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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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Yoga Can Help the World in Fighting Climate Change, Fostering Global Harmony: UN

It teaches us a holistic vision of the world encouraging us to live in harmony with ourselves

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Yoga, Climate Change, Global Harmony
As such, yoga can promote solidarity, social integration, tolerance justice and peace. Pixabay

Deputy UN Secretary-General Amina Mohammed has said that yoga can help the world in these troubled times by inspiring the adoption of a sustainable lifestyle to fight climate change and by promoting tolerance and peace.

Addressing the fifth International Yoga Day celebration here on Thursday, she said: “The essence of yoga is balance not only within us, but also in our relationship with humanity, with the world. As such, yoga can promote solidarity, social integration, tolerance justice and peace.

“It teaches us a holistic vision of the world encouraging us to live in harmony with ourselves, society and nature.”

The theme of the celebration was Yoga and Climate Action, and Mohammed said that yoga “has a valuable contribution in addressing climate change, the defining issue of our time, by inspiring us to shift away from the unsustainable practices towards inclusive green growth, conscious consumption and much more sustainable lifestyles”.

Yoga, Climate Change, Global Harmony
Yoga can help the world in these troubled times by inspiring the adoption of a sustainable lifestyle to fight climate change . Pixabay

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a video message that the global significance of yoga is that like it unites tbe body, mind and soul, it can also unite the world.

The celebration was filled with symbolism relevant to the issues of the day. In a show of the nature’s challenge, week-long rains continuing into the day, turned the UN lawns soggy, forcing the event indoors into the General Assembly chamber.

And the hall that often echoes with words of disharmony and confrontation instead reverberated with chants of “Om, Om Shanti” led by the yoga gurus.

In a sign of human ingenuity meeting nature’s adversities, the yoga masters quickly changed the planned mass outdoor yoga exercises into a performance of “office yoga” for closed in spaces by the diplomats, officials and yoga enthusiasts thronging the Assembly chamber.

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India’s Permanent Representative Syed Akbaruddin noted that the International Yoga Day was born in that very hall through a resolution adopted by the Assembly in 2014.

“There is growing discourse among theglobal community that yoga can be one of the tools in our collective quest for promoting sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature,” he said.

Yoga drives the quest for balance and this “provides us with a framework for managing our needs and desires” he said.

“When applied to communities and societies, yoga offers a toolkit for embracing lifestyles that are sustainable, lifestyles that appeal to the human yearning for harmony.”

Yoga, Climate Change, Global Harmony
The essence of yoga is balance not only within us, but also in our relationship with humanity. Pixabay

Celebrity yoga instructor and pranic healer Sunaina Rekhi of Mumbai’s Yoga Gallery received loud cheers as she led the audience through a freewheeling session of joyous yoga with feet stomping and jumping in place showing how to relieve stress and relax.

Swami Paramananda of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre, and Kevin Tobar from the Bhakti Centre led chants and yoga exercises adapted for practice in confined spaces like offices.

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Since Wednesday, a light show of yoga asanas is being projected on the north face of the iconic, 39-storey UN building at night. (IANS)