Environment: The Beacon of HopeDamandeep Singh
Businesses see their long-term interest in building a clean economy, as the Paris deal opens a big window for developing renewable energy sources
The green-headed gavel came down at Le Bourget late evening from the experienced hands of Monsieur Laurent Fabius, French foreign minister and president of COP21, and the world exhaled. The deal was done, amid loud cheers and a fair bit of emotion.
In a year when the world reached many important milestones related to climate change in 2015 — the hottest ever temperatures recorded in human history and the breaching of the symbolic threshold of over 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere — a new milestone was laid at Paris. The agreement provides a framework for a transition towards a clean economy and aims to put a stop to dangerous climate change.
The unprecedented agreement was welcomed by a majority of countries with global leaders vying for the most unique quote. “Markets now have the signal they need to unleash human ingenuity and low-carbon growth,” said UN’s Secretary General Ban ki Moon. “What was once unthinkable, is now unstoppable.”
US President Barack Obama said the Paris deal is “the best chance we have to save the one planet we have”.
“Outcome of Paris agreement has no winners or losers. Climate justice has won and we are all working towards a greener future,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted on Twitter. Union minister for environment Prakash Javadekar called it a “great victory for humanity and an absolute success” telling journalists that “we have been successful to keep our national interest alive.” India had taken a lot of heat in the earlier part of the deliberations for its plan to triple coal-fired thermal power capacity. The negotiators were at pains to stress that the renewables would go up by 7x in the same time period.
China, the world’s biggest polluter, also hailed the deal. But some campaigners said it did not go far enough to protect the planet. The upshot of two weeks of hectic parleys resulted in the Paris pact aimed to limit the global temperature rise below 2°C and further strive to limit it up to 1.5°C.
Climate Action Network South Asia, a coalition of over 141 civil society groups from South Asia, termed the final text of the Paris climate treaty as durable and dynamic, but said it had fallen short on being fully fair. Sanjay Vashist, director, Climate Action Network South Asia said: “All countries will have to act together on climate change and make efforts… The onus is now on developed countries to fulfil their promises and scale up climate finance flows to support mitigation and adaptation efforts, especially for most vulnerable countries.”
Sounding a critical note, Rezaul Karim Chowdhary, executive director of Coastal Association for Social Transformation Trust of Bangladesh said : “The ‘most vulnerable countries’ have lost their right to claim liabilities and compensation for ‘loss and damage’. Countries like Bangladesh will not be able to seek assistance from richer nations and we will be left alone to face up to these disasters. Those who have polluted the planet most have gone scot free in this iteration of text.”
Chandra Bhushan, deputy director general, Centre for Science & Environment said: “The phrase ‘historical responsibility’ has been erased from the agreement and this weakens the obligations of developed countries to take actions due to their past emissions.”
Many other civil society organisations, however, welcomed the agreement saying it provided a framework to build concrete actions. Underpinning the agreement, which will only come into effect ater 2020, is the system of voluntary pledges, or nationally determined contributions made by countries to curb their GHG emissions in order to limit global warming. The UNFCCC principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities ensuring equity finds place in the Paris Agreement as demanded by many G77 countries including India.
A notable presence this year was that of many corporates and investment institutions including bankers, insurers, and pension funds. An umbrella group of NGOs representing corporate interests called ‘We Mean Business’ called the convention a “spark and market signal” to accelerate an urgently-needed clean global economy.
“The world’s governments have sent a decisive signal to businesses and investors that will accelerate the shift towards a thriving, clean global economy,” said Nigel Topping, CEO, We Mean Business. Paul Simpson, CEO of CDP Worldwide, said: “By establishing a clear, long-term goal to achieve an early peak of greenhouse gas emissions and zero overall global emissions in the second half of this century, governments have set us on a path to decouple our prosperity and development from fossil fuel use.”
The Paris Agreement is not legally binding to limit GHG emissions by respective countries. However, there are obligations on participating countries on transparent reporting requirements. The issue of primary responsibility towards limiting climate change also seems to be resolved with the new text of the agreement that includes a provision of financial support from developed countries. It is agreed that developed countries will give $100 billion annually for climate change mitigation starting 2020.
It is of great significance that governments have been able to commit action working in tandem with the business community. Voluntary commitments by industry include over 115 companies pledging to set climate science-based GHG emission reduction targets and about 61 companies have committed to source 100 per cent renewable energy for their operations.
New Window For India
India’s stand was articulated very clearly during the climate summit on finance and review mechanism for climate actions such as development of clean energy sector, etc. and sustainable patterns of consumption. India is looking for low-cost capital for making low-carbon investments possible.
Many in the global community identified India’s position as a fair requirement. The crucial goal is to provide access to energy to people with limited disposal income. Besides finance, availability of technology to make low carbon growth easier and affordable is important for developing countries.
It is envisaged that the Paris deal will encourage trillions of dollars of investment to be spent in enhancing renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. India has already set ambitious renewable energy targets (175 GW) to be achieved by 2022. The aim is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy consumption significantly. Business like financial services provider and energy companies can benefit directly from India’s national climate obligations whereas the country as whole will save cost through clean energy along with less impact on the climate.
Undeniably the French have once again demonstrated their expertise in the art of deal making. They charmed all delegates with their organisation and facilities.
A beautiful city, wounded by terrorist violence barely weeks ago, became the beacon of hope in a foggy world.
The author is director of environmental organisation, CDP India, and has spent over two decades researching and writing on environment and development issues. He was reporting on the Climate Change conclave for BW from Paris
(This story was originally published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 28-12-2015)
This article was published in BW Businessworld Magazine titled ‘What Ails Healthcare?’