Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

The conference seeks to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world.

Forging an agreement in Paris will take bold leadership. The people of the world look to the leaders of great powers to protect our planet before it’s too late for us.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance (LEAF) Coalition


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : LEAF Coalition

Mains level : Not Much

At the recently concluded Leaders’ Summit on Climate in April 2021, the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance (LEAF) Coalition was announced.

LEAF Coalition

  • LEAF Coalition is a collective of the US, UK and Norway governments.
  • It is a public-private effort, thus supported by transnational corporations (TNCs) like Unilever plc, Amazon, Nestle, Airbnb etc.
  • It came up with a $1 billion fund plan that shall be offered to countries committed to arresting the decline of their tropical forests by 2030.
  • The LEAF coalition initiative is a step towards concretizing the aims and objectives of the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) mechanism.

How does this coalition work?

  • The LEAF Coalition can help reverse the trend by providing unprecedented financial support to tropical forest governments implementing forest protection, contributing to green and resilient growth through sustainable investments.
  • It empowers tropical and subtropical forest countries to move more rapidly towards ending deforestation while supporting them in achieving their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement.
  • Reductions in emissions are made across entire countries or large states and provinces (“jurisdictions”) through programs that involve all key stakeholders, including Indigenous peoples and local communities.

Why is it significant?

  • Financial impetus is crucial as it incentivizes developing countries to capture extensive deforestation and provide livelihood opportunities to forest-dependent populations.
  • The initiative comes at a crucial time when the tropics have lost close to 12.2 million hectares (mha) of tree cover year last year according to global estimates released by Global Forest Watch.
  • Most of these lost forests were located in the developing countries of Latin America, Africa and South Asia.
  • India’s estimated loss in 2020 stands at 20.8-kilo hectares due to forest fires

What lies next?

  • Implementation of the LEAF Coalition will help pump in fresh rigour among developing countries like India, that are reluctant to recognize the contributions of their forest-dwelling populations in mitigating climate change.
  • With the deadline for proposal submission fast approaching, India needs to act swiftly on a revised strategy.
  • Although India has pledged to carry out its REDD+ commitments, it is impossible to do so without seeking knowledge from its forest-dwelling population.

Answer this PYQ in the comment box:

With reference to ‘Forest Carbon Partnership Facility’, which of the following statements is/ are correct?  (CSP 2013)

  1. It is a global partnership of governments, businesses, civil society and indigenous peoples.
  2. It provides financial aid to universities, individual scientists and institutions involved in scientific forestry research to develop eco-friendly and climate adaptation technologies for sustainable forest management.
  3. It assists the countries in their ‘REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation+)’ efforts by providing them with financial and technical assistance.

Select the correct answer using the code given below:

(a) 1 only (b) 2 and 3 only (c) 1 and 3 only (d) 1, 2 and 3

Back2Basics: REDD+

  • REDD+ is a mechanism developed by Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  • It creates a financial value for the carbon stored in forests by offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development.
  • Developing countries would receive results-based payments for results-based actions.
  • REDD+ goes beyond simply deforestation and forest degradation and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
  • It aims to create incentives for communities so that they stop forest degrading practices.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Environment Appraisal Committee allows Great Nicobar plan to advance


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- EAC allows Great Nicobar plan to advance

About the Great Nicobar plan

  • The Environment Appraisal Committee (EAC) – Infrastructure I of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has flagged serious concerns about NITI Aayog’s ambitious project for Great Nicobar Island.
  • The EAC was responding to ‘pre-feasibility’ report, ‘Holistic Development of Great Nicobar Island at Andaman and Nicobar Islands’.
  • The report is prepared for the NITI Aayog by the Gurugram-based consulting agency.
  • The proposal includes an international container transshipment terminal, a greenfield international airport, a power plant and a township complex spread over 166 sq. km. and is estimated to cost ₹75,000 crore.
  • The committee has, however, removed the first hurdle faced by the project.
  • It has recommended it “for grant of terms of reference (TOR)” for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) studies, which in the first instance will include baseline studies over three months.

What the EAC said

  • The committee noted that the site selection for the port had been done mainly on technical and financial criteria, ignoring the environmental aspects.
  • It has now asked for an independent study/ evaluation for the suitability of the proposed port site with specific focus on Leatherback Turtle, Nicobar Magapode and Dugong.
  • It highlighted the need for an independent assessment of terrestrial and marine biodiversity, a study on the impact of dredging, reclamation and port operations, including oil spills.
  • It has also highlighted the need for studies of alternative sites for the port with a focus on environmental and ecological impact,  analysis of risk-handling capabilities, a seismic and tsunami hazard map, a disaster management plan, an assessment of the cumulative impact, and a hydro-geological study to assess impact on round and surface water regimes.
  • The committee has also asked for details of the corporate environment policy of the implementing agency — whether the company has an environment policy, a prescribed standard operating procedure to deal with environmental and forest violations, and a compliance management system.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

India-U.S. climate partnership


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Mains level : Paper 3- Leaders Summit on Climate

Leaders Summit on Climate

  • Leaders Summit on Climate included 40 heads of state and government.
  • At the summit, President of the United State and Indian Prime Minister launched the ‘India-U.S. climate and clean energy Agenda 2030 partnership’. 
  • The goal of the partnership are given below:
  • 1) Mobilise finance and speed clean energy deployment.
  • 2) Demonstrate and scale innovative clean technologies needed to decarbonise sectors, including industry, transportation, power, and buildings.
  • 3) Build capacity to measure, manage, and adapt to the risks of climate-related impacts.

India’s progress on NDC

  • Despite development challenges, India has taken many bold steps on clean energy, energy efficiency, afforestation and bio-diversity.
  • That is among the few countries whose NDCs are 2-degree-Celsius compatible.
  •  India is targeting a 2030 GDP emissions intensity ( i.e., volume of emissions per unit of GDP) that is 33%-35% below 2005 levels.
  • It also seeks to have 40% of power generated from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030.
  •  India’s per capita carbon footprint is 60% lower than the global average.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Deconstructing declarations of carbon-neutrality


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Issues with declaring carbon neutral target

Against the global clamour for the declaration of carbon neutrality, India must consider several factors and their implications. The article highlights these factors.

Countries declaring carbon-neutral

  • At the latest count by the non-profit Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), at the beginning of April, 32 countries had declared, in some documented form.
  • The impetus for such declarations arises from Article 4.1 of the Paris Agreement.
  • It is evident that the balance of emissions and removal of greenhouse gases is not sought on a country-wise basis but for the world as a whole.
  • Both developed country governments and civil society outfits commonly state this as an individual commitment by all countries.
  • The text of the Paris Agreement clearly indicates, based on considerations of equity and differentiation, that this is a global goal.

2 critical and related issues

  • The first is the compatibility of the intent of Article 4.1 and Article 2.
  • 1) Is the achievement of carbon neutrality compatible with achieving the 1.5°C or 2°C goals?
  • And whether the mid-century carbon neutrality goals of developed countries are compatible with Article 2.2 of the Paris Agreement which focuses on equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

The current pledges fall short of achieving the targets

  • Three-way compatibility between temperature goals, carbon neutrality, and equity is not only not guaranteed, but cannot be achieved for the 1.5°C temperature goal at all.
  • Even for the 2°C goal, the current pledges are highly inadequate.
  • This conclusion is based on the global carbon budget.
  • According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report to restrict temperature rise less than 1.5° with 50% world can emit total 480 Giga-tonnes (billion tonnes) of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2eq) from 2018 onwards.
  • At the current rate of emissions of about 42 GtCO2eq per year, this budget would be consumed in 12 years.
  • To keep within the 480 Gt budget, at a steady linear rate of decline, global carbon neutrality must be reached by 2039.
  • For a 50% probability of restricting temperature rise to below 2°C, the world can emit 1,400 GtCO2eq, that provides considerably greater room for manoeuvre.

Emission of the U.S. and Europe

  • Emissions in the U.S. peaked in 2005 and have declined at an average rate of 1.1% from then till 2017.
  • Even if it did reach net-zero by 2050 at a steady linear rate of reduction, which is unprecedented, its cumulative emissions between 2018 and 2050 would be 106 GtCO2, which is 22% of the total remaining carbon budget for the whole world. [480 GtCO2 total]
  • This is so high that unless others reduced emissions at even faster rates, the world would most certainly cross 1.5°C warming.
  • Similarly, the European Union, to keep to its fair share of the remaining carbon budget would have to reach net-zero by 2033, with a constant annual reduction in emissions.
  • If the EU reaches net-zero only by 2050 it would consume at least 71 GtCO2, well above its fair share.
  • Regrettably, a section of the climate policy modelling literature has promoted the illusion that this three-way compatibility is feasible through speculative “negative emissions”
  • They have also been promoting the other illusion that not resorting to any serious emissions increase at all is the means to guarantee the successful development of the Third World.

Why India should avoid net neutrality target

  • For one, India has to stay focused on development — both as its immediate need as well as its aspirational goal.
  • While sustainability is desirable, the question of how low India’s future low-carbon development can be is highly uncertain.
  • India’s current low carbon footprint is a consequence of the utter poverty and deprivation of a majority of its population, and not by virtue of sustainability.
  • Second, India does not owe a carbon debt to the world for excessive use in the past.
  • India’s emissions (not considering land use and land use change and forest-related emissions) are no more than 3.5% of global cumulative emissions prior to 1990 and about 5% since till 2018.
  • Any self-sacrificial declaration of carbon neutrality today in the current international scenario would be a wasted gesture reducing the burden of the developed world and transferring it to the backs of the Indian people.

