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Paris climate pact: The play of words

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By Rajendra Shende

New Delhi: The Paris Climate talks was one of the biggest event of 2015 for the global environmental movement. However, 2016 began with the same old approach.

I had heard European ParliamentPresident Martin Schulz’s intervention after the climate agreement was adopted in Paris on Dec 12, 2015.

“Historic is an often-abused adjective in politics, but today’s agreement deserves this qualification”, he had said.

Interestingly, less than 50 days later, another adjective has emerged in the US on the climate change issue during the presidential debates among Republican and Democratic candidates. “Callous” is that adjective used to describe the attitude of the candidates, and even the moderators of the debate on climate change. The most crucial election in the world to elect a leader in the most powerful country is now signaling the true fate of the Paris climate agreement.

Benjamin Franklin, the first US ambassador to France, is credited with creating the world’s first bifocal lens. Tired of switching between two pairs of glasses, Franklin cut two sets of lenses in half and assembled them in a frame. The Paris summit did exactly that after two groups of countries haggled for more than two decades about their distinct history of carbon emission and future roadmap to de-carbonize the development space. Tired of these wrangles, the Paris summit succeeded in forging the two groups in such a way that both serve a common purpose with differentiated responsibility.

The significant success of bringing the two blocks together can be attributed to honesty and French diplomacy.

Interestingly, it was American diplomacy that raised a literally last-minute issue about an innocent and decent four-letter word – shall – that almost cracked the bifocal frame assembled so carefully by French presidency. That was in article 4 in its fourth para, that was earlier missed by the American team. When it was noticed, all hell broke and the whole COP-21 came to a halt.

French efforts with seductive diplomacy turned into a bizarre show of calls behind the curtain. The sentence that made the American delegate pull the chain in the running train was the sentence: “Developed country Parties shall continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets. Developing country Parties should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts.”

English dictionaries, including American editions, explain that “shall” expresses certain laws, rules and events that are intended to be certain in the future. It gives a legally binding color to the sentence. “Should” is used to express advisability, possibility or making suggestions, permissibility, making propositions and recommendations that have colour of encouragement.

What happened next for nearly an hour in that high-frequency excitement is the subject of a classical case study in modern multilateral diplomacy. It was conveyed by the US that either the French presidency change the word to “should” or the Americans would not support it. It was, indeed, too late to fail the Paris agreement. The sentence was changed to: “Developed country Parties should continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission-reduction targets.”

Witnessing that high-octane development, sitting and waiting in the delegates’ hall and corresponding at TGV speed on WhatsApp with my friends in the frontline of negotiations, I was not baffled. I had seen such terse turns, tricky trials and turbulent tribulations in environmental diplomacy before.

What baffled me was what triumphed at the end of that drama – a spirit of “we shall”, passing the phase of “we should”. Without such “we shall” instinct proactively demonstrated by the developing countries, the Paris Summit would have opened yet another round of negotiations for next two decades. But the French presidency’s seductive gravel went down to adopt the Paris agreement.

The American drama in the “green room” was brought on stage with a script that was read out by the UNFCCC secretariat as a “typographical error”, which of course was a cover-up. Earlier drafts clearly indicated “shall” and were overlooked by the Americans. It all boils down to the fact that the US did not want the Paris agreement to be legally binding because the Republican-dominated Senate would never approve it. The verb “should” would give a developed country the freedom from legality.

While presenting the draft agreement, French Foreign Minister, and COP-21 president Laurent Fabius described it as “ambitious and balanced, fair, sustainable, dynamic and legally binding”. French President Francois Hollande just described it as “binding” as did the UN press release issued immediately after Hollande’s gravel went down.

International legal experts say any agreement is not binding in so far as it does not provide for a coercive or punitive mechanism for countries that fail to comply with their commitments. If the states that would ratify the Paris agreement want to just walk out of commitment, there is no provision to deter them.

The intent, however, as can be read from the Paris pact is that legally binding policies on compliances would emerge in future. As per the agreement, countries are required to re-convene every five years, starting in 2020, with updated plans that would tighten their emission cuts and starting in 2023, to publicly report on how they are doing so. Considering the on-going presidential debate in the US, those dates appear to be, to use another adjective, a “distant” dream that does not show any sign of getting ready.

