By Rajendra Shende

Marrakesh Climate Conference Begins 

“Failure and innovations are inseparable twins,” said Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, while accepting the Pathfinder award last month at Seattle, USA, for his contributions to preserving the past and building the future of space flights.

In December 2015, undeterred by the miserable failure of the Kyoto Protocol, world negotiators had once again come together to craft a ‘global startup’ called Paris Climate Agreement. In order to address the formidable global challenge of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial times.

The 196 countries that are parties to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) now have a blueprint of the startup. A product of six-year-long and tedious but path-breaking negotiations in the form of Paris Climate Agreement.

The term ‘startup’ can be defined in various ways. If the dictionary meaning is blended with the ‘state of mind’ of an architect of a start-up, like Jeff Bezos, it can be described as an act of setting in operation an emerging undertaking, working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed. Indeed, 9 out of 10 startups end up in failure. But the likes of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, real-life resolute cliffhangers, are known to incubate their aggressive startups from tanking failures to stratospheric success in short time.

The 196 countries that are parties to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) now have a blueprint of the startup. A product of six-year-long and tedious but path-breaking negotiations in the form of Paris Climate Agreement.

The agreement emerged out of the incubator and entered into force on 4th November 2016. On 7th November 2016, negotiators began writing the rules to implement it with the optimism to pull the world from climate disaster to a greener and cooler future.

startup

The resolute agenda of the Paris climate talks. | Photo Courtesy: Newsweek

The bold, aggressive, intense and ambitious characters of this giant global venture are evident.

The boldness of the global startup comes from the historic compromise reached among the countries. The legally divisive commitment of emission reduction of Green House Gases (GHGs) between developed and developing countries, became the hallmark of the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. Leaving this behind, the agreement has now been transformed into a universal commitment to address the climate challenge. More than 190 countries have given their written commitment of specific quantifiable reduction of emissions of Green House Gases (GHGs) to UNFCCC. Many think that such universal concurrent commitment as a negation of the well-accepted principle of Common But differentiated Responsibility (CBDR). The negotiators in Paris agreement in December 2015 thought of it otherwise. They considered CBDR, which still is treasured in the preamble of Paris climate Agreement, to be more relevant in this new startup for technology and financial support from the developed countries than for differentiated emission reduction commitments.

The aggressiveness of the startup is palpably demonstrated by the countries by making the Paris Climate Agreement to ‘enter into force’  in less than 12 months after it was agreed. Never before in history, any UN treaty – environmental or otherwise, has ever entered into force so aggressively. It rose above the economic and geopolitical uncertainty of our times.

Even the most successful Montreal Protocol for the protection of the ozone layer took two years and Nagoya Biodiversity Protocol took four years to enter into force.

The intense character of this climate agreement penetrates into all of the 29 Articles, right from its start.  Equitable access to sustainable development, eradication of poverty, ending hunger, promoting human rights of those particularly vulnerable, indigenous, migrants or poor ‘by maintaining intergenerational equity’ have been incorporated as overarching and underlying doctrine apart from the main objective of limiting the rise in temperature.

The ambitious dimensions of this climate-startup flow brashly against the mainstream realities.

Firstly, it aims to hold the increase in the global average temperature to “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C”. Such a target is not only ambitious but over-enthusiastic, considering that the earth is already hotter by 1°C.

Secondly, a sloppy finance promised by the industrialized countries for action in the developing countries is USD 100 billion annually starting from 2020. It negligently defies the global slowdown of the economy in the developed world.

Negotiators in Marrakesh have the task to lay down the foundation of rulebooks for agreeing to the seminal need of urgency, accelerated scale up and the highest degree of global cooperation.  Also accompanied by punitive measures if the commitments are not kept. Such rules are going to be the mortar and bricks to stay on track for this race against time.

Business with continued use of fossil fuels at the current level will be taking the anthropogenic emissions to reach between 54 and 56 giga tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2030. That would lead to more than 3 °C increase in the global temperature by the end of the century according to the latest UNEP report. Global emissions need to be cut to 42 giga tons a year (25 per cent less) to limit warming to 2 °C. The window of opportunity to keep the temperature rise below 2 °C is closing fast, and to keep it to 1.5 °C , it will be closed within a couple of years, as per the World Bank report. The concerted action equivalent to a ‘war on climate change’ is needed to trigger low carbon economy and to eliminate fossil fuels by 2050.

The urgency of making hard choices on low or zero carbon infrastructure is not yet ingrained in the financial planning of majority of high-emitting countries including EU, USA, China, and India but China is certainly ahead of others in making such choices early on. OECD estimated that by 2030, USD 90 trillion will be needed globally for maintaining existing infrastructure including energy, transport, agriculture and building new ones for catering to rising population. Two-thirds of it is needed in the developing countries. Apart from the expected gap of more than 20 percent in financing the infrastructure development, embarking into making new and existing infrastructure green would incur additional costs. Allotting USD 100 billion per year in addition for the developing countries, therefore appears tricky.

Apart from gaps in emissions and in financing, the gaps in trust also need to be bridged. According to the developing countries, trust would be built:

if the developed countries demonstrate their own transformation away from fossil fuels in an accelerated way.

if they fulfill pre-2020 commitment and provide financial and technology transfer to the developing countries.

The developing countries’ acceptance of the GHG-emission reduction commitment needs to be matched by effective collaboration stewarded by the developed countries.

The value of the idea behind any startup is in deploying that idea. It holds true for the global startup on climate. Unless rules that would be formulated in Marrakesh are not hard and fast, just and must, the climate startup runs a risk of going from an incubator to an intensive care unit. 


Rajendra Shende is a Former Director at UNEP and currently, Chairman of TERRE Policy Centre. He is an alumnus of IIT.

Featured Image Credits: PBS

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Posted by The Indian Economist