The Trumping of Marrakech

The 22nd Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCC negotiations at Marrakech have barely been in the mainstream Indian news simply because it is hard to find the media space between the withdrawal of the Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes and the U.S Presidential elections. The COP 22 negotiations were to represent the optimism of a hard fought climate deal and design the implementation strategy for the Paris Deal. However, they have been largely overshadowed in light of contemporary geopolitics.

On November 4th, the outcome of the 2015 Paris negotiations came to fruition as 176 countries (the largest number to sign an international instrument since UNCLOS) deposited their instruments of signature at the United Nations. India had jumped on the bandwagon by ratifying the climate deal on the symbolic date of Gandhi Jayanti.

Multilateral negotiations for the climate deal saw India change its stance from a disrupter to a norm follower- a stance it has echoed in other multilateral negotiations including nuclear proliferation and the WTO negotiations. India had resolutely refused to sign any climate deals that did not involve Western nations in pulling their weight. Indian diplomats had claimed that in order to allow their citizens dignity of life through economic development, they could not commit to energy cut back of the scale required and insisted that countries responsible for the emissions take the lead.

However, this was not a viable position for long. Once China, the world’s largest contributor to carbon emissions joined with the US to cut down on emissions, India would have found its disruptive stance an even more unpopular and isolated position. India has shifted its stance and declared its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC). However India’s new stance also stresses on its reliance on the rest of the world in bridging its energy needs through technology and help. Over the last year, steps have also been taken within the country to support its stance at the COPs. By streamlining its civil aviation rules and signing the CFC cutdown treaty, India has shown its willingness in combating climate change.

However, all of that now stands to change. The biggest shadow over the Marrakech COP is the US Presidential elections. While hyperbole has shown anti-Trump supporters protesting even at Marrakech, Donald Trump’s record on climate change shows little promise. He has repeatedly dismissed climate change and global warming as hoaxes and even gone on record to state that climate change was a conspiracy pioneered by the Chinese to reducing American manufacturing potential. Trump has stated that he would roll back the Paris Agreement. But speculation about Trump’s potential climate policy will lead us down a road that goes nowhere.

The Paris Agreement was ratified by President Obama on the sidelines of the G20 summit. In a show of US-China alignment, leaders of both countries deposited the Paris deal together is Hangzhou. The Paris Agreement also does not allow countries to withdraw from it for a period of three years. Therefore, there is little danger of Trump rolling back the Paris deal.

However, it is important to remember that INDCs are, at the end of the day, voluntary mechanisms based on good faith. They are non enforceable and bear little penalties in international law though the effects of climate change may seem apparent to everyone but Trump supporters. What is possible is that Trump will not prioritise the INDCs or fund the Clean Energy Plan, the brainchild of the Obama Administration. This is particularly important in terms of signalling for other countries. Countries like Saudi Arabia whose economies depend on conventional sources of energy could take the lethargy of the United States as a signal to disregard the Paris Deal. This would mean that the hard won negotiations of the last seven years have come to nought. Trump’s disregard for climate change will also stir the Chinese to take the lead on the issue. Already, Chinese officials have stated that they are committed to their climate change declarations despite political changes in other countries. China has also set up its national carbon emission trading market and has reportedly reduced its carbon intensity by 20% between 2011 and 2015.

What does this mean for India? India directly faces the effects of climate change as much of its agriculture is contingent on the monsoons. It has shifted its stance from norm disrupter to norm follower as a way to break out of the climate chakravyuh. However, if the United States will not stick to its INDC and China will, which path will India choose? Several commentators are already questioning India’s stance considering its close ties with the US. However, a comprehensive definition of security would require India to stick to its INDCs as the country is vulnerable to the effects of climate change. India needs to exercise its strategic autonomy and continue with tackling its INDCs.

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @HamsiniH

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