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#COP21: despite Modi's strong speech, India is losing out to the West

Nihar Gokhale | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 12:24 IST

The summit

  • The COP21 Summit on climate change ends in less than 4 days
  • There is no agreement in sight

The standoff

  • Developing countries like India are at loggerheads with the rich nations on key issues
  • So far the rich nations, led by the US, seem to be having their way

More in the story

  • What are the main bones of contention?
  • Can a compromise be reached?

The international climate conference taking place in Paris has an unenviable mandate. All 196 nations have to agree on a way to reduce global warming. It is like expecting everyone in Delhi to come to a consensus on the best way to reduce air pollution. Compromises are inevitable; in the end, everyone wins some by losing some.

But nearly 10 days into the Paris climate conference, known as COP-21, India has not had the luxury of winning, only the misfortune of losing.

Also read: #COP21: Modi ambushes Obama. Ticks off the US & other rich nations

Separating the signal from all the noise surrounding COP-21, it is apparent that so far nothing has worked in its favour. Less than 4 days are left for the negotiations to finish. Has India lost the plot at Paris?

The issues

The battle lines were drawn before the Paris summit itself. Most of these were based on the draft treaty document, which was prepared before the summit by a working group (known as ADP). Already India had openly disagreed with the United States over many of these issues.

There are 4 principal issues at stake.

What India wants:

  • Equity: The final Paris treaty should be based on equity and the historical responsibility of rich nations. Instead, developed countries are demanding more action from developing countries, while ignoring their own lack of ambition. India wants to resist this.

  • Transparency: A common transparency framework from 2020 (i.e. revealing how countries are following their promises and what the Paris agreement tells them to do), where poorer nations like India will have a lesser burden of being transparent in the beginning;
  • Finance: To make developed countries commit to giving finance and cheap technologies that both reduce global warming and help deal with its effects. India wants to resist the developed nations' proposal to make advanced developing nations like India and China pay (rather than receive) climate finance;

  • Loss and damage: To account for the loss and damage caused by climate change, and to claim developed nations responsible for this amount, even claiming compensation for it.

No victory yet

Despite negotiations reaching advanced stages, India has almost no success in getting any of these demands through.

The ADP has worked since 2011 to prepare the draft treaty for Paris. It was initially tilted in favour of developed countries. Developing countries fought hard to bring some balance into it before it was introduced at the Paris summit.

Last week, negotiators from all countries worked further on the draft and made several corrections.

Also read: India calls out rich nations' figures on climate funds. Here's how

It was finalised on last Saturday, and the "final" draft is being debated by environment ministers this week. It will eventually be signed into a treaty this Friday, 11 December.

Let us return to the four things India wanted in Paris, and how there is no progress on each one of them:

What India wanted in Paris as opposed to what happened:

  • Equity: This is the main issue holding up a consensus at Paris. India has been insisting on different responsibilities for rich and poor nations, while the rich nations insist everyone should shoulder the responsibility equally. The draft agreement does not give any hope. Matters on uequity and differentiated responsibility are placed in square brackets i.e. they are disputed.

  • Transparency: Transparent disclosure (of how much each country is cutting carbon emissions) is also in square brackets in the draft. While India wants different standards of transparency for rich and poor nations, the US now appears to want to make transparency compulsory for everyone.
Also read: #COP21: the Paris summit sits on an unfair deal no one is talking about
  • Finance: The "umbrella group" led by the United States has asked developing countries, including India, to pay for climate finance. The US has always held this position and so far India hasn't been able to change its opinion. At this rate it will be a success if India walks away without having to pay for finance, forget receiving it.

  • Loss and damage: The umbrella group led by the US has informally proposed that in future, developing nations like India cannot demand compensation for loss and damage from climate change, nor hold rich nations accountable. Not surprising, then, that in the draft, the entire section of loss and damage is shown to be under dispute.

As ministers debate the draft agreement, anything can change in the days leading up to 11 December. But the picture doesn't appear to be too rosy given the number of issues left unresolved in the draft agreement, and the rhetoric surrounding the summit since.

At the inauguration of the conference, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech was one of the strongest among world leaders; will the summit's ending see the Indian side bend and crawl?

Also read: Climate change: Maneka Gandhi needs to get her facts right

First published: 9 December 2015, 12:08 IST
Nihar Gokhale @nihargokhale

Nihar is a reporter with Catch, writing about the environment, water, and other public policy matters. He wrote about stock markets for a business daily before pursuing an interdisciplinary Master's degree in environmental and ecological economics. He likes listening to classical, folk and jazz music and dreams of learning to play the saxophone.