Consider the question “What are the factor India needs to consider about joining the global chorus on carbon neutrality targets.”


India’s approach to eventual net-zero emissions is contingent on deep first world emissions reductions and an adequate and unambiguous global carbon budget. Meanwhile, India must reject any attempt to restrict its options and be led into a low-development trap, based on pseudo-scientific narratives.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

What is net-zero, and what are India’s objections?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Net-zero emission, Paris Agreement

Mains level : India's emission targets

In its bid to reclaim the global climate leadership (stalled since Trump) the US is widely expected to commit itself to a net-zero emission target for 2050 at the virtual Climate Leaders’ Summit convened by Prez Joe Biden.

Net-Zero Goal

  • Net-zero, which is also referred to as carbon-neutrality, does not mean that a country would bring down its emissions to zero.
  • Rather, net-zero is a state in which a country’s emissions are compensated by absorption and removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
  • Absorption of the emissions can be increased by creating more carbon sinks such as forests, while the removal of gases from the atmosphere requires futuristic technologies such as carbon capture and storage.
  • This way, it is even possible for a country to have negative emissions, if the absorption and removal exceed the actual emissions.
  • A good example is Bhutan which is often described as carbon-negative because it absorbs more than it emits.

Try this PYQ from CSP 2016:

Q.With reference to the Agreement at the UNFCCC Meeting in Paris in 2015, which of the following statements is/are correct?

  1. The Agreement was signed by all the member countries of the UN and it will go into effect in 2017.
  2. The Agreement aims to limit the greenhouse gas emissions so that the rise in average global temperature by the end of this century does not exceed 20C or even 1.50C above pre-industrial levels.
  3. Developed countries acknowledged their historical responsibility in global warming and committed to donate S 1000 billion a year from 2020 to help developing countries to cope with climate change.

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a)    1 and 3 only

(b)    2 only

(c)    2 and 3 only

(d)    1, 2 and 3

The global target

  • The goal of carbon neutrality is only the latest formulation of a discussion going on for decades, on having a long-term goal.
  • A very active campaign has been going on for the last two years to get every country to sign on to a net-zero goal for 2050.
  • It is being argued that global carbon neutrality by 2050 is the only way to achieve the Paris Agreement target of keeping the planet’s temperature from rising beyond 2°C compared to pre-industrial times.
  • Current policies and actions being taken to reduce emissions would not even be able to prevent a 3–4°C rise by the turn of the century.
  • Long-term targets ensure predictability, and continuity, in the policies and actions of the countries. But there has never been a consensus on what this goal should be.

Going beyond emission reduction

  • Earlier, the discussions used to be on emission-reduction targets, for 2050 or 2070, for rich and developed countries.
  • These unregulated emissions over several decades are mainly responsible for global warming and consequent climate change.
  • The net-zero formulation does not assign any emission reduction targets to any country.
  • Theoretically, a country can become carbon-neutral at its current level of emissions, or even by increasing its emissions, if it is able to absorb or remove more.

Global actions for net-zero

  • Several other countries, including the UK and France, have already enacted laws promising to achieve a net-zero emission scenario by the middle of the century.
  • The EU is working a similar Europe-wide law, while many other countries including Canada, South Korea, Japan and Germany have expressed their intention to commit themselves to a net-zero future.
  • Even China has promised to go net-zero by 2060.
  • India, the world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, after the US and China, is the only major player holding out.

India’s position is unique

  • India is the only one opposing this target because it is likely to be the most impacted by it.
  • Over the next two to three decades, India’s emissions are likely to grow at the fastest pace in the world, as it presses for higher growth to pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.
  • No amount of afforestation or reforestation would be able to compensate for the increased emissions.
  • Most of the carbon removal technologies right now are either unreliable or very expensive.

Why does India object to net-zero emissions?

  • The net-zero goals do not figure in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the new global architecture to fight climate change.
  • The Paris Agreement only requires every signatory to take the best climate action it can.
  • Countries need to set five- or ten-year climate targets for themselves, and demonstrably show they have achieved them.
  • Implementation of the Paris Agreement has begun only this year.
  • Most of the countries have submitted targets for the 2025 or 2030 period.
  • India has been arguing that instead of opening up a parallel discussion on net-zero targets outside of the Paris Agreement framework, countries must focus on delivering on what they have already promised.

India is already doing more

  • India is hoping to lead by example. It is well on its way to achieving its three targets under the Paris Agreement and looks likely to overachieve them.
  • Several studies have shown that India is the only G-20 country whose climate actions are compliant with the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperatures from rising beyond 2°C.
  • Even the actions of the EU, which is seen as the most progressive on climate change, and the US are assessed as “insufficient”.
  • In other words, India is already doing more, relatively speaking, on climate than many other countries.

Fuss over developed countries contribution

  • New Delhi also repeatedly points to the fact that the developed nations have never delivered on their past promises and commitments.
  • No major country achieved the emission-cut targets assigned to them under the Kyoto Protocol, the climate regime preceding the Paris Agreement.
  • Some openly walked out of the Kyoto Protocol, without any consequences.
  • None of the countries has delivered on the promises they made for 2020.
  • Even worse is their track record on their commitment to providing money, and technology, to developing and poor countries to help them deal with the impacts of climate change.

India’s way forward

  • India has been arguing that the 2050 carbon-neutrality promise might meet a similar fate, although some countries are now finding themselves in law.
  • It has been insisting that the developed countries should, instead, take more ambitious climate actions now, to compensate for the unfulfilled earlier promises.
  • At the same time, it has been saying that it does not rule out the possibility of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 or 2060.
  • Just that, it does not want to make an international commitment so much in advance.

Back2Basics: Paris Agreement

  • The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016.
  • Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.
  • To achieve this long-term temperature goal, countries aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to achieve a climate-neutral world by mid-century.
  • It is a landmark process because, for the first time, a binding agreement brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.

The action plan

  • Implementation of the Paris Agreement requires economic and social transformation, based on the best available science.
  • The Agreement works on a 5- year cycle of increasingly ambitious climate action carried out by countries.
  • By 2020, countries submit their plans for climate action known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

[Burning Issue] Five Years of Paris Agreement

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Net-zero emissions target is unjust for developing countries


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kyoto Protocol

Mains level : Paper 3- How net-zero emission targets are unjust for developing countries

The article explains why the net-zero emission targets are unjust for developing countries like India.

Understanding climate justice

  • The principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC) based on historical responsibility have been the bedrock of climate actions under the UNFCCC ever since 1992.
  • Based on these principles in Paris Agreement, developed countries promised to deliver higher finance commitment by 2025 and a more facilitative technology regime, apart from leading mitigation actions.
  • Developing countries agreed to take legal obligation that entails undertaking domestic mitigation measures and reporting on their implementation as part of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC).
  • These are also the central pillars on which India’s call for climate justice is premised.

How India is leading by example

  • Indian government introduced climate sensitivity in domestic policies.
  • Climate sensitivity is reflected in interventions like energy for all, housing for all, health insurance and crop insurance, action like the “Clean India” and “give it up” campaigns, popularising yoga and sustainable lifestyle practices.
  • Together, these initiatives ensure climate justice to the vulnerable and poor sections that are worst hit by climate change.
  • While the rich were cajoled to move towards sustainable living, the poor were provided with the safety nets to fight climate change.

Addressig 3 aspects of climate justice

  • In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle distinguished three forms of justice, namely distributive, commutative and corrective. 
  • With the onset of the implementation phase of the Paris Agreement, it would be useful to take stock of how well the global community is addressing these three aspects of justice.

1) Distributive justice

  • Distributive justice pertains to how resources should be distributed in terms of principles of equality, equity and merit.
  • For climate change, the most important resource is the global carbon space.
  • The developed countries continue to corner a lion’s share of the carbon space for their luxurious consumption while they goad developing countries to cut their emissions emanating from even basic needs.
  • Therefore, the focus should be on ensuring ambitious climate action by developed countries in the near-term to ensure distributive climate justice.

2) Commutative justice

  • In the climate change discourse, commutative justice refers to the honouring of past commitments in good faith.
  • The Kyoto Protocol adopted in 1997 was a historic turning point with legally binding targets for industrialised countries to reduce overall GHG emissions.
  • However, the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol that commits developed country parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 18 per cent below 1990 levels by the year 2020 only entered into force in December 2020, just one day before its expiry.
  • These targets unambitious and grossly inadequate to meet the principal objective of UNFCCC.
  • Also, several developed countries backtracked and refused to take on any targets in the second commitment period.
  • The developed country delivery of finance, technology transfer, and capacity building support to developing countries is also not up to the mark.
  • The fulfilment of these past commitments would be a critical precursor to any enhancement of climate ambition by developing countries.

3) Corrective justice

  • Corrective justice pertains to the righting of wrongs.
  • Climate justice demands that every individual who is born on this earth has a right to development and dignified living.
  • For this, developed countries need to repay the climate debt by shouldering greater mitigation responsibilities and providing finance, technology and capacity-building support.

Consider the question “Why net zero emission targets are considered to be unjust for developing countries?”


