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The Paris climate pact will come into effect on January 1, but probably without an agreement on starting a new market to trade greenhouse gas emissions

Negotiations at the Madrid climate summit have not yet yielded any conclusive results (Photo by Soumya Sarkar)

Negotiations at the Madrid climate summit have not yet yielded any conclusive results (Photo by Soumya Sarkar)

Despite efforts by dozens of ministers and thousands of bureaucrats, the December 2-13 UN climate summit in Madrid remains deadlocked over differences between developed and developing countries on the modalities of the carbon market – how rich nations will pay poor nations for green projects and who will take how much credit for that.

However, almost all other elements of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement have been sewn up, and the agreement will come into effect on schedule on January 1, 2020. As the second week of the Madrid summit began, delegates from both developed and developing countries decided that they were “better off without a deal” on the carbon market, especially if bickering over the details would hold up the Paris agreement overall.

Knock heads together

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is scheduled to arrive in Madrid on Wednesday in another effort to “knock heads together,” in the words of one official in the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Even if the carbon market cannot start in 2020, that is no reason for countries not to take stronger action on climate change,” the official said. “Look at what is happening around the world – the storms, floods, sea level rise, drought, everything worsened by climate change. All countries need to act, and to act now. If they cannot get money or credit for their actions now because the carbon market is not functioning, so be it. Governments need to act for the sake of their own people.”

While all governments agree on this general principle, developing countries are upset because developed countries have not fulfilled the commitments they had made for the pre-2020 period. “It is a question of trust,” said a delegate of an African country. “If they have not kept the promises they made in the past, on what basis do we trust their promises now?”

Echoing this sentiment, Prakash Javadekar, India’s Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, said developed countries need to act on their climate commitments before there is any further talk on new targets to control greenhouse gas emissions.

At the same time, the minister reiterated his offer that developed countries could take two more years to keep their promises. Indian officials and experts also offered new ways to resolve the main deadlock in carbon market negotiations. The fresh efforts have not borne any fruit so far, because industrialised countries remain adamant in their refusal to let developing countries take forward their pre-2020 credits for green projects. Instead, the rich world wants a fresh start under the Paris agreement rules. See: Rich countries refuse to pay for green projects in poor nations

“We should concentrate more on action… and not bring up new issues and new subjects,” Javadekar said during a chat with journalists. With dioramas of Mahatma Gandhi in the backdrop of the plush India pavilion at the conference venue, the minister said, “India is one of the top five countries in performing according to the Paris agreement.” Rich countries also need to walk the talk, the minister said.

The Paris agreement aims to keep global temperature rise to “well below” two degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial times, and has an aspirational target of restraining warming to 1.5 degrees. Countries that are party to the agreement have agreed to voluntary emission reductions to achieve the global aim.

“We are walking the talk,” Javadekar said. “We have reduced our energy intensity by 25% and we’re sure that we’ll outpace our promise of reducing it further to 35% by 2030.”

Not on track

Many countries in the developed world are not on track to meet their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to reduce emissions. Australia’s emissions, for instance, are expected to far outpace its 2030 target according to Climate Tracker, an independent watchdog. The United States, the world’s second largest GHG emitter, has notified the United Nations on November 4 that it will withdraw from the Paris agreement, jeopardising international efforts to check runaway global warming.

India, on the other hand, is expected to exceed its targets by emerging as a global leader in renewable energy. After adopting its National Electricity Plan (NEP) in 2018, the South Asian nation remains on track to “overachieve its 2 degrees Celsius-compatible rated Paris Agreement climate action targets,” according to Climate Tracker. “We’ve promised 175 GW (capacity addition in renewable energy), and we have already achieved half of it,” Javadekar said. “We’ll install more by 2022.”

Emboldened by the rapid expansion, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on September 23 at the Climate Action Summit in New York that the country has set a new target of installing a total of 450 GW of renewable energy by 2030. “It’s a huge programme of installing renewable energy anywhere in the world in one go,” Javadekar said. “We are walking the talk on renewables also.”

While India’s work has garnered praise, the NDCs are not enough to keep the world from exceeding the 1.5C benchmark. According to Climate Tracker, India is not even going to achieve that. But it is among the least bad performers, with only two countries – Morocco and the Gambia, in line to meet the Paris Agreement benchmark. India is among the next set of countries, which includes Bhutan, Costa Rica, and others, who are all on track to development in line with a less than 2C rise in global temperatures. This knowledge that the world is off track in meeting these goals has led to renewed pressure by activists.

Follow Paris pact

India’s environment minister was critical of attempts to introduce new ambitions and targets at the ongoing Madrid summit. “First and foremost, India wants all other countries to follow the Paris pact,” he said. “It’ll be futile to talk of new targets, new ambitions and new programmers unless we implement our Paris commitments. India has worked hard in the last five years. Now the developed countries really need to take up their ambitious targets of pre-2020 action” under the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement adopted on December 11, 1997. The protocol places mandatory emission reduction targets on wealthy nations.

These are often referred to as pre-2020 targets. “Pre-2020 targets cannot be sidelined or cannot be forgotten and new themes introduced,” Javadekar said.

“If they (the developed countries) declare their targets of pre-2020 and that they need a few years to implement them, that can be adjusted,” Javadekar said. ‘But developed countries cannot shirk their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol.”

At the Madrid conference, there has been much talk by NGOs of raising emission reduction targets, referred to as “raising ambition.” Javadekar said that such talk is premature. “The global stocktake (on the extent which emission reduction control has to be enhanced) is scheduled in 2023,” he pointed out. “Any talk of raising ambition by India can be taken up at that time.”


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