It looks like former NASA scientist James Hansen was on to something when he called the Paris climate agreement, known as COP21, a bullshit PR exercise. The lack of enforcement mechanisms for emission targets is already proving to be problematic.
On Monday, just days after India and over 190 other countries signed the Paris agreement, a senior official in the India Coal Ministry named Anil Swarup revealed that India plans to double coal output by 2020 and plans to use coal for decades into the future. Coal is one of the dirtiest carbon emitting energy sources and diminishing its use was a major goal of the Paris agreement.
India was already facing criticism for being inflexible at times during the summit, though the Indian government ultimately signed on to the Paris agreement after gaining some concessions. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a particular point of saying developed countries had to finance the transition to cleaner energy in the developing world.
Modi wanted the fund that will support that transition to be financed with $2.5 trillion, but only $100 billion was agreed to in the end.
India’s central argument seems to be that the country has the right to develop its own economy and, given that developed countries in the West are the ones who contributed so much to the climate change problem, the developed countries should be the ones to pay for India’s transition to a clean energy powered economy. As noted by Ruchir Sharma in Swarajya Magazine:
[T]he historical responsibility of the West was not on the table. Neither was a method of national carbon accounting that looks at how the emissions a country has consumed rather than what it is producing now. This allows about 80% of historical carbon emissions attributed to developed countries to be almost forgotten.
India was the country that took the lead in pushing this as a key point of the negotiation position of the developing world. This was done in order to get the developed countries to contribute to the $100-Billion Green Energy Fund proposed at previous summits. And it is this position which attracted the ire of the West.
It is fair, albeit futile, to point to historical carbon emission inequities. The kind of multi-trillion dollar wealth redistribution the Modia government initially sought was never going to happen. And more to the point, India’s politically savvy media posturing will not save the country from facing the real consequences of climate change, which will endanger India’s coastal populations and agriculture economy.
So, yes, the developed countries are more responsible for creating climate change than India. But using that fact as cover for doubling coal output is not a smart move in the long run given India’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change. Great press won’t stop the water.
With COP21’s failures becoming more obvious by the day, the question is: what options remain to combat climate change?