So, while many herald the call for net zero by 2050 as a positive signal in avoiding runaway climate breakdown, in reality it delays climate action by developed countries and is being used to evade historical responsibility and transfer burdens to developing countries.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

What to consider before India takes ‘net-zero’ pledge


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 3- Whether or not India should consider net zero emission target by 2050?

There are several issues with the adoption of net zero-emission targets. One of the most important being the lack of equity. This article deals with this issue.

About net-zero emission targets

  • The “net zero” idea is inspired by an IPCC report that calls for global net emissions – GHG emissions minus removal of GHGs through various means to reach zero by mid-century.
  • This builds on a clause in the Paris Climate Agreement, calling for a balance between sources and sinks of emissions by the second half of the century.
  • It is worth underscoring that none of this implies that each country has to reach net-zero by 2050.
  • Net-zero announcements signals a progressive direction of travel and has the apparent merit of presenting a simple and singular benchmark for assessing the performance of a country.

3 Issues with net zero targets

  • First, it potentially allows countries to keep emitting today while relying on yet-to-be-developed and costly technologies to absorb emissions tomorrow.
  • Second, its focus on long-term targets displaces attention from meaningful short-term actions that are credible and accountable.
  • Third., it calls into question concerns of equity and fairness.

Balancing the concerns of developing and developed countries

  • The Paris Agreement, while urging global peaking as soon as possible, explicitly recognises that peaking will take longer for developing countries.
  • The Paris Agreement calls for achieving balance in developing and developed nation “on the basis of equity” and in the context of “sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty”.
  • Therefore, the Paris Agreement does not advocate uptake of net-zero targets across developed and developing countries, as currently being advocated by many countries.
  • Rather, the emphasis in the agreement on equity, sustainable development and poverty eradication suggests a thoughtful balancing of responsibilities between developed and developing countries.

Factors India should consider before taking zero-emission target

  • Our first nationally determined contribution (NDC) submitted under the Paris Agreement has been rated by observers as compatible with a 2 degrees Celsius trajectory.
  • We are ahead of schedule in meeting our contribution.
  • Now, India will need to decide whether to join a growing number of countries (over 120 at last count) that have pledged to reach “net zero” emissions by 2050.
  • But it is not clear that enhancing mitigation action can definitively deliver net-zero emissions by 2050, given that our emissions are still rising, and our development needs are considerable.
  • There is a possibility that a not fully thought-through mid-century net-zero target would compromise sustainable development.
  • Moreover, such a major shift in our negotiating position will have implications for the future, including our ability to leverage additional finance and technology to help shift to low-carbon development pathways.
  • Our 2 degrees Celsius compatible NDC, bolstered by the Prime Minister’s announcement in 2019 that we would achieve 450 GW of renewables by 2030, could be strengthened.
  • Building on this track record suggests an alternate and equally, if not more, compelling, way to indicate climate ambition in the future than uncritically taking on a net-zero target.

Way forward

  • We would benefit from taking stock of our actions and focusing on near-term transitions.
  • This will allow us to meet and even over-comply with our 2030 target while also ensuring concomitant developmental benefits, such as developing a vibrant renewable industry.
  • We can start putting in place the policies and institutions necessary to move us in the right direction for the longer-term and also better understand the implications of net-zero scenarios before making a net-zero pledge.
  • It would also be in India’s interest to link any future pledge to the achievement of near-term action by industrialised countries.
  • That would be fair and consistent with the principles of the UNFCCC.

Consider the question “Growing number of countries have been setting net-zero emission target. In light of this, examine the issues India should consider before setting itself the net zero emission targets.”


India, like others, have a responsibility to the international community, we also have a responsibility to our citizens to be deliberate and thoughtful about a decision as consequential as India’s climate pledge.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Working towards climate justice in a non-ideal world


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NEF

Mains level : Paper 3- Climate change negotiations

The new U.S. administration has renewed its commitment to climate actions by reconvening the Major Economies Forum. This has several implications for India and the developing countries. The article deals with this issue.

Reconvening MEF and its implications for developing countries

  • The election of Joe Biden as U.S. President has catapulted climate change to the top of the global agenda.
  • Interestingly, the U.S. is not just striding back to the Obama signature achievement of the Paris Accord with its voluntary commitments but also to the Bush days [which was not necessarily voluntary].
  • This change is best evidenced by the presidential call to reconvene the Major Economies Forum (MEF).
  • The MEF, which was first convened in March 2009, originated in the Bush-era U.S. efforts to rope in major emitters.
  • It was also to push a way forward on climate change without heed to the principle of differentiated responsibilities and recognition of historical responsibilities.
  • These two are hallowed principles of the climate discourse given the decades of staying power of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere.

Changing approach implications for India

  • All countries have been told to commit to net zero (GHG emissions) by 2050 with credible plans to ensure meeting this domestic target.
  • Taking a cue from the new U.S. Administration, the UN Secretary-General has even called on countries to declare national climate emergencies apart from building a coalition for a carbon-neutral world by 2050.
  • As of today, countries representing around 65% of global CO2 emissions have already agreed to this.
  • These plans and their implementation will, undoubtedly, be subject to international reviews and verification.
  • Historical responsibilities and differentiation have no place in this discourse; but neither does the level of development.
  • India can easily be in the crosshairs of such a discourse no matter its extraordinarily small carbon footprint in per-capita terms and huge development imperatives.

Possibility of carbon border levies

  • Adding to the challenges is the distinct possibility of the EU imposing carbon border levies on those who do not take on high carbon cut-down targets and do so unilaterally if there is no global agreement.
  • While as of now the U.S. Administration appears ambivalent on these border levies, the possibility of their coming around cannot be ruled out.
  • In such a scenario, World Trade Organization rules that presently exclude the use of tariffs on environmental grounds will certainly get modified.

A fund pay-in idea

  • To deal with the issue of climate finance, Raghuram Rajan has recently put forward a proposal for India to consider.
  • The proposal calls on countries to pay into a global fund amounts based on their carbon emissions over and above the global per-capita average of five tons.
  • This obviously disincentives coal in a big way while incentivising renewables.
  • Those above the global average would pay, while those below would receive the monies.
  • While this would suggest a certain equity, it may be unacceptable to the developed countries even though Mr. Rajan has gone along with the drumbeat to forget historical responsibility.
  • For India, such a proposal may appear attractive as India today has per capita CO2 emission of only 2 tons and is a global record setter in pushing renewables.
  • The long-term implications of such a proposal require examination in detail, quite apart from factoring in the twists and turns that negotiations could give to such an idea.
  • And then, of course, there are alternatives such as emission trading. 

Implications for developing countries

  • The proposal of fund pay-in allows practical considerations to trump fairness by not only giving a short shrift to historical responsibility but also denying priority access to the remaining carbon space for developing countries.
  • In that sense, it double penalises them while giving developed countries a certain free pass.
  • Here it bears noting that more than 75% of the carbon space available to humankind to keep global temperature rises to 1.5° C has already been taken up by the developed world and China.

Consider the question “As the world seeks to tackle the climate change through climate action, delivering climate justice should also be the priority. In light of this, discuss the challenges faced by the developing countries in this regard.”


Climate justice is an imperative for India, which needs to leverage its green and pro-nature commitment to ensure carbon and policy space for its developmental and global aspirations. India’s diplomatic and negotiating efforts must be quickly geared to that end.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Adaptation, not mitigation, should inform India’s climate strategy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : 26th COP

Mains level : Paper 3- COP 26 to UNFCCC agenda

The article discusses issues such as China’s changing stance, climate finance and adoption of targets.

The 26th COP to the UNFCCC

  • Countries Across the world are gearing up for the 26th Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  • At the forthcoming COP countries will be expected to increase the nationally determined commitments they made as part of that agreement.
  • Those original commitments would put the planet on track towards a 3 degrees centigrade temperature rise by the end of the current millennium.
  • 3-degree centigrade is far beyond the 1.5-degree limit that science considers to be a relatively safe threshold.

Countries declaring carbon neutrality targets

  • The European Union (EU), the UK, Japan and South Korea have announced more ambitious targets.
  • The EU and the UK have pledged to reduce their carbon emissions by 55 per cent in 2030 with 2000 as the base year
  • They have also pledged to achieve “carbon neutrality” or zero carbon emissions by 2050.
  • China has announced that it will achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 and this has been welcomed by other major economies.

Delinking from China

  • It is anticipated that the Biden administration may engage with China to come up with a template for COP-26.
  • That template did not take into account India’s interests despite China being part of the BASIC group of Brazil, South Africa, China and India.
  • BASIC, as major emerging economies, had been taking coordinated positions at multilateral climate negotiations.
  • Going forward, India must delink itself from China, let BASIC become a consultative forum only and reconstruct a larger coalition of developing countries whose climate change goals are more aligned with its own.
  • After Paris, BASIC has lost whatever rationale it originally possessed.

