India defended climate change red-lines at G20 meeting

"At the recent G20 talks in Turkey a tough and long drawn argument ensued over COP21 climate change conference. India successfully opposed the attempt to pre-judge the negotiations at Paris and force consensus where none exists today," according to Nitin Sethi of the Business Standard in India.

To read more see this article.

20 November 2015 (Nitin Sethi)

At the recently concluded talks of G20 countries India prevented an attempt to pre-decide the contours of the Paris climate change agreement outside the formal United Nations climate convention negotiations, which are to start on November 30. The proposals from the developed countries at the G20 meet to include the joint communique, which the 20 heads of states were to sign, would have also breached Indian interests. The diplomatic tug of war with the developed countries in meeting at Antalya, Turkey on November 16 delayed the final communique by the heads of states for hours.

India was represented by Niti Ayog chairperson Arvind Panagariya as the Sherpa for Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 talks. Multiple sources said he led the negotiations over the communique along with other officials from the Indian team, which eventually led to agreeing upon paragraph on climate change that India found acceptable.

“It was surely a very tough and long-drawn negotiation,” said one Indian negotiator at the G20 meeting. The developed countries pushed for inclusion of three contentious issues in the G20 communique, which have been difficult to resolve at the UN negotiations and wanted to keep a reference to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities out.

“There are strongly varying views within the 196 countries about these issues at the UN negotiations. We have always been opposed to plurilateral forums, such as G20, dictating terms to the rest of the world when all countries are engaged to deliver at the Paris meet starting November 30. That is the right forum, where all countries get an equal voice,” said an Indian official.

While decisions of G20 are not imported directly in to the formal UN climate negotiations they hold great weight because some of the most economically and politically powerful countries being members the club. An endorsement of ideas at G20 often becomes difficult to fight off at the formal UN talks.  

“The first draft of the communique did not have any contentious ideas but then they were introduced which got us concerned,” said one official. Business Standard reviewed the draft communique independently too.

A reference was brought in to endorse a recent OECD report on climate finance which states that developed countries are well on way to deliver the promised $100 billion annually by 2020. More than 134 developing countries under in the G77+China group have collectively and publicly criticised the report for double counting funds from developed world, including existing ODA and loans to developing world as climate funding. So has the BASIC countries – India, China, Brazil and South Africa. “How could we let that report be endorsed through the G20 as if it’s the final word when all of us acknowledge there are many problems with it?” said the official. The recent meeting of ministers under the formal UN climate forum ahead of the Paris talks too acknowledges in its summary that the OECD report is not acceptable to all countries.

At the Turkey meeting, developed countries also demanded that G20 endorse a mechanism to review and ratchet up the climate targets of the countries under the Paris agreement. Countries have largely agreed to a periodic review of the countries targets as a collective – referred to as a stock-take. But large differences persist over how countries would revise their targets periodically over coming years. Developed countries prefer to ratchet up only the emission reduction targets but not have a similar review and ratchet system of their commitments to deliver finance and technology. Developing countries such as India want the wall of differentiation to continue in the review process while keeping alive the linkage between their actions and the commitments of the rich countries to deliver finance and clean technology. The targets are nationally determined at the moment and not through an international mechanism but the debate is to be settled at Paris over it.

The third contentious issue brought to the table by developed countries at the G20 meeting was a reference to what the long term goal of Paris agreement should be. At the UN negotiations last year in Lima the world had agreed that the goal would be to keep global temperature rise in check below 2 degree Celsius by the turn of the century. The developed countries have recently proposed new terms such as ‘decarbonisation’ of the global economy and becoming ‘carbon neutral’. These terms were introduced in to the G20 communique as well, sources said. While the terms are not clearly defined the developed countries are keen to get them in to the Paris agreement to provide a signal to their industries. Countries such as India are opposed to these as they do not retain the differentiation between the responsibility of the developed world and the poor. At the same time they restrict growth of emerging economies such as India which would have to depend more on coal in coming decade despite ra pidly deploying renewable energy.

India was able to ultimately prevail at the G20 talks and bring back the reference to the 2 degree goal that all countries have agreed to. It was able to also force back the reference to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities – the bed rock of the UN convention on climate change that developed countries are keen to weaken through the Paris agreement. On India’s insistence along with some other developing countries the G20 communique also ultimately read: “We reaffirm that UNFCCC is the primary international intergovernmental body for negotiating climate change.”
This is not the first time that developed countries have used forums such as the G20 or the Major Economies Forum that the US hosts to push their views through the formal UN mechanism. “The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is a legal treaty and any negotiations outside of this forum is an attempt by developed countries to delink discussions from the legal context and obligations they have under the UNFCCC,” says Meena Raman of Third World Network, a think tank observer at the climate talks.

“This is unfair and an attempt to ‘steal a march’ from the sensitive and complex negotiations happening under the UNFCCC.  Moreover, these processes outside the UNFCCC are not representative and inclusive of all countries. They are overly dominated by developed countries,” she adds.

When EU officials were anonymously quoted in media after the G20 meeting blaming India for “blocking” language favouring an “ambitious climate change agreement” it got a strong counter reaction as well.

“Ridiculous. You only have to as much as disagree to be called a blocker. Sad!” said Amit Narang, Counsellor, Permanent Mission of India to United Nations at New York and one of India’s climate negotiators. He had tweeted this.

“It is unethical and unfair to label developing countries who defend their positions as ‘blockers’ when developed countries advance positions that deviate from their obligations under the UNFCCC and against the interest of developing countries,” said Raman. 

TWN Info Service on Climate Change Nov15/10

by Nitin Sethi
20 November 2015