The ill-effects of global warming, attributed largely to industrialisation, were taken serious note for the first time at the “Earth Summit” of 1992, held in Rio de Janerio, Brazil. The participating countries resolved to undertake measures to reduce the volume of emissions of greenhouse gases to the level of 1990 by the year 2000.

The Kyoto Protocol of 1997, that became operative in 2005, reiterated the goals set at the Rio Summit and fixed the target  of reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases to the tune of  5.2 per cent  from the level of 1990, by  the year 2012. It adopted the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility,” according to which the countries that were prime  culprits for causing damage to the ecology would contribute more for its mitigation agenda. It was understood that rich industrialised countries would provide modern technology for switching over to cleaner sources of energy, which was the key to halting global warming. However, success remained elusive as the volume of greenhouse gases continued to increase and damage the environment in alarming proportions.  Such emissions have increased by about 16 per cent from the level of 1990.

We are witness to the reality that 12 out of 14 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000. Now 2015 is turning out to be the hottest year. There is widespread fear of the world bearing the brunt of a rise in temperature beyond 2 °C by the end of this century. Scientific evidence suggests that even if the current policies and commitments are fully implemented there are chances of temperature exceeding beyond the level the world is trying to maintain.

After the Paris climate summit, now it is time to visualise the reasons for the failures of previous efforts since the   Paris summit is taking place at a time when the first commitment phase of Kyoto Protocol has ended in 2012. The second phase will continue till 2020, when the new agenda worked out in Paris  would take on. Ironically, the Kyoto Protocol which will be replaced is the most comprehensive arrangement based on the principle of justice to have been been worked out for facing challenges of climate change.

In fact, industrialised countries listed in the Annexure1 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) were asked to ensure emission cuts on being legitimately identified as the major culprits.


Actor and activist A. Martinez calls for action against climate change in a rally

From this flowed their moral responsibility for the transfer of technology and providing finances for remedial measures. The US refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and other industrialised countries followed it by walking out of the regime from which the world had high hopes. Polluters, despite being under obligation to bear the burden, ran away from the responsibility and the rest of the countries which were victims did not have the means to bear the burden. This became the cardinal factor for the failure of subsequent efforts at Copenhagen in 2009 and the summits that followed.

The industrialised countries having run away from Kyoto Protocol and emerging economies like China and India having refused to accept legally binding emission cuts, there started the search for a new climate agenda. In the new paradigm, every country is to meet  emission reduction targets and work out  remedial measures of its own. Member countries have been called upon to announce Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which means emission reduction targets are to be fixed by each member country keeping in view the volume of emissions and as per its capacity. Around 177 countries have submitted their INDCs and there are countries which are yet to reveal their emission-cut targets. However, leading countries like US, China, India and the European Union whose emission cut targets matter more have already revealed their INDCs.

China, with 10600 mtCO2eq, has announced reduction targets to the tune of 60-65 per cent by 2030 from 2005 levels. The US, with 6300 mtCO2eq, has announced its reduction targets in between 26-28 per cent by 2025. Likewise, India, with 3200 mtCO2eq, has announced its INDCs to the tune of 33-35 per cent by 2030. The European Union that as a whole emits 4,500 mtCO2eq has fixed its INDCs at 40 per cent by 2030.

The parameters of climate agenda for the Paris summit, permitting member countries to work out emission-cut targets individually are the outcome of the realisation that previous climate regimes failed primarily because the world community tried to work out emission-reduction agenda in a collective manner which did not succeed. Therefore, it is hoped that more effective and concrete agenda would emerge from the Paris summit as member countries have been permitted to work out their emission cuts individually as per their capacity.

However, the new regime has virtually buried the idea of historic justice to be done to the world whereby rich industrialised countries, which were responsible for most of the damage, had the obligation of contributing as per their capacity and in tune with their sins. It has also brought in the system of market as under the circumstances the member countries, while pursuing remedial measures, by implications are supposed to introduce clean technology by buying wherever it is available in the market using their own means. The whole notion of transfer of green technology has been relegated to the background because in the new system all the countries seem to have common responsibility and there is no place for differentiated responsibility. Going by the historical experience, it is clear that member countries may be industrialisd or emerging economies, would never permit the emission-cut agenda to become a hindrance to industrialisation and a burden on their finances.

The writer,  a Professor of Political Science in GND University, Amritsar, is a former ICCR India Chair at FGV Rio.

Source: The Tribune, Chandigarh