Course of action for India: Adaptation is the key

  • There will be some important international conferences before COP-26, where major efforts are expected to set down an agenda for that meeting.
  • Biden has called for a summit of major emitting nations on April 22.
  • In June there will be a G-7 summit of western countries and Japan to which India has been invited.
  • The UK has let it be known that climate change would be at the top of the summit agenda.
  • What should India’s stance be at these meetings?
  • Both for India and other developing countries, it is important that mitigation does not overshadow other key elements of the Paris Climate agreement.
  • There has been step-motherly treatment of adaptation, which is a bigger challenge for most developing countries than mitigation is.
  • Adaptation should have equal billing with mitigation whenever and wherever climate change action is being deliberated upon.
  • India may find itself under pressure to commit to decisions that limit rather than enhance its development prospects.
  • One should not yield to pressures to declare a peaking year for India’s carbon emissions or to follow China into declaring a target year for carbon neutrality.
  • There is a relentless effort by the US and Western European countries to include climate change on the UN Security Council (UNSC) agenda.
  • At a recent UNSC meeting, this was strongly opposed by Russia and by India.
  • We will need to work out a persuasive case for opposing it since a large number of countries seem to believe that climate change is indeed a security issue and needs to be treated as such.
  • The potentially menacing intent behind it should be exposed.

Climate finance falling short

  • The developed countries had committed themselves to providing $100 billion a year in climate finance to developing countries up to 2020.
  • There was a pledge to increase the size of this funding significantly in the period 2021-2025.
  • Even by the very accommodative accounting methods used by the OECD, the actual flows have fallen far short, being only $79 billion in 2018.
  •  Our own ministry of finance has estimated that there has been only a billion dollars in new and additional finance transferred to developing countries annually against the $100 billion pledge.
  • It is therefore important for India to highlight the finance component.
  • This will also enable the mobilisation of other developing countries, in particular small and medium countries and small island developing states.
  • These countries look up to India to provide intellectual leadership in a domain that is often quite technical and complex.

Consider the question “What are the factors India should highlight and focus on as it heads to the 26th COP to the UNFCCC?”


It is evident that India needs to fashion a fresh strategy on climate change negotiations to safeguard its interests, contribute to a global climate regime that enhances and does not diminish India’s development prospects and helps the country both to adapt to climate change that is already taking place and to accelerate its transition to a low carbon growth trajectory.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

What is Stockholm+50?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Stockholm+50

Mains level : Progress of global climate action

Stockholm+50 is a high-level meeting that the Government of Sweden plans to hold in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the first UN conference on the human environment – the 1972 Stockholm Conference.

The 1972 Stockholm Conference

  • The UN Conference on the Human Environment, also known as the Stockholm Conference, was the first UN conference on the environment and was held between 5 and 16 June 1972 in Stockholm.
  • The meeting’s outcome document – the Stockholm Declaration – included several principles that are still important for environmental management.
  • Another result of the meeting was the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Environment Day, held annually on 5 June.

Try this PYQ:

Q.The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international treaty drawn at:

(a) United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm, 1972

(b) UN Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, 1992

(c) World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg, 2002

(d) UN Climate Change Conference, Copenhagen, 2009


  • It’s been a generation since global leaders met in Stockholm in 1972 to discuss environmental challenges.
  • Then the concerns were for the local environment; there was no talk of climate change or even the depletion of the ozone layer.
  • All that came later. In 1972, the discussion was on the toxification of the environment as water and air were foul.

Progress for 50 years

  • The toxification of the environment is still a pressing concern; countries have indeed cleaned up locally but added to the emissions in the global atmosphere.
  • Now, we are out of time as climate change impacts are spiralling out of control.

Perils of Ecological Globalization

  • The fact is we stitched up the global ecological framework in terms of the many agreements only.
  • During this time, we also signed another agreement on free-trade — the economic globalisation agreement.
  • But we never really understood how these two frameworks — ecological and economic globalisation — would counteract each other.
  • As a result, we have worked to build an economic model based on discounting the price of labour and of the environment.

Expectations from Stockholm+50

  • The aim of Stockholm+50 is to contribute to concrete action.
  • It aims at leveraging sustainable consumption and production patterns and nature-based solutions in order to achieve climate-neutral, resilient, circular and inclusive economies.
  • The narrative and result will be further developed together with interested governments and other partners.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

India’s Draft Arctic Policy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Arctic Council

Mains level : Exploration of the Arctic

India has unveiled a new draft ‘Arctic’ policy that and is committed to expanding scientific research, “sustainable tourism” and mineral oil and gas exploration in the Arctic region.

Note: Five Arctic littoral states — Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia and the USA (Alaska) — and three other Arctic nations — Finland, Sweden and Iceland — form the Arctic Council (estd. 1996).

Try mapping them.

Caution: India became an Observer in the Arctic Council for the first time in 2013. And, India isn’t a full-time observer.

India at the Arctic

  • India launched its first scientific expedition to the Arctic in 2007 and set up a research station ‘Himadri’ in the international Arctic research base at Ny-Ålesund in Spitsbergen, Svalbard, Norway.
  • It has two other observatories in Kongsforden and Gruvebadet. Himadri is manned for about 180 days a year.
  • Since its establishment, over 300 Indian researchers have worked in the station. India has sent 13 expeditions to the Arctic since 2007 and runs 23 active projects.

Draft ‘Arctic’ policy

  • The draft policy discusses the importance of understanding the impact of climate change in the Arctic region and its connection with India’s monsoon, which is crucial for its economy.
  • India also proposes to focus on vast resources of the Arctic region including hydrocarbons, minerals and renewable power to ensure its energy security.
  • The policy is cautious in framing its involvement in the Arctic as “common heritage of mankind” but its priorities are similar to that of other non-Arctic states.
  • This policy roadmap draft rides on five pillars:
  1. Science and research activities,
  2. Economic and human development cooperation,
  3. Transportation and connectivity,
  4. Governance and international cooperation, and
  5. National capacity building.

Nodal bodies

  • The Goa-based National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research to lead scientific research and act as a nodal body.
  • It would thus coordinate among various scientific bodies to promote domestic scientific research capacities by expanding earth sciences, biological sciences, climate change and space-related programmes, dove-tailed with Arctic imperatives.

Why study arctic?

  • The Arctic is home to almost four million inhabitants, of which approximately one-tenth are considered as indigenous people.
  • Climate change has meant that seasons in the Arctic influence tropical weather.
  • The Arctic influences atmospheric, oceanographic and biogeochemical cycles of the earth’s ecosystem.
  • The loss of sea ice, ice caps, and warming of the ocean and atmosphere would lower salinity in the global oceans.
  • This could increase the temperature differential between land and oceans in the tropical regions, dry subtropical areas and increase precipitation at higher latitudes.
  • Arctic research will help India’s scientific community to study melting rates of the third pole — the Himalayan glaciers.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Why Geo-engineering is still a dangerous, techno-utopian dream?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Geo-engineering/ Climate engineering

Mains level : Geo-engineering and its limitation

Geoengineering has steadily shifted over the last few decades from the margins towards the mainstream of climate action discourse.

Q.What do you mean by Geoengineering? What are its practical applications? Also, discuss its limitations. (250W)

What is Geoengineering?

  • Climate engineering aka geoengineering is the deliberate and large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system, usually with the aim of mitigating the adverse effects of global warming.
  • It is a deliberate, large-scale intervention carried out in the Earth’s natural systems to reverse the impacts of climate change.
  • Its techniques fall primarily under three categories: Solar radiation management (SRM), carbon dioxide removal (CDR), and weather modification.
  • Solar radiation management refers to offsetting the warming effect of greenhouse gases by reflecting more solar radiation (sunlight) back into space.
  • Carbon dioxide removal refers to removing carbon dioxide gas (CO2) from the atmosphere and sequestering it for long periods of time.

Debates around geoengineering have burrowed to the deepest roots of our conflict with nature — do we have the right to manage and manipulate nature?

What are the specificities of geoengineering?

Specific technologies include-

  • Solar geoengineering or ‘dimming the sun’ by spraying sulfates into the air to reflect sunlight back into space;
  • Ocean fertilization or the dumping of iron or urea to stimulate phytoplankton growth to absorb more carbon;
  • Cloud brightening or spraying saltwater to make clouds more reflective and more.

CDR technologies being proposed as a means to achieve ‘net zero’ emissions by mid-century involve deliberate intervention in the natural carbon cycle:

  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS), direct air capture (DAC) and
  • Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS)

India and Geo-engineering

  • We had experiments such as LOHAFEX (an ocean iron fertilization experiment to see if iron can cause algal bloom and trap carbon dioxide from the atmosphere).
  • LOHAFEX was an ocean iron fertilization experiment jointly planned by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in India and the Helmholtz Foundation in Germany.
  • The purpose of the experiment was to see if the iron would cause an algal bloom and trap carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

How well did it fetch?

  • As expected iron fertilization led to the development of bloom during LOHAFEX, but the chlorophyll increase within the fertilized patch, an indicator of biomass, was smaller than in previous experiments.
  • The algal bloom also stimulated the growth of zooplankton that feed on them. The zooplanktons in turn are consumed by higher organisms.
  • Thus, ocean fertilization with iron also contributes to the carbon-fixing marine biomass of fish species that have been removed from the ocean by over-fishing.

The debate over its advocacy

  • Mainstream activists are advocating solar geoengineering as a means to buy “humanity more time to cut greenhouse gas emissions”.
  • Opponents have numerous foundationally solid arguments. They warn against “taking our ecosystems even further away from self-regulation”.
  • They argue that such actions distract attention from the need for deep cuts to gross emissions which is achievable with the right political will and resource mobilization.

