Tag Archives: South Asia

Breaking Down the Climate Talks

logo-COPThe Paris Conference of Parties (COP), long viewed as the vehicle for crafting the next phase of global climate responses, both shed light on complications surrounding the history of climate change negotiations, as well as unpack a new landmark agreement to tackle climate change and reduce greenhouse gases.

History of Climate Negotiations

The international political response to climate change began at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, where the ‘Rio Convention’ included the adoption of the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC).   The UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994.  This convention set the framework for action aimed at stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

One of the main principles of climate negotiations is that countries have common but differentiated responsibilities when it comes to climate change, depending on their wealth in particular. The agreement establishes an obligation for industrialized countries to fund climate finance for poor countries, while developing countries are invited to contribute on a voluntary basis.  As regards transparency, a stronger system for tracking commitments, which allows developing countries a certain amount of flexibility, has also been set up in order to keep track of everyone’s efforts .

The main objective of the annual COP was and remain to review the Convention’s implementation. The first COP took place in Berlin in 1995 and significant meetings since then have included COP3 where the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, COP11 where the Montreal Action Plan was produced, COP15 in Copenhagen where an agreement to success Kyoto Protocol was unfortunately not realized and COP17 in Durban where the Green Climate Fund was created.

The COP Climate Deal, So Far

The Paris agreement marks a major change in direction.  In terms of global responsibilities, it confirms the global target of keeping the rise in temperature below 2°C.   Scientists believe that a greater increase in temperature would be very dangerous.  However, the agreement also establishes, for the first time, that we should be aiming for 1.5°C, to protect island states, which are the most threatened by the rise in sea levels.

By 12 December 2015, 186 countries had published their action plan; each of these plans sets out the way in which they intend to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The UN body that deals with climate change (the UNFCCC*) published an evaluation of these contributions on 1 November 2015. This study showed that despite the unprecedented mobilization shown by States, at this rate global warming would still be between 2.7°C and 3°C, i.e. above the threshold set by scientists.

Secondly, the agreement addresses climate finance.  The agreement acknowledges that $100 billion (in loans and donations) will need to be raised each year from 2020 to finance projects that enable countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change (rise in sea level, droughts, etc.) or reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement specifies that this amount should increase. Some developing countries will also be able to become donors, on a voluntary basis, to help the poorest countries. This is a first. The agreement schedules an initial meeting in 2025, where further quantified commitments will be made regarding assistance to the poorest countries.

The agreement will be open for signing by the countries on 22 April in New York. The agreement can only enter into force once it has been ratified by 55 countries, representing at least 55% of emissions.  This of course, would be the real turning point.

The New Delhi Deal

U.S. President Obama and India's PM Modi wave towards the media during a photo opportunity ahead of their meeting at Hyderabad House in New DelhiThe New Delhi Deal initiated by U. S. President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week has emboldened India’s economic reform agenda and deepen U.S. – India bilateral relations.  The two countries reached agreement on a series of measures designed to reinvigorate commercial trade, restore the confidence of investors in India’s vast market, and resolve differences over the liability of suppliers to India in the event of a nuclear accident and U.S. demands on tracking the whereabouts of material supplied to the country.

  “Chalein saath saath; forward together we go.”

 – India-U.S. Delhi Declaration of Friendship

Trade and Investment

Under President Obama, trade between the two countries has increased by about 60 percent to nearly $100 billion a year (White House, 2015).  Speaking at a U.S.-India Business Council Summit in New Delhi,  President Obama announced a series of steps that will generate more than $4 billion in trade and investment with India while supporting thousands of jobs in both countries:

  • The Export-Import Bank will commit up to $1 billion in financing to support “Made-in-America” exports to India.
  • OPIC will support lending to small and medium businesses across India that will result in more than $1 billion in loans in underserved rural and urban markets.
  • The U.S. Trade and Development Agency will aim to leverage nearly $2 billion in investments in renewable energy in India.

Climate Change

The President and Prime Minister Modi pledged to enhance U.S.-Indian cooperation on our mutual climate and clean energy goals. The new deal ranged from financing initiatives aimed at helping India use renewable energy to lower carbon intensity.  The progress made on combating climate change, include the U.S.-India Partnership to Advance Clean Energy (PACE) umbrella program and technical work on emerging technologies.

The agreements include:

  • Enhancing bilateral climate change cooperation to achieve a successful and ambition agreement in Paris this year.
  •  Cooperating on Hydro-flurocarbons to make concrete progress in the Montreal Protocol in 2015.
  • Expanding PACE-R, the U.S.-India Joint Clean Energy Research and Development Center, to extend funding for research on solar energy, energy efficiency, and advanced bio-fuels.
  • Launching air quality cooperation to help urban residents reduce their exposure to harmful levels of air pollution.

More than 80% of electricity generation in India comes from fossil fuels and the power sector consumed nearly 70% of the coal the country produced in 2011, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA, 2014).

Human Rights

President Obama addressed an audience of 1,500 at Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi on the final day of his trip.  In a pointed message, the President pressed India on the need to address wider social challenges, including human trafficking and slavery, the status of girls and women in society, religious and racial tolerance and the need for programs to empower young people (Baker/Barry, New York Times: 2015)

Liberalization, Sovereignty and the Markets

India’s slowdown has had significant spillover effects to the rest of South Asia, and even more so after the financial crisis of 2008.  As Martin Rama and others have shown in their research, there is a clear transmission of the global business cycle on South Asia, but also a significant effect from India on South Asian economies’ GDP growth rates.  Not only do Indian business cycle movements spill over to other economies in the region: the nature and speed of the pass through has significantly changed in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008 (Rama, 2012).  This spillover effect adds to the direct effect that other developing countries, the US and other advanced countries have on the legitimacy, power and controls in the region.

Adler-Nissem and Gammeltoft-Hansen (2008) suggests a new approach to the study of State sovereignty, proposing to understand the use of sovereignty as games where States are becoming more instrumental in their claims to sovereignty and skilled in adapting it to the challenges that they face.

I agree the strategic use of State sovereignty in international affairs bears consequences for authority relations.  Further, as I write in a new article, Liberalization, Sovereignty and the Markets (forthcoming 2015), sovereignty  is being instrumentalized by states as well as other exogenous forces in the political economy.  For example, while India is the country most affected by portfolio outflows, the impact is felt across all South Asian economies.  And this is so even if each country faces specific idiosyncratic challenges and shocks to economic performance (Markus Kitzmuller et. al, 2013).