Editorial Articles

Editorial Volume-29

Ratification of Paris Agreement

M. A. Haque

In September 2016 India agreed to ratify the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. It handed over the Instrument of Ratification with the United Nations on 2nd October, Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary. Importance of the event can be gauged by the fact that a special event was organised at the UN headquarters on the occasion. The day was observed as the International Day of Non-violence too.

India was the 62nd country to ratify the Agreement which was to become effective one month after 55 countries accounting for 55 percent of global emissions ratified. “With today's action by India, which accounts for 4.1 per cent of the emissions, the Agreement only needs slightly more than 3 percentage points to reach the 55 percent threshold,” the UN statement said. In September, U.S. and China, with 40 percent of total emissions, officially joined. Few days after India’s ratification the threshold needed to bring the Agreement into effect was crossed. Generally it was thought that India would resist ratification as the same could bring great deal of responsibilities and could further slow down the developmental process. It is true that energy availability is essential for development and presently more than 60 percent of power is generated in India from coal. During 2015 coal based power generation was about 167GW.

Generally climate change is defined as change in the statistical properties (principally its mean and spread) of the climate system when considered over long periods of time. Fluctuations over periods shorter than a few decades, such as El Niño, are not considered as climate change. If we look at the history of policy towards climate change, for quite long even scientists were not unanimous that climate change was a reality. It was so although global warming and consequent climate change was not a recent discovery. Since early 19th century scientists were providing evidences of the greenhouse effect. Now climate change has become synonymous with anthropogenic global warming.

Global warming refers to surface temperature increases while climate change includes global warming and everything else affeted by increase in greenhouse gases (GHGs). The rate at which energy arrives from the sun and the rate at which it is lost to space determine the equilibrium temperature and climate of the earth. This energy is distributed around the globe by winds, ocean currents, and other mechanisms to shape the climates of different regions. Increased atmospheric GHGs interfere with the normal return of energy into space, thus warms the earth.

When it was established that the earth was warming due to atmospheric accumulation of GHGs, the entire world resolved to stop or at least retard the process. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with 196 Parties got almost universal membership. It is the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol has been ratified by 192 of the UNFCCC Parties. The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol included 37 highly industrialized nations and also those undergoing the process of transition to a market economy.  Those nations had legally binding emission limitation and reduction commitments because they were historically responsible for the current high levels of GHGs. The Protocol based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities became effective on 16 February 2005. In Doha the 18th Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol adopted an amendment to the Protocol in November-December 2012, extending the Protocol till 2020. The Protocol was to expire in 2012. Thus a second commitment period was established. But there was lack of participation of Canada, Japan, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, New Zealand and the United States. Another issue was that developing countries like China, India and Brazil were not subject to any emissions reductions under the Protocol. Accordingly only 15 percent of the global CO2 emissions could be addressed. Still the ultimate objective remained to stabilize the atmospheric GHGs at levels that could prevent excessive alteration in the climate system. Under Kyoto Protocol emphasis remains on carbon dioxide (CO2) as it was accepted that human produced CO2 emissions were the main culprit.

Before that the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference was held in December, 2009. There the climate change policy did get high priority. About 115 world leaders attended the high-level segment. The Copenhagen Accord included certain key elements with strong convergence of the views. It was agreed that in long-term the maximum global average temperature increase should not be more than 2C above pre-industrial levels, subject to a review in 2015. The Accord also referred to limit the temperature rise to below 1.5C, a key demand from several developing countries.There was, however, no agreement on how to achieve the same. Also, very soon the UNFCCC made it clear that the Copenhagen Accord had "no legal standing". The Executive Secretary stated that the provisions of the Accord "do not have any legal standing within the UNFCCC process."

Under these circumstances the Paris Conference was held. The entire world was watching the event as failure could lead to catastrophe. India had been regularly advocating for self and several other nations that their needs for development could not be ignored. Argument was that the existing situation was the outcome of the mistakes of the developed nations. Others could not be penalized for that. Surprisingly, on December 12, 2015 more than 190 countries adopted the most ambitious climate change agreement. The Paris Agreement established a long term, durable global framework to reduce global GHG emissions. For the first time, all countries committed to putting forward successive and ambitious, nationally determined climate targets and reporting on their progress.The Agreement provided strong assurance to the developing countries of support if they pursued clean and climate resilient growth. The Agreement included set of goals to keep warming well below 2C. Also, the Agreement agreed to continue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5C. It was agreed that countries should aim to peak GHG emissions as soon as possible. Provisions were made that countries would communicate their targets every five years, starting 2020. Targets must be submitted 9-12 months before being finalized, so that other countries and civil society may seek clarity, if needed. The Agreement incorporated a mechanism to assess collective progress on global action beginning 2018, repeating every five years.

While ratifying the Agreement India has realized that it has to bring drastic changes in its energy production and emission monitoring system. That might be the reason that while ratifying the Agreement India emphasized its long history and tradition of harmonious co-existence with nature. Mahatma Gandhi’s words that we are only ‘trustees’ of natural resources with no right to over-exploit them were quoted. However, it has also been underlined that the overall responsibility lies with the developed nations. As far as Indian situation is concerned per capita emissions in India were only about 1.56 mt in 2010 while those of many developed countries vary between 7 to15 mt. Indians generally follow Mahatma Gandhi’s teaching: “One must care about the world one will not see”. Interestingly the emission intensity of India’s GDP decreased by 12 percent between 2005 and 2010 and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) appreciated the fact.

While ratifying the Agreement India has made it clear that it is essential to ensure that the global initiatives address all the elements including adaptation, mitigation, finance, technology transfer, capacity building and transparency. Also, the genuine requirements of developing countries to achieve sustainable development and eradication of poverty need to be safeguarded. Climate change is a major challenge for countries like India with large scale climate variability. With its vast agrarian economy dependent population, its extensive coastal areas and the Himalayan region and islands very few countries are equally vulnerable. Also, it has been emphasized that India has 2.4 percent of world’s land area, but supports about 17.5 percent of the world’s population. With 0.586 Human development Index and world ranking of 135, India needs to provide much more to its people. Energy is a vital input for development. That is why India is following two pronged approach to meet the energy demand, ensuring minimum growth in carbon emissions. India is emphasizing more on renewables, mainly solar and wind powers. Parallel to these adopting supercritical technologies for coal based power plants is a priority. New, large coal-based thermal plants have to use the technology. Renovation and modernisation of old power plants is also being undertaken. Coal beneficiation is now mandatory. Also, stringent emission standards are being contemplated for the thermal plants. These and similar other measures are bound to cut emission of GHGs. Efficient use of energy is another priority in India.


Views expressed are personnel. Email:  asrarulhaque@hotmail.com