Today's Editorial

23 November 2016

Marrakech fails to live up to the promise of Paris



Source: By Jayachandran: Mint



If Paris set the global agenda for fighting climate change last year, providing the over-arching political and procedural framework for the process, it was at Marrakech this past week that world leaders were expected to deliver at least part of the blueprint for achieving the lofty goals they had set for their respective countries. The core issue was climate finance: Who will pay for the project? Developed countries have pledged $100 billion by 2020 but developing nations, including India, want firm commitments and a clear road map for how and where the money will flow.


Last year in Paris, Prime Minister Narendra Modi risked an upgrade in New Delhi’s long-standing position on climate change, which others were decrying as obstructionist, and sought to craft a leadership position for India in the fight against climate change. While India, and indeed other developing countries, now actively seek to embrace renewable energy, developed countries must do their part by paying for these shifts and changes. It is only when developed countries put in the money they have promised that developing countries can realize their climate commitments. Once these commitments are on track to being fulfilled, it is likely to trigger higher ambition and bigger commitments which might just be enough to achieve the Paris objective of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.


Climate finance, therefore, is the lynchpin that holds together the entire process. The Marrakech conference was supposed to offer some clarity in this regard but, unfortunately, there was only limited progress. The election of Donald Trump—who has described climate change as a “Chinese hoax” and made no bones about his disapproval of the Paris Agreement—to the US presidency immediately set a negative backdrop to the negotiations. The US has promised $3 billion in climate funding but even under president Barack Obama, who has placed the fight against climate change at the core of his legacy, the money flow has been uninspiring. Now, it is unclear how adversely a Trump presidency might have an impact on climate funding from the US. The US government may transfer an even greater share of its financial commitments to the private sector, and this will be just as problematic for developing countries as private funds are profit-driven and erratic.


One might even go so far as to argue that some of the gains registered by India and other developing countries at Paris came close to being rolled back in Marrakech. Take, for example, the report on climate finance prepared by the developed nations’ Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that argued that developed nations are on track to fulfilling their financial commitments. But negotiators from developing nations have countered, and with good reason, that the report uses dubious accounting measures to “greenwash” the obligations of developed nations. A similar OECD report was presented at the Paris conference and subsequently trashed. That its 2016 version made headway in Marrakech and opened up a definite possibility that the norms and definitions set in the report may form the baseline for future negotiations was much to the disappointment of developing nations. Another setback for the developing world was that their funding requirements for adaptation measures failed to be adequately highlighted.


From India’s point of view, Marrakech was quite a dampener after the Paris high. Issues pushed by New Delhi, such as “climate justice” and “sustainable lifestyles”, were largely ignored. Only the international solar alliance, which was officially opened for sign-up, made some progress. Sure, there were some small victories such as the Marrakech Action Proclamation for Our Climate and Sustainable Development which was revised to finally reflect the concerns and aspirations of developing countries but, clearly, a long and arduous journey lies ahead.

Over the next two years, the “rule book” to implement the Paris Agreement will be finalized and it is imperative that India fight to protect its interests here. Apart from climate finance flows, the other big issue that will dominate the agenda is that of the “green regulations” currently being established across industries. India will have to negotiate keeping in mind its own domestic imperatives. The tug and pull was already evident in Kigali and Montreal as countries sought to set green standards for the air-conditioning and aviation industries, respectively. One can expect more such debates on regulatory issues such as climate disclosures, which are currently voluntary in India but fast becoming mandatory in the West.