Devil in the detailThe major players are happy about the Paris climate deal, but should least developed countries like Nepal be elated?
Right before world leaders struck a deal on global climate change in Paris last Saturday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called the final draft text ‘balanced’. By that, he might have meant that the agreement addressed the demands of different negotiating blocs within the UN climate negotiations. The groups included those of rich countries, fast-emerging economies, least-developed countries, and small-island states—nations that call themselves most vulnerable to climate change—among others.
When the text was finalised big players, mainly the developed world and the rapidly developing countries like China and India, were smiling. Few hours after the agreement, US President Barrack Obama issued a statement saying “We met the moment.” He further added, “…I believe this moment can be a turning point for the world. We’ve shown that the world has both the will and the ability to take on this challenge.” The European Union’s (EU) Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action Miguel Arias Canete was equally upbeat. “This was the last chance,” he said. “And we took it.”
While the US and the EU represent the developed countries’ bloc, the reaction of their traditional rivals from the Basic (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) camp was no different. A commentary from China’s official news agency Xinhua read, “…It is a particularly sweet victory for China, which emerged to take a leading role in the deal…” In an interview, I did for the BBC, Indian Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said, “Whatever India wanted, we’ve got it all in the agreement.”
Agreed to do nothing
The main reason all these key players were so happy was because none of the major components of the agreement were legally binding. This meant that they could proudly tell their home audience that their national interest was not compromised. The two key parts of the deal—carbon emission cuts to keep the rise of global average temperature well below two degrees and to secure $100 billion annually to help developing countries switch over to clean energy and combat climatic changes—are not legally binding. So, it is not mandatory as such for the developed world and the fast-emerging economies to cut down emissions and it is also not binding for rich countries to make the money available beginning 2020.
Understandably, it was a give and take between the developed world and fast-emerging economies whose differences had deadlocked climate negotiations all these years.
China and India argued that they should not be expected to cut carbon emissions in the same manner as the developed world because they needed to pursue development and in any case it was the historic responsibility of the rich nations. Meanwhile, the developed countries, stressed that as Chinese and Indian economies had become major emitters, they could not be exempted. There was another issue the two had dug their heels on: finance.
Just when the fast-emerging economies were making noises that the developed world was not actually giving the money they had pledged, the rich countries began asking China and India to contribute to the purse. The Chinese and Indian negotiators were furious about this new demand and the negotiations did not move ahead in the first week. During the second week, the meeting point was that both emission reduction and financial targets would not be legally mandatory.
The end result might have been a win-win for both the developed and fast-emerging economies, but should Least Developed Countries (LDCs) like Nepal join them to toast cheers?
Issue of effectiveness
The Paris agreement has recognised the LDCs’ demand for a global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees target. Although it aims to hold the global average temperature rise to well below two degrees above pre-industrial period, it also adds that countries have agreed to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees. LDC Chair Giza Gasper Martins, who is also an environment minister from Angola, told the BBC it was a huge success for poor and small-island nations. It certainly is. But what remains to be seen is how the target will be attained. Observers have already begun questioning the two degrees goal, mainly because the carbon reduction targets are not legally binding.
The only hope, so far, is the review of the carbon-cut targets which has a legal tooth. But again, how effective and agreeable the stocktaking mechanism will be remains to be seen.
Then there is the issue of finance, which is again not legally binding. Whether the major emitters are really able to cut down emissions or not and even if they stop all carbon outputs today, scientists have said that certain climate change impacts are inevitable because so much of heat-trapping greenhouse gases have already been dumped into the atmosphere. They have also warned that the poor countries would suffer the most.
And that takes us to the question if the Paris climate agreement has enough provisions for adapting to inevitable climatic changes. There are of course references to adaptation but it is unclear where the money will come from and how it will be disbursed. Experts say the main reason for the uncertainty is because finance is not a legally binding component.
The good news is that the deal recognises both the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the Global Environment Facility as financial mechanisms of the UN climate convention under which is the Paris agreement.
That means least developed countries like Nepal may not have to compete with big developing countries to secure money from the GCF. They could have the cushion of the Global Environment Facility which has traditionally been funding their National Adaptation Programme of Action, for instance. But the question, once again, would be: will the GCF have enough money? With donors not living up to their pledges, it has not been able to fund more than 400 projects of the least developed countries, some of which were planned more than a decade ago.
The issue of loss and damage pushed by LDCs and small-island nations to secure some kind of compensation for the damages caused by climatic events has found a space in the agreement. But rich countries have ensured that it does not mean anything to them. The agreement reads: “…Agrees that Article 8 of the Agreement does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.” There is a mention of a mechanism akin to insurance but the details are yet to be worked out. In a nutshell, the deal has a target to strive for a 1.5 degrees global average temperature rise, something LDCs, including Nepal, have long championed for. The trouble is that it does not tell them how that will be attained.
Khadka is a BBC journalist based in London