Undesired consequences of geoengineering

  • Conducting tests for geoengineering is a fallacy since these methods need to be deployed at a scale large enough to impact the global climate system to be certain of their efficacy.
  • It is a large risk to take without knowing the potentially harmful consequences of such a planetary scale deployment.
  • Some of these consequences are already known. Solar geoengineering, for example, alters rainfall patterns that can disrupt agriculture and water supplies.
  • Injecting sulfate aerosols in the stratosphere above the Arctic to mimic volcano clouds, for example, can disrupt the monsoons in Asia and increase droughts.

Geopolitical concerns

  • Manipulating the climate could have the same geopolitical function as nuclear weapons.
  • Even before geoengineering is deployed, it may be used as a threat that will likely incite countermeasures.
  • Say if governments ever gain control of changing the course of potentially damaging storms, diversions that direct storms toward other countries may be seen as acts of war.

What lies ahead?

  • We all know that climate change is growing more rapidly than anticipated earlier.
  • Hence we should combine it with a program of deep decarbonization. This would help implement a “clean-up process” that will hasten our return to a more habitable environment.
  • Scientists agree that natural climate solutions such as forest sinks cannot be relied upon for the scale of mitigation needed.
  • Therefore, a socially just application of such technologies for carbon capture with geological sequestration offers ‘negative emissions’.


  • Geoengineering cannot be treated as a magical mechanism to escape the heightening concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) while accepting the viewpoint that rapid decarbonization is impossible.
  • It also cannot be treated as a license to continue emitting more GHGs with no changes to current consumption and production patterns.
  • Specific technologies that can help us achieve negative emissions need to be publicly funded and democratically administered to ensure that they serve the public interest.
  • And they can only act as a supplement to scaling back of GHG emissions in all sectors, not a substitute.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

The climate policy needs new ideas


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Paris Agreement

Mains level : Paper 3- Climate change policies and issues with them

The article highlights the issues with the current climate policies which are centred on the inequality.

Inequality and climate change

  • Inequity is built into the climate treaty, which considers total emissions, size, and population, making India the fourth largest emitter.
  • According to the United Nations, the richest 1% of the global population emits more than two times the emissions of the bottom 50%.
  • .China, with four times the population of the U.S., accounts for 12% of cumulative emissions.
  • India, with a population close to that of China’s, for just 3% of cumulative emissions that lead to global warming.
  • In an urbanized world, two-thirds of emissions arise from the demand of the middle class for infrastructure, mobility, buildings, and diet.
  • Well-being in the urbanized world is reflected in saturation levels of infrastructure.
  • Growth in the developed countries is consumption-driven not production driven.
  • The vaguely worded ‘carbon neutrality’, balancing emitting carbon with absorbing carbon from the atmosphere in forests is a triple whammy for latecomers like India.
  • Such countries already have less energy-intensive pathways that will not encroach on others’ ecological space, a young population, and are growing fast to reach comparable levels of well-being with those already urbanized and in the middle class.

What changes are required in the policies

  • At present, the focus is on physical quantities which indicates effects on nature.
  • The solutions require analysis of drivers, trends, and patterns of resource use. 
  • This anomaly explains why the link between well-being, energy use, and emissions is not on the global agenda.
  • Modifying unsustainable patterns of natural resource use and ensuring comparable levels of well-being are societal transformations.
  • New thinking must enable politics to acknowledge transformational social goals and the material boundaries of economic activity.

India’s unique national circumstances

  • India must highlight its unique national circumstances.
  • For example, the meat industry, especially beef, contributes to one-third of global emissions.
  • Indians eat just 4 kg of meat a year compared to those in the European Union who eat about 65 kg.
  • Also to be noted is the fact that the average American household wastes nearly one-third of its food.
  • Transport emissions account for a quarter of global emissions.
  • Transport emissions are the symbol of Western civilization and are not on the global agenda.
  • Rising Asia uses three-quarters of coal drives industry and supports the renewable energy push into cities.
  • India, with abundant reserves and per capita electricity use that is one-tenth that of the U.S., is under pressure to stop using coal.

Way forward

  • India has the credibility and legitimacy to push an alternate 2050 goal for countries currently with per capita emissions below the global average.
  • These goals should include well-being within ecological limits, the frame of the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as multilateral technological knowledge cooperation around electric vehicles, energy efficiency, building insulation, and a less wasteful diet.


Emissions are the symptom, not the cause of the problem. India, in the UN Security Council, must push new ideas based on its civilizational and long-standing alternate values for the transition to sustainability.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

World to breach 1.5°C threshold by 2027-2042


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : GCM, Cancun COP

Mains level : 1.5 C debate

The planet will breach the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels between 2027 and 2042 according to new research.

Ever wondered why is there so much of hue to halt the temperature rise at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and why not 2°C? Read this newscard to get aware….

What does that mean?

  • The world will heat up more than it can take much earlier than anticipated.
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had estimated that breach to occur between now and 2052.
  • But researchers have now claimed to have introduced a more precise way to project the Earth’s temperature based on historical climate data.

The fuss over 1.5°C threshold

  • For decades, researchers argued the global temperature rise must be kept below 2C by the end of this century to avoid the worst impacts.
  • The idea of two degrees as the safe threshold for warming evolved over a number of years from the first recorded mention by economist William Nordhaus in 1975.
  • By the mid-1990s, European ministers were signing up to the two-degree limit, and by 2010 Cancun COP it was official UN policy.
  • However, small island states and low-lying countries were very unhappy with this perspective, because they believed it meant their territories would be inundated with sea-level rise.
  • They commissioned research which showed that preventing temperatures from rising beyond 1.5C would give them a fighting chance.

Why 1.5°C is preferred over 2°C?

  • Global warming is already impacting people and ecosystems. The risks at 1.5°C and 2°C are progressively higher.
  • There will be worse heatwaves, drought and flooding at 2°C compared to 1.5°C. It is characterized as “substantial differences in extremes”.
  • Sea levels are expected to rise 10cm higher this century under 2°C of warming than 1.5°C.
  • The collapse of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica could lead to rises of several metres.
  • The quantity and quality of staple crops suffer under 2°C warming compared to 1.5C, as do livestock. That is bad for the availability of food in many parts of the world.

New model shows the breach in threshold

  • The study according to which prediction model deployed reduced uncertainties by half compared to the approach used by the IPCC.
  • The IPCC uses the General Circulation Models (GCM) to express wide ranges in overall temperature projections.
  • This makes it difficult to circle outcomes in different climate mitigation scenarios.

What is the General Circulation Model (GCM)?

  • GCM represents physical processes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and land surface.
  • It is the most advanced tool currently available for simulating the response of the global climate system to increasing greenhouse gas concentrations.
  • GCMs depict the climate using a three-dimensional grid over the globe, typically having a horizontal resolution of between 250 and 600 km.
  • Many physical processes, such as those related to clouds, also occur at smaller scales and cannot be properly modelled.

Why GCM is tricky?

  • Climate models are mathematical simulations of different factors that interact to affect Earth’s climate, such as the atmosphere, ocean, ice, land surface and the sun.
  • The data is tricky, and predictions can more often than not be inaccurate.
  • For example, an IPCC model would predict a temperature increase of a massive range — between 1.9oC and 4.5oC — if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is doubled.

Back2Basics: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

  • The IPCC is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations that is dedicated to providing the world with an objective, scientific information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of the risk of human-induced climate change.
  • It was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
  • Its membership is open to all members of the WMO and UN.
  • The IPCC produces reports that contribute to the work of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the main international treaty on climate change.
  • The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report was a critical scientific input into the UNFCCC’s Paris Agreement in 2015.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Five years since Paris Agreement, an opportunity to build back better


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Targets under the Paris Agreement

Mains level : Paper 3- 5 years of Paris Agreement and actions of EU and India

This article by the Ambassador of the European Union underscores the need for implementation and action on the commitments made in the Paris Agreement to deal with climate change.

EU’s commitment to implement Paris Agreement

  • In December 2019, the European Commission launched the European Green Deal — roadmap to achieve climate neutrality in the EU by 2050.
  •  “Next Generation EU” recovery package and our next long-term budget earmark more than half a trillion euros to address climate change.
  • Recently  EU leaders unanimously agreed on the 2030 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% compared to 1990 levels.

Impact on low carbon technologies

  • These actions and commitments of the EU towards Paris Agreement will further bring down the costs of low carbon technologies.
  • The cost of solar photovoltaics has already declined by 82% between 2010 and 2019.
  • Achieving the 55% target will even help us to save €100 billion in the next decade and up to €3 trillion by 2050.

EU working with India on climate actions

  • No government can tackle climate change alone.
  •  India is a key player in this global endeavour.
  • The rapid development of solar and wind energy in India in the last few years is a good example of the action needed worldwide.
  • India has taken a number of very significant flagship initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance, the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure and the Leadership Group for Industry Transition.
  • India and Team Europe are engaged to make a success of the forthcoming international gatherings: COP 26 in Glasgow on climate change and COP 15 in Kunming on biodiversity.

Way forward

  • The international community should come forward with clear strategies for net-zero emissions and to enhance the global level of ambition for 2030.
  • Our global, regional, national, local and individual recovery plans are an opportunity to ‘build back better’.
  • We will also need to foster small individual actions to attain a big collective impact.


With climate neutrality as our goal, the world should mobilise its best scientists, business people, policymakers, academics, civil society actors and citizens to protect together something we all share beyond borders and species: our planet.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Five years of Paris Agreement


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Paris Agreement

Mains level : Paper 3- Net zero emission targets and issues with it

 Climate Ambition Summit was held on the 5th anniversary of the Paris Agreement. The article takes stock of the progress made on climate action in the last 5 years.

