Ahead of the summit, India has been again targeted as a spoiler. It must stand its ground till the end.
Written by Shyam Saran
Updated: Nov 30, 2015, 7:33
The 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), COP 21, convenes in Paris, and a large number of heads of state/ government, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are expected to attend. There is hope that this latest climate summit will avoid the failure and frustration of the earlier summit in Copenhagen, in 2009. The assembled world leaders ought to be able to applaud a successful outcome on December 11, the last day of the conference, barring unforeseen deadlock on some pending issues. There is consensus that the agreed outcome will incorporate the voluntary pledges of climate change action already made by the parties in the form of intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), which will then be subject to periodic international review, but with no penalties for non-achievement. Setting the bar so low means a least common denominator result that all can live with. It is another matter that, taken together, the pledges do not, at all, add up to the scale and urgency of the threat posed by global climate change.
But there are pending issues that could derail the summit. There are also new elements being put on the table, which could complicate matters. There is the question of the legal character of the outcome. Since the pledges are voluntary and not subject to international compliance procedures, the simplest and most obvious way out would be to adopt the outcome as a COP decision under the UNFCCC. Or, one could have an outcome that is legally binding, but not the pledges themselves or the review. The legal commitment would be for parties to submit pledges and subject them to review at designated and periodic intervals. The outcome would thus constitute a legal template for future actions on climate change.
Alternatively, there could be a legally binding outcome in which the pledges themselves become legally binding as well, and subjected to strict international compliance. However, this is unlikely to command consensus, since it would mean overturning the voluntary nature of the pledge and review system.