The unresolved issue in the negotiation on the new climate regime is whether the multilateral consensus at Paris will be around international cooperation to deal with the causes, the need for a global transformation to a low carbon economy and society, or focus on emissions reduction, which are the symptoms of the problem.

The commentary looks at two divergent trends which are broadening the definition of climate change to include security and shifting the focus of solutions from production to consumption patterns; both are expected to shape the debate. The security establishment has expressed views on the climate negotiations in, their deliberations in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on 12 October, 2015. A recent report of the International Energy Agency, 8 October 2015, stresses energy efficiency as a key solution to deal with the causes of the problem. Twenty years after the climate treaty was negotiated in 1992, the climate debate has moved away from the sole focus on atmospheric sciences to the social sciences and also consider strategic concerns and consumption patterns, or politics and lifestyles.

It remains to be seen whether the new regime will adopt a broader sustainable development perspective or continue to view international cooperation and national action narrowly in terms of environmental risk.

1. The negotiating text

The United Nations process has been jolted with developing countries unanimously rejecting the text that was to be the basis for negotiations. Even more unprecedented is the lack of confidence in the co-chairs nominated to develop options for the final political trade-offs.

The political problem is that the Lima Call for Action, in 2014, developed a consensus around a ‘fair and ambitious’ global climate agreement and as no guidelines were given on how to make such assessment all countries claim their pledge is ‘fair and ambitious’. The U.S. and EU define fairness in terms of emission reduction based on their current shares, without accounting for their relatively small share of the worlds population and without taking into account historical emissions. Their push for successive rounds of targets virtually defines international cooperation in terms of a long-term emission goal, characterized as ‘environmental integrity’.

As against this progression of commitments despite the bottom-up arrangement, Prime Minister Modi has argued that “we are more likely to succeed if we offer affordable solutions, not simply impose choices”, and he called “for a change in lifestyle, because the emission reduction that we seek will be a natural outcome of how we live”. Modifying longer term trends in consumption patterns responds to the evidence that three-quarters of emissions come from cities.

Three initiatives by developing countries, led by China and India, to promote international cooperation can break the deadlock.

2. Transparency for fairness

For developing countries clarity on how national actions will be assessed is an essential element of transparency. The United Nations estimates that 75% of the worlds carbon budget will be finish by 2030. Therefore, fairness will be transparently assessed by showing how the carbon budget is being shared between countries.

Any future assessment which only considers ‘environmental integrity’ will not be fair to those countries whose emissions will need to grow beyond 2030, or the late developers. For example, Indias emissions are expected to double by 2030, putting them ahead of emissions of the U.S. and the EU, but at half the levels of China, while Indias per capita emissions will be one-fourth those of the U.S. and China, two-thirds of the EU and half the global average in 2030.

That is why the indicators to assess national actions should include historical emissions, current emissions and per capita emissions along with GDP and GDP per capita without making a choice of one over the other. The next round of target-setting should take place after reviewing and drawing lessons from the INDCs in 2030, as ambition is not ratcheting up emission targets to meet a long term emission goal but a pathway to a long term transformation.

3. Modifying trends for ambition

So far, 152 countries representing over 85% of global emissions have submitted commitments to the United Nations establishing that in the case of electricity generation emissions are expected to level out by 2030. Nearly half the INDCs target an increase in renewable energy and, if the goals are met, a mere one-third CO2 will be released into the atmosphere till 2030 compared with the increase between 2000 and 2014. The analysis also shows that developing countries' efforts surpass those of developed counties.

This modification of the key longer term trend focuses attention on the transport sector, which is responsible for 23% of energy related CO2 emissions. It is the largest energy consuming sector in 40% of countries and the second largest in the remaining countries, and is the fastest growing sector in energy consumption. For example, in the EU while greenhouse gas emissions in other sectors decreased 15% between 1990 and 2007 emissions from transport increased 36% during the same period, more than half in urban areas, and two-third of the emissions in the U.S. come from buildings and transport. The IPCC assesses that 15%–40% reduction in transport emissions is plausible by 2050.

Just as the first tranche of INDCs have stabilized emissions from electricity generation, the second tranche of INDCs, to be prepared by 2020, should aim to stabilize emissions from transportation.

4. Pledges on technology

A greater focus on technology development and transfer will meet the gap in climate policies to keep within the global carbon budget, or temperature limits. India has already taken the lead for joint development and sharing of technologies in the G20 and an Energy Access Action Plan is to be discussed at the next meeting on 15–16 November, 2015. As in the case of emissions, a small number of countries are responsible for innovative technology in electricity generation, buildings, transport and new seed varieties. Pledges by the U.S., EU, China, India and others for joint R&D efforts and subsequent technology transfer will be a transformative contribution, which will also move international cooperation out of the 50 year old North–South divide.