The Paris Agreement

  • The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016.
  • Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.
  • To achieve this long-term temperature goal, countries aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to achieve a climate-neutral world by mid-century.
  • It is a landmark process because, for the first time, a binding agreement brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.

How does it function?

  • Implementation of the Paris Agreement requires economic and social transformation, based on the best available science.
  • The Agreement works on a 5- year cycle of increasingly ambitious climate action carried out by countries.
  • By 2020, countries submit their plans for climate action known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs).


  • In their NDCs, countries communicate actions they will take to reduce their Greenhouse Gas emissions in order to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement.
  • Countries also communicate in the NDCs actions they will take to build resilience to adapt to the impacts of rising temperatures.

Long-Term Strategies

  • To better frame the efforts towards the long-term goal, the Paris Agreement invites countries to formulate and submit by 2020 long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies (LT-LEDS).
  • LT-LEDS provide the long-term horizon to the NDCs. Unlike NDCs, they are not mandatory.
  • Nevertheless, they place the NDCs into the context of countries’ long-term planning and development priorities, providing a vision and direction for future development.

Progress made after 5 years

  • All states have submitted their national contributions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
  • However, these contributions are radically insufficient to reach the “well below 2 degrees Celsius” limit and are even further from the “1.5 degrees Celsius” temperature limit identified in the Paris Agreement.
  • This initial shortfall was expected — the logic of the Paris Agreement relied on iterative scaling up of national targets over time to bridge the gap.

Are countries scaling up the targets

  • Although 151 states have indicated that they will submit stronger targets before December 31, only 13 of them, covering 2.4 per cent of global emissions, have submitted such targets.
  • While states have been slow to update their national contributions for 2025-2030, several have announced “net zero” targets in the recent past.
  • All G-7 states except the US and 11 G20 members have mid-century (2050 or 2060) net zero targets -carbon dioxide or other GHGs.
  • The Joe Biden administration is also expected to join this group.

Issues in Net Zero targets

1) Credibility of the commitments

  • First, the credibility check — are these long-term net zero goals aligned with short-term actions, policies and measures?
  • The IPCC 1.5 degrees Celsius Report indicated that to stay within a reasonable chance of achieving 1.5 degrees Celsius, global carbon dioxide emissions have to fall by 45 per cent from the 2010 levels by 2030.
  • Current national contributions are not on track for such a fall.
  • For many there is a mismatch between short-term actions and long-term commitments.
  • Further, there is a significant “overshoot” in terms of GHGs in the short and medium-term, and a reliance on negative emissions technologies to get there in the long-term.

2) Fixing accountability

  • Many net zero goals have not yet been embedded in national contributions and long-term strategies under the Paris Agreement.
  • In any case, accountability under the Paris Agreement is limited. States are not obliged to achieve their self-selected targets.
  • There is no mechanism to review the adequacy of individual contributions.
  • States are only asked to provide justifications for the fairness and ambition of their targets.
  • The transparency framework does not contain a robust review function, and the compliance committee is facilitative and limited to ensuring compliance with a short list of binding procedural obligations.
  • Accountability, therefore, has thus far been generated by non-state actors outside the UN regime rather than in the regime.

3) Fairness of climate action

  •  The issue of equity and fairness, side-stepped in the Paris Agreement, is emerging in climate litigation before national and regional courts.
  • In the landmark Urgenda case (2019), the Dutch Supreme court considered “fair shares” when identifying benchmarks against which the Netherland’s national effort could be judged in the context of a collective action problem.
  • Issues of fairness and justice, both between and within generations, are “unavoidable”.

India’s commitment

In 2015, ahead of the UN significant climate conference in Paris, India announced three major voluntary commitments called the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC):

  1. Improving the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33–35% by 2030 over 2005 levels
  2. Increasing the share of non-fossil fuels-based electricity to 40% by 2030 and
  3. Enhancing its forest cover, thereby absorbing 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide

A success (?)

  • The Environment Minister said that we have achieved 21% of its emissions intensity reduction target as a proportion of its GDP in line with its pledge to a 33-35% reduction by 2030.
  • India was the only major G20 country that was on track towards keeping to its nationally determined commitments to halt runaway global warming.


Credible short-term commitments, with a clear pathway to medium-term decarbonisation, that take into account the multiple challenges states face, such as on air pollution, and development, might well be the more defensible choice for some.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

India’s Commitment for Paris Agreement


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Paris Agreement

Mains level : Progress of global climate action

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement, where formidable climate diplomacy ushered 196 rich and poor countries into a legally binding treaty seeking to hold global heating below 2°C at this century’s end.

Try this PYQ first, then head with the news:

Q.With reference to the Agreement at the UNFCCC Meeting in Paris in 2015, which of the following statements is/are correct?

  1.    The Agreement was signed by all the member countries of the UN and it will go into effect in 2017.
  2.    The Agreement aims to limit the greenhouse gas emissions so that the rise in average global temperature by the end of this century does not exceed 20C or even 1.50C above pre-industrial levels.
  3.    Developed countries acknowledged their historical responsibility in global warming and committed to donate S 1000 billion a year from 2020 to help developing countries to cope with climate change.

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

(a)    1 and 3 only

(b)    2 only

(c)    2 and 3 only

(d)    1, 2 and 3

The Paris Agreement

  • The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016.
  • Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.
  • To achieve this long-term temperature goal, countries aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to achieve a climate-neutral world by mid-century.
  • It is a landmark process because, for the first time, a binding agreement brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.

How does it function?

  • Implementation of the Paris Agreement requires economic and social transformation, based on the best available science.
  • The Agreement works on a 5- year cycle of increasingly ambitious climate action carried out by countries.
  • By 2020, countries submit their plans for climate action known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs).


  • In their NDCs, countries communicate actions they will take to reduce their Greenhouse Gas emissions in order to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement.
  • Countries also communicate in the NDCs actions they will take to build resilience to adapt to the impacts of rising temperatures.

Long-Term Strategies

  • To better frame the efforts towards the long-term goal, the Paris Agreement invites countries to formulate and submit by 2020 long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies (LT-LEDS).
  • LT-LEDS provide the long-term horizon to the NDCs. Unlike NDCs, they are not mandatory.
  • Nevertheless, they place the NDCs into the context of countries’ long-term planning and development priorities, providing a vision and direction for future development.

India’s commitment

In 2015, ahead of the UN significant climate conference in Paris, India announced three major voluntary commitments called the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC):

  1. Improving the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33–35% by 2030 over 2005 levels
  2. Increasing the share of non-fossil fuels-based electricity to 40% by 2030 and
  3. Enhancing its forest cover, thereby absorbing 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide

A success (?)

  • The Environment Minister said that we have achieved 21% of its emissions intensity reduction target as a proportion of its GDP in line with its pledge to a 33-35% reduction by 2030.
  • India was the only major G20 country that was on track towards keeping to its nationally determined commitments to halt runaway global warming.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

A History of Climate Change Negotiations


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various COPs, UNFCCC

Mains level : Progress of global climate action

China’s announcement of achieving net-zero by 2060 is a stepping stone in the fight against climate change. But it means nothing until countries share the goals they intend to follow.

Why are we reading this news?

We often get to hear that UPSC suddenly switches to basics after maneuvering over current affairs. This news is a perfect example which strikes the balance between basics and current affairs.

Climate change: A disaster in making

  • Anthropogenic climate change can be traced back to the industrial revolution.
  • The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) greenhouse gas has increased to 415 parts per million (ppm) from 280 ppm since then.
  • A global momentum, therefore, was required to get all countries on board.

Realization of climate action: Birth of UNFCCC

  • The idea led to the formation of the United Nations Framework for Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC, also known as ‘The Convention’) in 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
  • The convention divided the countries on the basis of their differing commitments: Annex I and II consisted of industrialized and developed countries and Non-Annex I comprised developing countries.

Wait! You need not remember everything* in this newscard. But, have walk through the timeline; it will concretize your idea about the global climate action and the possible way forward.

A timeline

The Conference of Parties (CoP) is the supreme decision-making body at the convention and comprises states that are party to it.

COP 1:

  • At CoP1 in Berlin 1995, the Convention highlighted the shortcomings of UNFCCC — the voluntary nature of the agreement.
  • It stressed how no substantive action was taken to address the cause against climate change, which in turn put forward the need for “legally binding” actions.

COP 2:

The proposal of legally binding targets was further emphasised upon in COP2 in Geneva in 1996.

COP 3:

  • In COP3 in Kyoto in 1997, the legally binding targets were approved of by different countries. They came to be known as the Kyoto Protocol.
  • It is considered to be one of the most important steps despite its late acceptance for it paved the way for further negotiations through legally binding targets for Annex I countries and establishment of carbon markets.
  • The mechanisms proposed by Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions included Joint Implementation, Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) and Emissions Trading.

COP 4 and COP 5:

In COP4 in 1998 and COP5 in 1999, the rulebook for implementing the Kyoto Protocol was on the process with the adoption of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action in COP4, along with continued negotiation efforts in COP5.

COP 7:

  • In COP7 in Marrakesh in 2001, the guidelines for flexible mechanisms of joint implementation, CDM markets, emissions trading was agreed upon. It came to be known as the Marrakesh Accord.
  • It was particularly important because mitigation efforts had already started and special attention was given to developing countries.
  • It asked them to build their capacities and ensuring technology transfer through least developed countries (LDC) Fund, special climate change fund (SCCF) and adaptation fund.