Benjamin Franklin’s quote, loaded with verbs, says: “By failing to prepare, you are

preparing to fail.”(IANS)

( Rajendra Shende, a former director of the UNEP, is chairman of the TERRE Policy Centre. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at shende.rajendra@gmail.com)

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Here’s how Carbon Footprint Can be Reduced in India

Carbon footprint in India can be reduced by 20%

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Carbon global warming

BY VISHAL GULATI

The report focuses on the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the two most carbon-intensive products — passenger cars and residential buildings.

Producing and using materials more efficiently to build passenger cars and residential homes could cut carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent emissions between 2016 and 2060 by up to 25 gigaton across the Group of Seven (G7) member states, the International Resource Panel (IRP) finds in a summary for policymakers released here on Wednesday.

This is more than double the annual emissions from all the world’s coal-fuelled power plants.

The IRP finds that emissions from the production of materials like metals, wood, minerals and plastics more than doubled over the 20-year period to 2015, accounting for almost one-quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon products cars
Majority of carbon-intensive products are used in manufacturing cars. Pixabay

It warns that without boosting material efficiency, it will be almost impossible and substantially more expensive to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees Celsius — the more ambitious of the two Paris climate targets.

The IRP Summary for Policymakers, Resource Efficiency and Climate Change: Material Efficiency Strategies for a Low-Carbon Future, prepared at the request of the G7, is the first comprehensive scientific analysis estimating total cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in homes and cars that can be achieved through material efficiency.

Together, the construction and manufacturing sectors are responsible for an estimated 80 per cent of emissions generated by the first use of materials.

Using strategies and technologies that already exist, G7 countries could save up to 170 million tons of carbon emissions from residential homes in 2050.

India could save 270 million tons, and China could save 350 million tons in 2050 in this same sector.

If we look at the full lifecycle of cars, material efficiency strategies could help G7 countries, China and India reduce GHG emissions by up to 450 million tons each in 2050. These reductions can help countries stay within their carbon budget.

Extending the lifetime of products, reusing components, substituting or using less material, and making more intensive use of materials by, for example, ride-sharing, are all strategies that G7 countries could implement today to tackle global warming.

“Climate mitigation efforts have traditionally focused on enhancing energy efficiency and accelerating the transition to renewables. While this is still key, this report shows that material efficiency can also deliver big gains,” UN Environment Executive Director Inger Andersen said.

The IRP finds that the carbon footprint of the production of materials for cars could be cut by up to 70 per cent in G7 countries, and 60 per cent in China and 50 per cent in India in 2050.

The largest emission savings from passenger vehicles come from a change in how people use cars, like car-pooling and car-sharing, and a move away from large SUVs.

Greenhouse gases carbon
The construction and manufacturing sectors are responsible for an estimated 80 per cent of emissions generated by the first use of materials. Pixabay

The report also shows that greenhouse gas emissions from the production of materials for residential buildings in the G7, China and India could be reduced between 50 and 80 per cent in 2050 with greater material efficiency.

The most promising strategies include more intensive use of space e.g. reducing demand for floor space, switching out concrete and masonry for sustainably produced wood, improving recycling, and building lighter homes using less carbon-intensive steel, cement and glass.

Reducing demand for floor space in the G7 by up to 20 per cent could lower greenhouse gas emissions from the production of materials by up to 73 per cent in 2050.

Shared homes, smaller units, and downsizing when children move out lead to these big reductions.

The cuts revealed by the report are on top of emission savings generated by the decarbonisation of electricity supply, the electrification of home energy use, and the shift towards electric and hybrid vehicles.

Many of these emission reductions will only be possible if countries create enabling policy environments and incentives, the report says.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres wants countries to increase the ambition of their climate targets at the ongoing UN climate change negotiations (COP25) that entered its final stage in this Spanish capital.

Also Read- 86 Fashion Companies Partner with Political Leaders to Deliver Climate Action

The IRP report urges policymakers to integrate material efficiency into their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to set higher emission reduction targets that will limit the damage from global warming.

Currently, only Japan, India, China, and Turkey mention resource efficiency, resources management, material efficiency, circular economy or consumption side instruments as explicit mitigation measures in their NDCs. (IANS)