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The climate agreement of December 2015 needs to be ratified by at least 55 of 174 countries. India still has to do it but is using it as a lever to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group

By Darryl D’Monte in Mumbai

India is dragging its feet on ratifying the climate agreement that was concluded in Paris in December 2015. One unstated reason is that it is using this as a lever to pressurize the US into getting it admitted into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Along with hydro, wind and solar power, India claims that it is including nuclear as a clean fuel which doesn’t cause global warming.

At the recent G20 meet in China, the host country and the US —the first and second biggest emitters of greenhouse gases—ratified the agreement. Together, they account for 38 percent of the world’s emissions. If the EU isn’t treated as one entity, India is the third biggest emitter because of its huge population, though its per capita emissions are far lower than the two biggest countries.

A demonstration demanding climate protection in Tokyo on November 28, 2015, a few days before the Paris Climate Summit. Photo: UNI
A demonstration demanding climate protection in Tokyo on November 28, 2015, a few days before the Paris Climate Summit. Photo: UNI

The agreement isn’t legally binding, but it imposes certain obligations on those who ratify it. Each country has what is known in UN jargon as “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” or INDCs, which speaks for itself.  In other words, each country states, by how much it can cut the use of fossil fuels and will, in time, subject these to international scrutiny. There are no penalties for not keeping to one’s commitment, only global censure.

MOROCCO MEET

For the agreement to come into force, at least 55 countries of the 174 which signed the treaty this April must ratify it. These collectively contribute an equivalent—55 percent—of global emissions, which indicates how much the Big Two emit. Only 24 countries have so far done so, but more are expected to by the next UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meet in Morocco this November. India has preferred to state, ambiguously, that it will consider doing so “by the end of the year”.

Eight US states offer renewable energy credits for each megawatt hour of electricity generated from a renewable energy system constructed using equipment made in these states

Arvind Panagariya, Niti Ayog vice-chairman, also dubbed a “sherpa” or key aide to the Prime Minister at the recent G20 meet, said: “We have sought flexibility. Yes, we are committed to ratifying it, but cannot complete domestic procedures by 2016-end.”

While there may be issues in compelling certain states and political parties into falling in line in cutting emissions, the truth is that it only requires the cabinet to give it the go-ahead and doesn’t need parliament’s approval. The EU is facing somewhat similar problems because some member countries—like Poland, a major coal producer—are reluctant to commit to cutting the use of fossil fuels.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching a book titled Parampara at the Paris Climate Summit. Photo: UNI
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching a book titled Parampara at the Paris Climate Summit. Photo: UNI

Likewise, India is opposed to a deadline for ending fossil fuel subsidies. According to the International Energy Agency, these globally amounted to $493 billion in 2014, mainly in rich countries. However, India faces the problem of removing such subsidies on kerosene and LPG which are meant for the poor.

INDIA’S PREVARICATION

By itself, India’s recalcitrance hardly jeopardizes the ratification of the Paris agreement since it will be operationalized only in 2020. But it stands to face the opprobrium of other countries as the only major emerging nation to be prevaricating on this score. President Barack Obama is keen to see the agreement through before the end of his presidency, particularly if Donald Trump comes to power.

India stands to face the opprobrium of other countries as the only major emerging nation to be prevaricating on the issue of ratifying the agreement

China is being proactive because it is projecting itself as the world leader in renewable forms of energy like solar and correctly sees that there is a huge market—not least in India itself—waiting to be tapped.

The Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission seeks to “establish India as a global leader in solar energy, by creating the policy conditions for its diffusion across the country as quickly as possible”. India is attempting to require solar power developers—everyday sees the entry of new players like Adani—to use solar cells and modules made in India in various phases of their projects. In return, the government would buy their clean power at a fixed rate for 25 years.

WTO PANEL

However, the US, which has major players investing in India’s solar industry, like SunEdison (which recently bowed out), took India’s decision to the World Treaty Organization (WTO) on the ground that this was a protectionist move, discriminating against US products.

Despite awareness about the harm that fossil fuels cause, most countries are dependent on them. Photo: UNI
Despite awareness about the harm that fossil fuels cause, most countries are dependent on them. Photo: Anil Shakya

The US argued, and the WTO panel agreed, that by imposing such requirements, India accorded imported solar cells and modules less favorable treatment than similar products manufactured in India. This February, the WTO ruled against India, arguing that its policy violated its commitments under the global trading regime, specifically the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the Agreement on Trade Related Investment Measures (TRIMs).

