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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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The World Economic Forum To Discuss Globalization, Climate Change

Among those coming will be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, fresh from his travels in the Middle East and more.

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A general view shows the mountain resort of Davos, Switzerland Jan. 15, 2019. VOA

More than 3,200 government, business, academics and civil society leaders will address issues of globalization, climate change and other matters of world importance next week at the annual World Economic Forum in the plush Swiss Alpine village of Davos.

The list of participants reads like the Who’s Who of the most powerful, successful and inventive movers and shakers in the world. They will be rubbing shoulders during hundreds of formal sessions and workshops, as well as in private bilaterals on the sidelines of the meeting. They will discuss and seek solutions to some of humanity’s most vexing problems.

The theme of this year’s gathering is Globalization “4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.” That refers to the emerging technology breakthroughs in such fields as artificial intelligence and robotics.

 

World Economic Forum
Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum holds the meeting’s manifesto as he addresses a news conference ahead of the Davos annual meeting in Cologny near Geneva. VOA

 

Founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab says this fourth wave of globalization needs to be human-centered. He says globalization in its present form is not sustainable. He says globalization must be made more inclusive.

“Globalization produced winners and losers, and so there were many more winners in the last 24, 25, 30 years. But now we have to look after the losers — after those who have been left behind…what we need is a moralization, or re-moralization, of globalization,” he said.

The program is very wide-ranging. For example, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will discuss the state of the world. He will broach issues like climate change, fighting poverty and sustainable development. There will be special sessions by others about ways to make economic growth more inclusive, on rethinking world trade, as well as many scientific, artistic and cultural meetings.

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An ice crevasse is seen on the Baishui Glacier No. 1, the world’s fastest melting glacier due to its proximity to the Equator, on the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the southern province of Yunnan in China. VOA

Leaders from all regions of the world will attend. The Middle East will be represented by the presidents of Libya and Iraq. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be there. So will Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Six or seven presidents from Africa will be in attendance. And organizers of the forum say there is great interest in an appearance by the new Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who has established peace with Eritrea during his first six months in office.

The forum president, Borge Brende, says a strong United States delegation will attend next week’s event, although President Donald Trump canceled his participation.

Also Read:Governments Have Failed to Respond Adequately to Climate Change at The U.N. Conference: Activists

“We fully understand that, of course, President Trump will have to stay in D.C. as long as the government is facing this shutdown. We are very pleased, though, that the U.S. will be participating with key secretaries,” he said.

Brende confirms that among those coming will be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, fresh from his travels in the Middle East, Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. (VOA)