Game-changerGlobal climate politics now has a new equation; but will it help make or break a deal?
Until last year, top Indian officials were seen having a flurry of meetings with their Chinese counterparts in the run up to each annual UN climate conference. During this time in recent years, the two sides would be seen spearheading the Brazil, South Africa, India and China (Basic) bloc to counter developed countries in international climate
Not any more. This year, India hosted a meeting of a different bloc within the UN climate regime instead. Known as the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDC), it is a group of developing countries New Delhi has been increasingly turning toward to withstand, what it calls, western pressure. That it accords high importance to the bloc became clearer after the interaction Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held with delegates from 13 participant countries
China’s new ally
So, why did the strategy change? It all started last year when China made a key emission-cut announcement together with the US. At the end of President Barrack Obama’s Beijing visit last November, Chinese officials announced their targets to peak carbon dioxide emissions around 2030. In a joint declaration, the US made the announcement that it would cut net greenhouse gas emissions up to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.
The US’s pledge was not so surprising but China’s was. Until that joint announcement, Beijing, together with New Delhi, had consistently argued all these years that cutting down emissions was not the responsibility of developing countries “because they had just embarked on their development journey.” They were never tired of asking the developed world to make whatever emission cuts were required “because the latter had the historic responsibility of doing so as they had pumped so much greenhouse
gases into the atmosphere since industrial revolution to attain their
The developed world’s response has been that the share of fast emerging economies like China and India in the global carbon emission is quite big and that without them on board there cannot be a meaningful resolve against climate change.
India, left alone
The persisting deadlock between the developed countries and the Basic bloc remained the main reason behind the climate negotiations stalemate all these years.
But now with China having announced its emissions peaking year—and not India—the Basic fort against developed countries appears to have fallen. While China is proud that it has made the announcement, Indian officials say they will not follow suit.
“The world is not expecting India to announce its peaking year,” Indian environment minister Prakash Javadekar said in an exclusive interview I did for the BBC. “Countries know where India stands and what its development needs are and therefore nobody has asked us for the peaking year.”
After the Chinese announcement, Indian officials were quick to say that their country was much behind in development works compared to China’s. There were speculations that Obama would get India to make a commitment during his New Delhi visit earlier this year—just like he got Beijing to. It did not happen. But observers say that a wedge had certainly been driven between China and India. What supports that theory is that the Basic bloc is almost missing from the scene ever since.
Of course, the LMDC bloc that India now is leading also has China as a member country. But so does another bloc—the G77 plus China. These blocs have been there in the UN climate negotiations for years now. But the Basic was a different story altogether—it was established to counter the developed countries and was effectively doing so under the joint leadership of China and India.
And now that the two have parted ways, the question is how will India, with its ‘new allies’, present itself in the key climate meet in Paris this December. Will it help make or break the deal, a global agreement to limit average temperature rise to two degrees from the pre-industrial period.
Tough talks ahead
Here is a clue: “The LMDC expressed deep disappointment with the lack of text-based negotiations in the last session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action in Bonn (a recent meeting in the German capital to prepare a draft document for the Paris meet),” a statement issued at the end of the LMDC meeting in New Delhi this week read.
“The LMDC underscored that the objective of the Paris agreement is the full, effective and sustained implementation of the Convention in accordance with Article 2 and the Convention’s principles and provisions, in particular the principles of equity, common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and the developed countries taking the lead.” The principle of “equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” was what the Basic bloc always advocated to argue that developing countries should not be expected to cut emissions. The LMDC not only reiterated that position but went a step further and “stressed that differentiation between developed and developing country Parties across each element of the [Paris] agreement is essential for enhanced ambition and effectiveness of the new agreement.”
Almost every point in the LMDC statement issued this week is aimed at countering the moves of the developed world in the international climate negotiations. And these arguments are not going to be music to the ears of many developed countries. Several of them are already waiting to hear what India has to offer in terms of emission cuts.
Although New Delhi is yet to submit its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (greenhouse gas reduction plan each country is supposed to submit to the UN Climate Convention), the LMDC statement has hinted what it might put on the table
If its position under the LMDC banner is a bargaining chip, it might not be a big issue. Or, if developed countries chose to ignore the stand of India, the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emitter, things might not get complicated either.
But if New Delhi sticks to its gun and major climate players make it an issue, Paris climate talks may be unable to weather the storm.
Khadka is a BBC journalist based in London