COP 8:

The COP8 in 2002, which was held in “New Delhi”, emphasised on adaptation measures and stressed that poverty alleviation and development were the utmost priority of developing countries.

COP 10:

  • The future course of action was discussed in COP10 in Montreal in 2005 after Russia ratified the Protocol in 2004 at COP10 in Argentina.
  • A two-track approach was formed, which included the constructive implementation of UNFCCC as well as formation an ad-hoc committee for the Kyoto Protocol.

COP 15:

  • Copenhagen COP 2009 was set by the ad-hoc working group on Kyoto protocol formed during Montreal COP 2005.
  • The group agreed to have a deal in 2009 regarding a legally binding climate regime from 2012-2020.
  • The discussions lost track when developed countries started advocating for burden-sharing with developing countries.

COP 16:

  • The disappointment of Copenhagen was turned into an opportunity in Cancun 2010, where the Copenhagen Accord was accepted.
  • It looked forward to a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol and established the Cancun Adaptation Framework.
  • For the first time, a temperature target of 2 degrees Celsius was included. The Green climate fund was formed and developed countries agreed to contribute.

COP 17:

  • Following Cancun, Durban COP 2011 took place wherein the seed of the Paris Agreement was sown.
  • The seed started sprouting in Doha COP 2012, where countries decided to avoid the gap between Kyoto and next legal climate regime.
  • So, the second regime of Kyoto was decided from 2012-2020. The third pillar of loss and damage was incorporated for the first time.

COP 20:

In COP in Lima in 2014, countries submitted their own climate ambitions in the form of intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs).

COP 21: The Pathbreaker

  • In 2015, the Paris agreement was finally adopted and the INDCs were annexed to it.
  • It was agreed that the Paris agreement would start from 2021.
  • 2015 was known as a year of multilateral agreements because, in addition to the Paris agreement, sustainable development goals and Sendai Framework was also adopted.
  • 2015, therefore, came out to be a successful year.

Post Paris Agreement

  • The retreat of developed countries: In all these post-2020 talks, developed countries tactfully avoided their pre-2020 commitments by not ratifying the Kyoto protocol.
  • Post-Paris discussions for the finalization of the Rulebook began.
  • Most were finalised in 2018, except the market mechanism and measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of greenhouse gas which are due in COP26 in 2021.

Agenda for next COP in 2021

  • The next COP will be in 2021 in Glasgow with two sets of agendas for discussion.
  • The first will be to complete the rule-book of Paris Agreement implementation, whose two aspects regarding Sustainable Development Mechanism (SDM) architecture and MRV framework are yet to be completed.
  • The second will be to ensure smooth implementation of the Paris Agreement from 1st January 2021.
  • Countries are expected to revise their NDCs as the present course of activities is projected to cause an increase in temperature of 2.8-3 C rise.

The situation today: Nothing beyong big promises

  • China’s recent announcement of achieving net-zero by 2060 comes across as the stepping stone of future climate change mitigation efforts.
  • Political announcements, however, mean nothing until countries actually share the goals they intend to follow.
  • On the contrary, India is the only country whose NDCs are in line with the 2 degrees Celsius target.
  • Another substantial happening in the domain of climate change includes Joe Biden’s promise of joining the Paris Agreement; it would bring the US back to the GCF fund.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

The Paris agreement is no panacea


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Kyoto Protocol, Rio Declaration, Copenhagen Accord etc

Mains level : Paper 3- Paris Agreement and issues with it

The article highlights the fact that the provisions of the Paris Agreement would not be enough to avert the catastrophic and irreversible changes resulting from the global emissions. 

Past efforts for environmental protection

  • The most hopeful time for global cooperation in protection of the planet was between the time of the Stockholm Conference (1972) and the time of the Rio Conference (1992).
  •  Scientific evidence about role anthropogenic emission in global warming led to political initiatives to harmonise development and environment.
  • The historic consensus in Rio led to the adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).
  • A distinction was made between the “luxury emissions” of the developed countries and the survival emissions of the developed countries, which were allowed to increase.
  • Moreover, a huge financial package was approved to develop environment-friendly technologies in developing countries.

Copenhagen Accord: Abandonment of Rio Principles

  • After the adoption of UNFCC, Conference of the Parties was held in Berlin in 1995 where developed countries backed off from their commitments.
  • Though the G-77 was split, the Rio principles were maintained.
  • The Kyoto Protocol enshrined the Rio principles.
  • It fixed emission targets for developed countries and a complex set of provisions was included to satisfy their interests.
  • The end of the Kyoto Protocol and the abandonment of the spirit of the Rio principles were reflected in the Copenhagen Accord (2009).
  • Argument given was that a global climate action plan would be possible only if all reductions of the greenhouse gases were made voluntary.

Paris Agreement: Making emission reduction voluntary

  • The Paris Agreement moved away from the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.
  • All countries were placed on an equal footing by making reduction of greenhouse gas emissions voluntary.
  • It requires all parties to put forward their best efforts through nationally determined contributions (NDCs)

Shortcomings in Paris Agreement

  • The NDCs so far submitted will not result in the desired objective of limiting increase of global warming to below 2°C.
  • The Paris Agreement requires that all countries — rich, poor, developed, and developing — slash greenhouse gas emissions.
  • But no language is included on the commitments the countries should make.
  • Nations can voluntarily set their emissions targets and incur no penalties for falling short of their targets.
  •  Further temperature rise, even of 1.5°C, may result in catastrophic and irreversible changes.
  • Even a 1°C hotter planet is not a steady state, says a report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).


The IPCC report acknowledges that “the pathways to avoiding an even hotter world would require a swift and complete transformation not just of the global economy but of society too”. This will only be possible if the world rejects nationalism and parochialism and adopts collaborative responses to the crisis. The Paris Agreement falls short of that imperative.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

‘Race to Zero’ campaign


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level :  ‘Race to Zero’ campaign, Carbon offset

Mains level : Not Much

The UN has launched the “Race to Zero” campaign ahead of delayed COP 26 Climate Talks.

Possible question for prelims:

The ‘Race to Zero’ campaign often seen in news is related to zeroing: Global Hunger/Carbon Emission/HR violations/None of these.

 ‘Race to Zero’ campaign

  • The campaign aims to codify commitments made via the Climate Ambition Alliance (CAA), which launched ahead of last year’s COP25 in Madrid.
  • It encourages countries, companies, and other entities to deliver structured net-zero greenhouse-gas emission pledges by the time the talks begin.
  • This messaging for the campaign — carried out under the aegis of the UNFCCC— seeks to emphasise the potential for non-state actors to raise climate ambition.
  • The campaign refers to these as ‘real economy actors’, noting they “cover just over half the gross domestic product, a quarter of global CO2 emissions and over 2.6 billion people”.

About the Climate Ambition Alliance

  • The CAA currently includes 120 nations and several other private players that have committed to achieving zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
  • Signatories are responsible for 23 per cent of current greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide and 53 per cent of global GDP.

What Are the Criteria?

  • The minimum criteria for establishing a recognized pledge were developed through dialogues coordinated by Oxford University.
  • The pledges must include a clear net-zero target date no later than 2050, they must also begin immediately and include interim targets.
  • Much like the Paris Agreement itself, the criteria are designed to strengthen over time, but they begin at a level that reflects current best practices.

Issue over offsetting

  • Offsets are emission-reductions generated outside a company’s own operations, and they are used in both compliance programs to meet mandated emission caps (“cap and trade”) and involuntary programs to reduce a company’s overall impact (voluntary carbon markets).
  • The Race to Zero criteria emphasizes that if offsets are ultimately recognized, they must only be used to neutralize residual emissions that can’t be eliminated internally – at least not immediately.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

[pib] Petersberg Climate Dialogue


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Petersberg Climate Dialogue

Mains level : Coronovirus outbreak and climate negotiaitions

India along with 30 countries deliberated on issues of Climate Change in first-ever virtual Petersberg Climate Dialogue.

Climate change negotiations are somehow put to a halt due to ongoing pandemic. Such small dialogues are keeping alive the spirit of climate action.

Petersberg Climate Dialogue

  • It has been hosted by Germany since 2010 to provide a forum for informal high-level political discussions, focusing both on international climate negotiations and the advancement of climate action.
  • This year’s virtual Dialogue was co-chaired by Germany and the UK.
  • The dialogue was crucial because of the efforts to contain coronavirus as well as countries preparing to move into the implementation phase of the Paris Agreement 2015 in the post-2020 period.

India’s Contributions

  • Expressing solidarity with the world as it combats the COVID 19 pandemic the Union Minister highlighted how COVID – 19 has noticed that we can survive on less.
  • India pushed for having climate technology as an open source available to all countries at affordable prices.
  • India stressed on climate finance and urged to plan for 1 trillion USD in grants to the developing world immediately.
  • India focussed on the opportunity that the world has today to accelerate renewable energy deployment and creating new green jobs in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sector.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

COVID-19 and its impact on climate talks


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : COVID-19 and its impact on climate change negotiation


  • Amidst the pandemic, people are breathing cleaner air and are witness to clearer, bluer skies as the human movement has been restricted due to lockdowns imposed by various countries.
  • But while the air may be getting cleaner, the lockdowns are not exactly good news for climate change research.
  • Climate talks are witnessing setbacks in the form of funding cuts, cancelled climate conferences and reduced political will to tackle climate change.

