transformational deployment will happen through private sector initiatives.

The post-2020 world

Paris is likely to come up with a common minimum programme, but even to implement that will need trillions of dollars, and the most glaring problem is the lack of money. The rich world pledged in Copenhagen to provide $100 billion a year by 2020, but the Green Climate Fund has only about 10% of that in its kitty right now.

Finance is likely to be one of the key areas of contention during the Paris negotiations, and there is zero clarity on where this money will come from and how. In the latest draft of the negotiating text, developing countries have sought a roadmap on how this money will arrive, but the lukewarm response from developed countries suggests this is not going to be accepted in Paris.

This is not going to be only a post-Paris COP world. It is also going to be Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) era. There are prominent climate actions in the SDG list, and many observers fear this will enable some rich countries to pass off their development assistance as climate finance.

The European Union is very keen that the Paris agreement have legal force, and French President Francois Hollande has even said recently that there can be no agreement without this. But everyone knows that the US government will not be able to get such an agreement through its Congress and Senate, so in all probability the Paris outcome will be a voluntary pledge-based emission reduction mechanism.

The big problem with that is the increasingly scary findings of scientists will have little impact on commitments. At best, this mechanism will mean global average temperature rise does not shoot beyond three degrees Celsius, the inflexion point identified by scientists, after which they find it very difficult to predict impacts.

This will also mean that the pressure to control emissions will be increasingly on emerging economies, since these are the ones – especially India – whose emissions are predicted to grow significantly. India is already battling a rich world demand that its INDC, meant for 2020-2030, be subject to review in 2018.

India will have to face maximum pressure over its determination to continue using coal to generate electricity – the current plan is to add 110 GW of coal generation capacity by 2022. As the rich world talks increasingly about decarbonising economies and a no-carbon world, Indian policymakers are getting increasingly concerned that they will not be able to get international finance for their thermal power projects. It is one reason why India gave a strong backing to the setting up of the BRICS bank as a potential alternative to the World Bank.

Indian policymakers and politicians are united in saying that while they are pushing and will push renewable energy to the utmost, they have to continue using coal to provide electricity to a country of 1.3 billion people. The response that using coal is harmful to India in the long run, especially in terms of human health, cuts little ice in the country.
The energy market may see its biggest transformation in the next decade. With more and more money pouring into renewable energy projects, countries such as Germany, China, US and perhaps India – which are investing a lot into research, development and implementation – will have an advantage.

A Paris agreement will possibly give a fillip to other green initiatives such as waste management, public transport and energy-efficient buildings. As indicated in the Paris agreement draft, these initiatives will increasingly be funded by private investors and implemented by local governments. Global multilateral banks also increasingly prefer to work with sub-national governments. Some Indian policymakers are uncomfortable with such ideas, but that is the new world. But this world will have to find a way to take these actions into account when reviewing national pledges.

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