Technology transfer is important because finance is used to solve a political problem rather than the problem itself. The OECD has just prepared the first official survey of what the developed countries are actually doing. For all the OECDs talk of transparency it did not publish a list of how much each country has given. Less than half came from governments and creative accounting will reach the pledged US$100 billion in 2020. Defining the elements of financial assistance has remained controversial since the issue first came on the global agenda with the formation of the G7 in 1975 and will not be resolved in Paris.

Rather than be labelled obstructionists, China and India should take the lead in setting out a new co-operative framework to implement the Climate Treaty. The focus should be on pledges to ensure fairness in assessing national actions, modifying longer term trends and technology development and transfer to support the needed global transformation.

5. The role of information

According to the U.S. and EU, the focus of international cooperation should be on environmental integrity, or risk-management. The information required to be communicated to the multilateral level should be limited to mitigation. Its review to determine future national actions should be based solely on emissions reduction. Consequently, adaption, finance, technology development and transfer are considered by these countries national level actions, and multilateral assessment and review of these elements to strengthen international cooperation is not considered necessary. The review is considered a technical exercise with the secretariat given an active role with respect to actions to be taken by Parties and stocktaking is sought to be opened up to non-Parties. This framework is presented as the new framework for achieving global low-carbon transformation.

For the others, and this view has been articulated most clearly by India and also by China, the universal regime for the global low-carbon transformation cannot be achieved without giving equal weightage to climate justice and environmental integrity. As provision of information is the only ‘commitment’ in the climate regime, it must include all elements to achieve the transformation—what the text calls mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology development and transfer. Emission reduction deals with the symptoms of climate change while the focus should be on the causes of the problem—lifestyles.

The change from the Convention negotiated in 1992 is that the world is now faced with ecological limits and the limited carbon space, in the absence of equitable allocation criteria, requires strengthening the global response to enable all to achieve middle class levels of wellbeing. The recent report of the IPCC has re-framed the global concern in terms of sharing the global climate budget, and that consideration of ethics and justice will lead to a stronger climate agreement. International cooperation should be the purpose of the Agreement.

Since the only ‘commitment’ is to provide information. Review of the information and the elements of the information to be provided will be the most contentious articles to be negotiated, just as it was in 1992, because the Parties continue to have different notions of fairness. The compromise arrived at then was that the U.S. draughted Article 4.2(a) and ensured there were no emission reduction commitments, only an ‘aim’. India with the support of China draughted Article 10 and ensured there would be only assessment of aggregate effects of the measures taken by developing countries. This time the U.S. has shaped the agenda for a ‘bottom-up’ regime again with no multilaterally determined emission reduction commitments and is pushing for review of ‘mitigation’ actions of developing countries. India and China are stressing review of modification of longer term trends or lifestyles, to focus on the causes of the problem. Indias INDC is subtitled ‘working towards climate justice’ stressing international cooperation to enable the transformation required by the Agreement, with technology development and transfer as a key element. The unresolved issue is how the elements of the new regime will be reconciled with the information requirements, multilateral review and future collective actions of all Parties, that is, the nature and scope of international cooperation.

In 1992, the best the developing countries could achieve was to get their key concerns into the Preamble. This negotiating text also puts the key current concern of developing countries—recognizing the intrinsic relationship between climate change, poverty eradication and sustainable development— into the Preamble and does not link it to any of the operative articles, and will be contested in a more equal world.

6. Causes rather than symptoms

Chairing the first meeting of Indias reconstituted high-level climate panel, on January 19, 2015, Prime Minister Modi called for a paradigm shift away from focussing on emissions and cuts to reviewing what the country has done for clean energy generation, energy conservation and energy efficiency. Prime Minister Modi made a proposal at the G20 meeting, in Brisbane in November 2014, to set up a global virtual centre for clean energy research and development, and fund collaborative projects, stressing the need to make renewable, especially solar energy, competitive with conventional energy to manage the sustainability transformation. Speaking at UNESCO in April 2015 he was more emphatic—“Too often our discussion is reduced to an argument about emissions cuts, but we are more likely to succeed if we offer affordable solutions, not simply impose choices”, and he called “for a change in lifestyle, because the emission reduction that we seek will be a natural outcome of how we live”. This reframing of global climate policy has to be pursed in the climate negotiations.

