Policy Alert: We Have a Climate Deal: India and China React to the Paris Agreement
On December 12, leaders from more than 190 countries reached a consensus on how to combat climate change after two weeks of intense negotiations and years of diplomatic wrangling. The Paris Agreement will succeed the expiring Kyoto protocol and seeks to keep the average global temperature from rising above two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels through reductions in greenhouse emissions, changes in energy policies, shifts in agriculture and livestock production, and other far reaching measures. Countries outlined their plans to reach these targets and pledged to share funding and technology to poorer states needing to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change. This Policy Alert is a companion to Policy Alert #114 and illustrates the reactions on the final deal within India and China, two rising powers central to the negotiations and future success or failure of the accord.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised the outcome in Paris where “every nation rose to the challenge, working towards a solution” that “has no winners or losers” save for the preservation of “climate justice” and “a greener future.” While many analysts worried India could play a “spoiler” in the negotiations due to its developing economy’s reliance on coal, New Delhi ultimately agreed to the final deal.
Several commentators and news outlets expressed trepid but hopeful optimism about the accord.
- India’s minister for the environment, Prakash Javadekar, said the “historic” deal gave the planet “a new hope, a new lease of life” but should have insisted developed countries take on more of the burden of emissions reductions and funding.
- Shyam Saran, former foreign secretary and previous special envoy on climate change, considered the Paris agreement inferior to the more ambitious 1992 consensus on climate change adopted in Rio, but the deal at least offered some benefits for India.
- Researchers Sujatha Byravan and Sudhir Chella Rajan hailed India’s positive role in the Paris talks, acting as an efficient liaison between developed and developing countries and producing a deal had “something for everyone, though not nearly enough to satisfy anyone fully.” A member of the Indian parliament, Chetan Chauhan, expressed similar views.
- Professor Lavanya Rajamani of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi thought the deal, “while far from perfect,” struck a balance on all the major issues “few thought possible even a week ago.” This sentiment was echoed by The Economic Times, The Pioneer, Council on Energy, Environment, and Water CEO Arunabha Ghosh, and the former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change RK Pachauri.
- Navroz Dubash, senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, considered the deal on balance to be a positive for India as it prevented majoring restrictions on economic growth while establishing a “more robust domestic process for energy planning and policy.”
Others doubted whether the deal would truly benefit India and other developing countries as they experience climate change disasters such deforestation, flooding, pollution, droughts, and other environmental predicaments.
- Sunita Narain, director general of the Centre for Science and Environment in India, was disappointed the deal did not have more substantial emission reduction targets for developed economies or binding rules on sustainable lifestyle and consumption policies.
- The Business Standard lamented the deal did not make it mandatory for developed countries to provide sustainable and larger sources of funding to help poorer nations with adaptation and mitigation needs in addition to lacking an enforcement mechanism if targets go unmet.
- The Hindu characterized the Paris agreement as historic but “unable to stop climate change that is already happening” and providing “grossly inadequate” financing help. Times of India editor Renuka Bisht as well as retired IAS officer PG Dhar Chakrabarti seconded this perspective.
- Gautam Bhatia, a renowned New Delhi-based architect, called on Indian society to adopt a “lifestyle of frugality and conservation” to address climate change since the Paris talks did little to alter what he saw as India’s current path of unsustainable development.
Looking ahead, several commentators discussed whether the deal will alter India’s economic and environmental plans.
- One line in the final text about global financial flows being directed toward green energy sources dismayed Indian negotiators as limiting India’s plans to rely on coal for the foreseeable future.
- India also reluctantly agreed to submit a revised emissions target and updated data every five years as part of the agreement’s transparency framework.
- Indian economist Nitin Desai predicted India would only meet its carbon reduction targets if “both the government and corporate sector are investing at scale in research, design, and development” of coal, hydropower, nuclear energy, solar power, and other necessary technologies.
- Ashwani Kumar, a Member of the Indian Parliament and chairman of its committee on Science & Technology, Environment, Forests, and Climate Change, called on the environment minister to actually “walk the talk” on India’s pledges to promote clean energy, emissions and pollution reductions, and carbon sink through enhanced forest cover.
- K. Kavitha, another Member of Parliament and a leader in the Indian chapter of GLOBE International, urged a “bottom-up” implementation approach where state governments in India declare their own emission reduction targets and plans to reach the goals laid out by the Paris agreement.
Unlike when many analysts blamed China for the failed 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen, Beijing was generally commended for its part in the Paris round, something U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his appreciation for in a call with his counterpart Xi Jingping. China’s chief negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, strove for a “powerful, ambitious, and legally binding deal” reflecting “common but differentiated responsibilities” of all nations to tackle climate change. After the agreement was announced, Xie called it “not perfect,” but concluded it did “not stop us from moving one historical step forward.” Through its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, China promised to have its emissions peaks by 2030. While China was unable to succeed in its goal of making the broader agreement legally binding, it was able to maintain its status of being a “developing country,” which means Beijing’s pledge to contribute $3 billion to the deal’s climate adaptation fund is voluntary.
Most commentators and news outlets were pleased with the final deal and highlighted Beijing’s role in the negotiations.
- China’s Foreign Ministry declared the outcome “comprehensive, balanced, and ambitious” and praised its delegation’s “important role” in the talks.
- China Daily called the deal a “historical step toward low-carbon future,” once considered “unthinkable” but all the more urgent with China’s pollution and environmental crises. The paper urged “all policymakers to spare no efforts to ensure as early and full as possible implementation of the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution of all nations, large or small, developed or developing.”
- Xinhua declared the agreement a “particularly sweet victory for China, which emerged to take a leading role in the deal.”
- The deal will help Chinese businesses adapt to climate change and shift away from a fossil fuel driven economy, according to Xiaochen Zhang, associate director of Climate Change at Business for Social Responsibility, and Qimin Chai, deputy director of Strategy and Planning Department of the National Center for Climate Change Strategy and International Cooperation.
On the other hand, several expressed a more lukewarm response to the agreement and its ability to address climate change in a meaningful way.
- Fu Jing, China Daily chief correspondent, concluded the deal could stem the effects of climate change only if the national commitments – or as Fu Jing puts it, “agreed promises” – are followed up with real action by all parties.
- Similarly, analysts at the London School of Economics felt China “under-promised” at the Paris talks in the hopes it could “over-deliver” on the implementation stage.
- John Sayer, director of Carbon Care Asia and a member of the Hong Kong NGO delegation to the Paris talks, pressed Hong Kong to stop being a “laggard” on carbon emission reductions and start being a “leader” on growing a green economy.
- Dan Steinbock, a visiting fellow at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, warned “energy profiteers” in the United States and China could derail the agreement’s implementation. He called for Chinese leadership on the issue to fight against these obstacles.
Looking ahead, some commentators discussed what the deal meant for China’s future diplomatic and economic strategies, including plans in 2017 to launch a national carbon emissions trading market. China is trying to balance its goal of becoming a leader in renewable energy technologies such as nuclear and solar with its own significant use and global export of coal-fired power plants.
- Vice Minister Liu Zhenmin said China’s positive role in the talks proves it could “constructively engage in global governance and it serves as a reference for us to participate more actively in global governance in other areas.”
- After the “champagne moment” has passed, Xinhua wrote it was time for the “even harder mission: implementation” of the deal. Otherwise, the news agency argued “a Paris hangover without concrete actions will only spoil the hard-won deal.”
- China’s climate change efforts will have “‘spill-over’ and ‘model’ effects globally” for other developing countries, said Zhang Haibin, a professor with Peking University
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