According to an article co-authored by consumer activist Pradeep S Mehta: “India argued that the measure was exempted from the scrutiny under the WTO agreements because the government ultimately procured the electricity so produced and was thus be treated as government procurement. However, the WTO panel, relying on earlier cases, held that the product procured was electricity, whereas the product discriminated against was the inputs used to produce electricity and hence the exception did not apply.”

Even if each and every country ratifies the agreement, there is no way that the globe’s average temperatures will not cross 2⁰C above pre-industrial levels, leading to irreversible climate change.

India also argued, unsuccessfully, that it was required to protect its nascent solar industry due to its commitment to cut fossil fuel consumption under the UNFCCC. But the WTO stated, incongruously, that international environmental obligations imposed no binding commitments on nations and thus they were not “laws or regulations” that had to be complied with. Trade obviously takes precedence over the prospect of catastrophic climate change.

India finally raised a counter-dispute against the US at the WTO on September 9 over domestic content requirements and subsidies provided by eight American states —Washington, California, Montana, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Michigan, Delaware and Minnesota—for renewable energy companies in violation of national treatment and other provisions.

It cited several incentive programs offered in these states to promote the renewable energy sector in violation of core WTO rules and launched dispute settlement proceedings against the US.

US’ DOUBLE STANDARDS

According to the Penang-based Third World Network (TWN), which tracks international climate and all development negotiations minutely, the US had to respond to India’s complaint within 30 days. India could call for a dispute settlement panel to adjudicate over the allegedly inconsistent practices adopted by the eight states if the two sides fail to come to an understanding.

In the programs India mentioned, the US states offer renewable energy credits for each megawatt hour of electricity generated from a renewable energy system constructed using equipment made in these states.

In California’s solar incentive program, for example, it was prescribed that photovoltaic modules and solar power equipment must be manufactured within Los Angeles. TWN notes that “the US provides subsidies worth tens of billions of dollars for promoting solar energy”.

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However, the appeal failed on 16 September, with the US Trade Representative Michael Froman saying that India’s “domestic content requirements (DCR)” was “a clear victory for American solar manufacturers and workers”.

The dispute also places a question mark over the bonhomie exhibited by Obama over Prime Minister Modi’s announcement, on the opening day in Paris, that India was launching an International Solar Alliance which would be based in the country, and was committing land and $400 million towards it. This is a potential game-changer, considering that India could position itself as a technology hub for this clean energy and provide it to developing countries at more competitive rates.

FOSSIL FUEL

The supreme irony is that whether India ratifies the agreement or not, the G20 countries are increasing, not decreasing, their fossil fuel consumption. According to Climate Transparency, a group of international researchers, between 1990 and 2013, its use went up by a staggering 56 percent.
Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia and the US have the highest per capita energy-related CO2 emissions.

Even if each and every country ratifies the agreement, there is no way that the globe’s average temperatures will not cross 2⁰C above pre-industrial levels, leading to irreversible climate change. At Paris, small-island countries, which are the most affected, wanted this limit brought down to 1.5⁰C, which the agreement pays lip-service to as a goal, but is an even more remote possibility.

The only binding UNFCCC law was the Kyoto protocol, which was signed in 1997 and came into force in 2005. It laid down specific binding emission levels for industrial countries and penalized those who didn’t adhere to them.

It is little wonder that the US refused to ratify it, saying that China and India should first come on board. A few years later, even its host country, Japan, withdrew.

Since the abortive Copenhagen summit in 2009, leading all the way to Paris, it has been a downhill slope in negotiations to rein in the prospect of unprecedented global warming. This is termed “The Great Derangement” by novelist Amitav Ghosh, in his latest non-fiction book of that title. It addresses the refusal of nations—and individuals—to look at cataclysmic climate change in the face.

Lead picture: (L-R) The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi with the President of USA, Barack Obama, the President of France, Francois Hollande, the President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, Bill Gates and other dignitaries, at the Innovation Summit in COP 21, in Paris on November 30, 2015. Photo: PIB; a typhoon in Manila, Philippines. Photo: UNI

 

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