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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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Ecological Harmony as Understood by India Sages

Incidentally, for information, the modern science has only begun to talk about the Environmental ecology and ecosophy, but it has badly missed evaluating the “mental ecology” and “spiritual ecology”.

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Frankly speaking, the understanding that most of us have about “environment” can be described largely as being paradoxical.
One would be amazed to know how each individual is responsible for polluting the environment by mere use of, say a plastic bag, or even “using bottled water” or by consuming items in pouches which are done purely for our personal convenience.

By Salil Gewali, Shillong

The initiative often taken by a bureaucrat, Deputy Commissioner of Garo Hills (Meghalaya) to prohibit the use of bottled water is an outcome of a great awakening indeed. A long journey of 1000 miles starts with one small step. Frankly speaking, the understanding that most of us have about “environment” can be described largely as being paradoxical. A proper understanding of the ecology that we are part of and the degradation that is happening to it, should make us “aware” of the contribution that we make towards its overall degeneration. If we dig deeper we can well realize that due to our own acts of commission we are being caught off balance!

Of course there are endless causes for environmental degradation, but the major causes is large scale deforestation, commercial mining (for our state I call it senseless-mining), rapid industrialization and urbanization. One would be amazed to know how each individual is responsible for polluting the environment by mere use of, say a plastic bag, or even “using bottled water” or by consuming items in pouches which are done purely for our personal convenience. So when we try to understand who is responsible for the environmental degradation, it would be a good thing to turn inwards and rectify things at our end as well.

Mostly we tend to argue, as “what a big deal about one plastic bag today” or “it is one plastic spoon, what harm would it cause?”.  At an individual level, it does not seem to make much difference but the challenge here is that there are too many people who think “it is just this one thing today”. For example, there could be instances wherein when stuck in a traffic jam, one might have felt out of sheer frustration “Why does everyone have to take out a vehicle? “. This is a thought process that most of us have, where the cause of the problem is largely shifted to others while completely failing to realize that we are also to blame for the problem. A little introspection, that could be a question to the self “why did I take out a vehicle?”

According to some sources, nearly 12 million tones of plastic are consumed every year in India. There are certain uses of plastic that are unavoidable, but something like a plastic bag has alternatives and we could do well by avoiding it. Equally harmful, sometimes more dangerous, are the pouched-items which decorate these days each individual grocery/pan/ shop. Countless fancy items, plastic toys, chips and cookies all are attractively packed in the plastic itself. Too regrettably, we easy-going-parents, instead of buying nutritious “grains/chanas/badam” and dry fruits for our kids, we rush to buy cheesy and fizzy chips, while we gorge ourselves with pouchy Rajnigandha, varieties of addictive gutka and zarda for our freshmen which were till recently wrapped in hard plastic paper. The ferociously intoxicating “zarda” is being sold as “Tulsi” which in fact is a name for a sacred herbal plant. This all shows how the government itself is blind and deaf to the thunder of obnoxious decadence!  Look at how we all, and the government system, are culpable for contaminating the Mother Earth and also the environment of our inner physical being.  One wonders when we shall resolve to change our lifestyle, our practice, our greed-guided consumerism which are only standing out as the formidable threat to the whole ecosystem!

India’s Literature: The Western Thinkers Spellbound by India’s Literary Wisdom

Incidentally, for information, the modern science has only begun to talk about the Environmental ecology and ecosophy, but it has badly missed evaluating the “mental ecology” and “spiritual ecology”. The latter two are far more significant, inherently with us, and subtly enduring which we “carry” along even after the death. Very interestingly, this vast discipline had been studied with one-pointed determination in India since past 7000 years back (even more).  Indeed, this knowledge has extensively been adopted by the Western knowledge seekers. The ‘Laws of KARMA’ give a partial insight into this “universally holistic study”. In order to comprehend better the Indian seers constructed the special “BOAT” – named Yoga/Meditation. They realized that each being, after having taken the birth on this planet, must endeavor to bring the physical, mental and spiritual dimensions in “complete HARMONY” and “sail through” the worldly sufferings. The first step is to control the MIND and turn it into a “slave”, not like with us now — being the “slave” of our mind which is normally chaotically littered with material desires, and as result, the vision remain unclear. It only forms the “opinion”, often considers as “true”, based on personal likes and dislikes which need not be flawlessly right.

Frankly speaking, the understanding that most of us have about “environment” can be described largely as being paradoxical.
In order to comprehend better the Indian seers constructed the special “BOAT” – named Yoga/Meditation.

Once the MIND is controlled it obviously helps open the doorway to see the ultimate TRUTH as it is and also helps feel the ultimate bliss. This discipline of the Vedanta alone can make one capable to realize that all individual objects in the universe are “non-separable”, they are intrinsically interconnected, ecologically interdependent and supremely divine. The material manifestation is only the physical projection of the ALL-KNOWING-ENERGY. 

Frankly speaking, the understanding that most of us have about “environment” can be described largely as being paradoxical.
The ferociously intoxicating “zarda” is being sold as “Tulsi” which in fact is a name for a sacred herbal plant.

This grand KNOWLEDGE of SUPREME ECOLOGY of INDIA intensely inspired Erwin Schrodinger, best known as the father of Quantum Mechanics, he proclaimed: “Vedanta teaches that consciousness is singular, all happenings are played out in one UNIVERSAL CONSCIOUSNESS and there is no MULTIPLICITY of selves.” This knowledge of Vedanta of the East helped the Nobel laureate Schrodinger in conceptualizing his “Schrodinger Wave Equation” based on the “Dynamic Unity of all Entities” in the universe.