7. Resolving the climate change impasse

Chinese President Xi Jin-Ping and U.S. President Barack Obama on 25 September 2015, outlined their “Vision for the Paris Climate Conference”, (re)defining the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities as a system that provides flexibility to developing countries “in light of their capacities” and “that differentiation should be reflected in relevant elements of the agreement in an appropriate manner”.

They also agreed on joint support of a global transition to a low carbon economy, renewed focus on adaptation “as a key component of the long-term response” to build resilience and reduce vulnerability and the “crucial role of major technological advancement in the transition”.

The Statement recognizes that transparency provisions have to include both ‘action’ as well as ‘support’ provided to developing countries; a long standing demand of developing countries. Also, transparency provisions are expected to “provide flexibility to those developing countries that need it in light of their capacities”, emphasising differentiation.

The Joint Statement moves beyond the post-colonial North-South dichotomy and welcomes the provision of resources from countries “willing to do so”; it is no longer seen as a commitment because of notions of historical responsibility. Both countries will provide US$3 billion each to help poor countries, with China announcing the establishment of a China South–South Climate Cooperation Fund. This puts pressure on all developed countries to enhance contributions towards the US$100 billion to be provided by 2020.

8. The broadening of the debate

The North Atlantic Treaty Organizations (NATO) Parliamentary Assembly has urged the 28 NATO members to support a legally binding agreement at the Paris Climate Change Conference in November–December, in a resolution adopted on 12 October 2015, during the Parliamentary Assemblys annual meeting in Stavanger, Norway. The Assembly serves as a bridge between voters and the NATO leadership, and it has consistently urged concerted global responses to climate change challenges and has repeatedly called for including climate change in NATOs political agenda.

In the resolution, the Assembly, urged NATO members to: negotiate an “ambitious, legally-binding, rules-based, universal, flexible, balanced, sustainable and dynamic agreement” in Paris; shape national climate change policies so they consider the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with particular reference to the fight against poverty and sustainable growth; recognize climate change-related risks as significant threat multipliers in their foreign and security policies; increase the frequency of military and political consultations on climate change within NATO; examine how NATOs cooperative security efforts can take into account climate change-related risks, particularly in the most vulnerable areas.

During NATOs Parliamentary Assembly, French Parliamentarian Philippe Vitel emphasized that climate change is increasing the risk of violent conflict by exacerbating known sources of conflict, such as poverty and economic shocks. A detailed report on the international security implications of climate change for the NATO Parliamentary Assemblys Science and Technology Committee warns that “climate change is arguably the most critical and difficult challenge of the 21st century.”

9. Consumption patterns

The International Energy Agency (IEA) on 8 October 2015 released the 2015 Energy Efficiency Market Report (EEMR), which evaluates the impact of energy efficiency in the energy system and assesses the scale and outlook for further energy efficiency investment, finds that energy efficiency improvements over the last 25 years have saved a cumulative US$5.7 trillion in energy expenditures, generating multiple benefits for governments, businesses and households, including greater energy security from reduced dependence on energy imports and billions of tonnes of emission reduction.

The report looks at energy efficiency investment returns and market outlook; tracking energy efficiency progress; efficiency market for buildings; and energy efficiency in the electricity system and the outlook for utility efficiency investments. It also presents case studies at the national, state and municipal levels on promoting and expanding energy efficiency markets.

According to the report the energy intensity of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries improved by 2.3% in 2014; energy security in IEA countries is improving with increased energy efficiency; energy efficiency improvements in IEA countries since 1990 have avoided a cumulative 10.2 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions; investments worldwide in energy efficiency in buildings amount to US$90 billion; and electricity consumption in IEA countries has flattened partly as a result of energy efficiency improvements.

10. The way forward

The International Science Council (ICSU) and the International Social Science Council (ISSC) in February 2015 advised the negotiators of the Global Sustainable Goals to have a greater understanding of the interplay between the social, economic and environmental dimension as the goals apply to all countries of the world, climate and development should not considered in isolation from one another and goal should guide implementation. The scientists recommended that this meta-goal be “a prosperous, high quality of life that is equitably shared and sustained.” The most recent interdisciplinary science provides an integrating vision for the new climate regime.

The differences around what constitutes a ‘balanced’ agreement should not be seen as competing visions because climate justice includes environmental integrity; both should be the basis for the provision of information, its peer-review and international cooperation to enable the agreed transformation.


The authors acknowledge the support from the China Social Sciences Research Foundation Project Technology Transfer in International Climate Change Negotiations and Cooperation and Chinas Options (12BGL080) and China Ministry of Education Social Sciences and Humanities Foundation Project Sectoral Approach in International Climate Change Negotiations and Chinas Choices (10YJCGJW012).

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