Jairam Ramesh looked toward the future – to a conference set in Paris in 2015 – where it is expected that an international agreement on climate change will finally be reached. Mr. Ramesh, Member of Parliament in India and India’s chief negotiator at the international climate change conferences in 2009 and 2010, addressed climate change negotiations from the past 20 years as well as upcoming talks in a lecture sponsored by the SFS Asian Studies Program and the Georgetown-India Dialogue last Friday.
20 Years of Change
“The foundation of the entire discourse of climate change diplomacy today, is based on a world that prevailed in 1992. That is when the United Nations Framework was signed,” he said. At that time, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter was the United States (24%) and Western Europe accounted for 19% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Emerging economies including China (11%), India (3%), South Africa and Brazil were not substantial emitters. Due to this differential, the world was divided into high emitters, who would take on substantial responsibility, and low emitters, who would take on minimal responsibility to address climate change. Those percentages have changed dramatically in the last 20 years, such that in 2013, China led the world in greenhouse gas emissions at 29%, India doubled its emissions to 6% while the United States fell to 15%, and Western Europe fell to 11%. There has been an explosion of economic growth in emerging economies.
“The framework convention of the United Nations in 1992 was singularly bereft of any economic criteria,” Ramesh said. “The framework convention is a static convention frozen in time, reflecting a world that has ceased to be relevant in reality in the year 2014,” Ramesh said.
Looking Ahead to UN Climate Change Conference
Looking ahead to the upcoming meeting in Paris, Ramesh sees three speed bumps that could potentially derail negotiations.
- What will be the “architecture” of the agreement? Will it be a top down agreement like the Kyoto Protocol, where targets for lowering emissions are set by a few countries and then handed down to all other countries, or a bottom up agreement, in which the countries themselves set the targets?
- How should countries be differentiated? Not all countries are at the same stage of economic development and emissions.
- Should the agreement be legally binding or politically binding? Or should it be binding at all?
A successful agreement coming out of Paris, according to Ramesh, would be “Politically feasible, economically desirable and environmentally optimal.” Since economic growth is the main priority for most countries, and economic growth has been dependent on high carbon emissions, Ramesh predicts that it will be a politically and economically optimal agreement, but not environmentally optimal.
“This political leadership [at the upcoming Paris conference] will result in an agreement that will start the process of mitigating carbon emissions and adapting to the effects of climate change,” Ramesh said.