Paris environment pact closer to coming into force

Nitin Sethi | New Delhi Sep 23, 2016 12:42 AM IST
French Minister for Environment Segolene Royal (centre) and U N Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (left) at the ‘High-Level Event on Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change’ meeting at United Nations headquarters
The world moved a step closer to bringing the Paris Agreement into force, with 60 countries in all ratifying the global contract on climate change.

These countries add up to 48 per cent of the global emissions. The chances of India standing isolated by the end of the year as the only large economy not to ratify increased as its partners, Brazil and Argentina, also ratified the agreement, along with 29 others at a special event organised by the UN secretary general in New York.

The agreement requires at least 55 countries, representing at least 55 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions, to ratify it before it comes into force. The first threshold has now been met, and observers, going by political commitments from other countries, estimate that the second threshold, too, would be met by the year end.

India’s big partners in the two key country groupings - BASIC and the Like Minded Developing Countries — have all now ratified the agreement. Other large economies such as Germany and the UK, too, have committed to come on board quickly, though the ratification by entire EU block within the year remained uncertain.

The increasing possibility of the Paris Agreement coming in to force without India promised to rob the National Democratic Alliance government of using the ratification as a negotiating card against the US.

Outgoing US President Barack Obama has pushed hard to ensure a legacy stamp on global climate negotiations before the end of his tenure. Obama’s push has been threefold — bringing the Paris Agreement into force, getting a deal on refrigerant gases through the Montreal Protocol, and a pact on greenhouse gas emissions from aviation. On all three fronts, US seemed to have got the better of India at the moment by locking in premature political agreements at the head-of-state levels.

The Indian government signed on to a weak Paris Agreement in 2015 - where Indian priorities such as climate justice got marginalised — only to try and hold back on the ratification in 2016, feeling let down by US’s not so robust support for its bid to join the Nuclear Supply Group. Initially, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj linked the need for nuclear power, and therefore a membership of the NSG to India’s commitments under Paris Agreement — a rather blunt signal to the US. Later, at the G20 meeting in China, India’s tone softened a bit even though it continued to hold out the threat of not ratifying the agreement this year — India said it couldn’t do so due to time taking domestic compliance issues. But soon after, it toned down further, claiming it was yet undecided if it could or could not ratify the agreement by end of 2016.

Diplomatic sabre-rattling aside, tactically, the chances of India being left off the negotiating table at the next round of climate negotiations remained dimmed because that would entail several dozen other countries that have also not ratified the Paris agreement being left out in the cold. But, the risk that India would be singled out in public domain by green groups turned only higher after the recent round of sing ups to the Paris Agreement in New York.

In the domestic policy arena, the Indian government has already set up five committees to assess the legal and other requirements that would have to be put in place once the ratification is done. The ratification itself requires only a short and simple Cabinet approval and therefore hinges on a political signal from the top of the government to be completed.
Holding back from the ratification process till the US presidency chances brings one advantage to India at the climate talks, its negotiators have assessed. In the case the next US President opts out of Paris Agreement — it takes only an executive order on his part to do so — India would not be left stuck to bear the burden of greenhouse gas emissions reduction without the biggest polluter in the ring.

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