Before the 2011 Durban conference on climate change, China had announced that it if developed countries agree to a second commitment period, it is not averse to legally binding obligations as part of the post-2020 regime, as long as they are based on the equity principles of the UN climate convention.
I had written in an earlier blog about how this well-timed clarification had allowed China to side-step the final show-down – leaving India to face the EU and Least Developed Countries, and be portrayed, along with other climate laggards, as the Grim Reaper set to sign Africa’s death sentence.
No lesson was learnt in Durban, and history may well repeat itself in Lima and Paris. In advance of the Lima climate conference next month, China and the US have announced a new deal on carbon emissions. India, meanwhile, continues to state that it will not announce any cuts because this would not be equitable – but without defining what constitutes an equitable solution, and even thwarting attempts by the Africa Group to introduce a framework to define equity in the negotiations.
The ship may have sailed for rule based top-down, equity-based targets – not only because India did not follow up its strident calls for equity in Durban with a concrete, proactive proposal on how to operationalise it, but also because it was subsequently agreed in Warsaw that countries would submit “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs) – i.e. bottom-up emissions reduction targets, determined nationally.
However, there is still a chance that equity can become the basis for the ex-ante assessment of these INDCs. India has so far opposed such ex-ante assessments on the basis that they would not like to submit to an international assessment.
Herein lies an inconsistency in India’s position. Presumably, equity in the climate change treaty can only be operationalised through a top-down international rule based system. Despite what the US says, an outcome is unlikely to be equitable if countries themselves determine their cuts (the 26% cut from 2005 levels by 2025 announced by Obama can hardly be considered the US’ fair share). An international rule-based system is also likely to be most effective with an international assessment process. So how can India be in favour of equity, but oppose an international assessment process?
India’s negotiators would therefore do well to drop their opposition to an ex-ante assessment, and focus instead on how this assessment process can ensure a more equitable outcome in Paris.
They would also do well to explain their position better. Surely they are not saying “No emission cuts for developing countries – ever”, but rather “Yes, of course emission cuts because a third of the world’s poor live in India and they are severely threatened – but the cuts must be based on equity”.
They also need to be much more proactive by making a submission where they clearly define what an equitable solution is, and how it can be operationalised. Simply naysaying again is likely to loose them even this last chance of ensuring that at least some elements of equity make it into the 2015 Paris Agreement.