COVID-19 impacting climate change research

  • The hard paced climate change research has been halted and it might become difficult to restart the conversation around it, even after the pandemic is brought under control.
  • The major projects that were scheduled to gather environmental data have all been cancelled or postponed and the crisis has also cast a shadow on routine monitoring of weather and climate change.
  • Further, because commercial flights are running at a lesser frequency, it has also become difficult to collect ambient temperatures and the wind speed, which is taken by in-flight sensors.
  • The other reason that other research has more or less been halted is because of restrictions including lockdowns, insistence on working from home and other social distancing requirements.

Scope for a back seat

  • Due to the looming health crisis, human kind’s immediate survival is the biggest concern at the moment.
  • However, completely ignoring environmental policy may not be in humanity’s best interest.
  • Largely we still view the environment, and life on earth, as separate. This separation is a dangerous delusion.
  • We can and must do better if we want to prevent the next infectious pandemic.

Climate change and infectious diseases are not separate

  • The two are not directly related, which is to say that climate change did not lead to the spread of the coronavirus.
  • However, there is a possibility that climate change could have exacerbated the impact of COVID-19 by making the consequences worse for some humans.
  • For instance, air pollution’s impact on human health could make some consequences of the disease more severe for a few humans.
  • A 2003 study on air pollution and the case fatality rate for SARS showed that people exposed to air pollution were more likely to suffer severe consequences from the disease.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) 2020


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) 2020

Mains level : Developed countries and thier negligence for Climate action

India, for the first time, ranks among the top 10 countries in this year’s Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI).  Last year, India was ranked 12th.

About CCPI

  • The Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) is an annual publication by Germanwatch, NewClimate Institute and Climate Action Network Europe.
  • Its aim is to put political and social pressure on those countries that have, until now, failed to take ambitious action on climate protection, and to highlight those countries with best practice climate policies.
  • It evaluates the climate protection performance of 60 countries, responsible for over 90% of global energy-related CO2 emissions.

India’s performance

  • The report states that the current level of per capita emissions and energy use in India ranks ninth in the higher category.
  • The Indian government has yet to develop a roadmap for the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies that would consequently reduce the country’s high dependence on coal.
  • In short, more stringent laws and amendments should be made to achieve climate change targets.

Global scene

  • The 2015 accord saw nations agree to work towards limiting global temperature rises to “well below” two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
  • The U.S. and Saudi Arabia are among major polluters showing “hardly any signs” of reducing their greenhouse gas production.
  • While climate performance varied greatly — even within the EU, with Sweden leading the way — the report found that none of the countries surveyed were currently on a path compatible with the Paris climate goals.
  • China, the world’s largest single emitter, was found to have taken “medium action” due to its high investment in renewables.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Carbon Credits and their trade


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CDM, Carbon Markets

Mains level : Developed countries and thier negligence for Climate action

Carbon markets are the controversial concept dominating at COP25, the climate change conference currently happening in Madrid.

What are carbon markets?

  • Carbon markets are regulatory structures that allow, in particular, oil and gas-intensive companies or heavy industry (or, in the case of COP25, countries) to reduce their economic footprint through a series of incentives.
  • The idea behind this system is that the most polluting countries can purchase the right to pollute more from countries that have not reached their emissions limits.
  • The 1997 Kyoto Protocol turned polluting emissions into a commodity.
  • For example, the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) is the largest in the world and has been in operation since 2015.

How is the concept evolved?

  • When the world evolved the ‘clean development mechanism’ (CDM) after the Kyoto Protocol agreement of 1997 as companies in the developing world could put up projects.
  • These include renewable energy or afforestation — that helped reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and earn ‘credits’ that could be sold in the market.
  • It was expected that these credits would be bought by the developed countries that had committed to emissions cuts under the Protocol.
  • Thus emerged the CDM market, aka ‘compliance market’. Alongside, environmentally conscious entities also started buying these carbon credits (or offsets) — the ‘voluntary market’.

How do they work?

  • Some of these markets are designed for trading in carbon credits.
  • A company or country that exceeds certain carbon reduction targets can buy credits from another that does not exceed them.
  • Or, companies can ‘offset’ carbon emissions through pre-determined contributions to low-carbon projects or the purchase of green bonds.

Why are they controversial?

  • What is being negotiated in Madrid, with the implementation of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, is how to regulate existing markets.

India’s concerns

  • Indian companies have registered 1,669 projects under CDM and earned 246.6 million credits; another 526 projects were registered under the ‘voluntary’ market and these have earned 89 million credits.
  • Thus, in all, Indian companies got roughly 350 million credits.
  • These credits go by different names under different dispensations. Under CDM, they are called ‘certified emission reductions’, or CERs.

What are they worth?

  • Like shares, it depends on the market price. At the best of times, they were selling for $25 a CER. Indo Wind, a Chennai-based wind energy company, sold some for $15 apiece.
  • Those were the days when experts estimated that India could gain even as much as ₹45,000 crore by selling the credits.
  • Today, a CER sells for 25 cents in the CDM market and a dollar in the voluntary market. An estimated 85 per cent of India’s CDM credits and about 30 per cent of voluntary credits remain unsold.
  • Ironically, the market crash comes at a time when carbon ought to be priced far higher than its historical peak. The IMF, for instance, has said that a price of $75 would be consistent with climate action ambitions.

Which countries are interested in them and why?

  • Carbon markets are very attractive for countries that have difficulty achieving the deep decarbonisation provided for in the Paris Agreement, which commits to keeping the global average temperature increase below 1.5ºC.
  • These countries are primarily Brazil, India and China.
  • Interestingly, while the US is in the process of withdrawing from the Paris accords, it also has a significant interest in an international carbon market.

Why are carbon markets key to the COP25 negotiations?

  • COP25 is trying to find a way to link the various existing carbon markets by establishing a set of rules to achieve this.
  • However, there are a number of policy challenges that make consensus difficult.
  • One of them — and one that Brazil is particularly pressing for — is whether old credits can be counted towards the current Paris goals.
  • However, there are also thornier questions, such as which projects can be offset or credited, and the need to balance the support of richer countries to help finance low-carbon transitions in the developing world without creating a mechanism.

Can this trade be seen as a new kind of ‘neocolonialism’ in which the poorest will maintain the pollution of the richest?

  • It is true that a poorly designed carbon market can be enormously inefficient, and it is a particularly difficult task for COP25.
  • There are enough examples of successful carbon markets around the world to suggest that this is not inevitable.
  • The potential for a carbon market is not only to facilitate energy transitions and decarbonisation around the world but to be a mechanism for the Paris Agreement to set more aggressive decarbonisation targets.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Adaptation Fund


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Adaptation Fund

Mains level : Clean development mechanism

Adaptation Fund

  • The Adaptation Fund is an international fund that finances projects and programs aimed at helping developing countries to adapt to the harmful effects of climate change.
  • It is set up under the Kyoto Protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  • The Adaptation Fund is managed by the Adaptation Fund Board (AFB).
  • The secretariat of the Adaptation Fund Board provides research, advisory, administrative, and an array of other services to the Board, and consists of an international staff based in Washington, DC.
  • The World Bank serves as the trustee of the Adaptation Fund.


  • The AFB is composed of 16 members and 16 alternates representing Annex I countries, Non-Annex I countries, Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Small Island Developing States (SIDSs), and regional constituencies.
  • The AFB meets three times per year in Bonn, Germany.
  • The German Parliament has conferred legal capacity to the AFB.

Funding mechanism

  • The Adaptation Fund was initiated to be primarily financed by a share of proceeds from clean development mechanism (CDM) project activities and also with funds from other sources.
  • The share of proceeds amounts to 2% of certified emission reductions (CER) issued for a CDM project activity.
  • As the market for carbon credits plunged, other funding sources became more critical for the Adaptation Fund, and include donations from Annex 1 countries.
  • One unique feature of the AF is its direct access mechanism which enables accredited national implementing entities (NIEs) and regional implementing agencies (RIEs) in developing countries to directly access climate adaptation financing.

Why in news?

  • Since 2010, the Adaptation Fund has directed $532 million to 80 concrete adaptation projects in the most vulnerable communities of developing countries, serving 5.8 million direct beneficiaries.
  • In 2018, the Fund raised $129 million in new pledges, a record-setting year.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capability (CBDR-RC)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : CBDR-RC

Mains level : Developed countries and thier negligence for Climate action

India will insist upon the principle of ‘equity and common but differentiated responsibilities’ at next week’s COP-25 in Madrid, Spain.

What is CBDR-RC?

  • It is a principle within the UNFCCC that acknowledges the different capabilities and differing responsibilities of individual countries in addressing climate change.
  • In simpler terms, it means that while all countries should do their best to fight global warming, developed countries – with deeper pockets, which were primarily responsible for the climate mess – should take a bigger share of the burden than the developing and under-developed countries.

India’s agenda at COP-25

  • India will stress upon the need for fulfilling pre-2020 commitments by developed countries.
  • The ‘pre-2020 period commitments’ refers to the promises made by the developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol — developing countries faced no binding commitments under the protocol.


Paris Agreement (COP-21)

  • The Paris Agreement that was signed by all countries (and since ratified by the required number of countries) was hammered out in the 21st COP, in 2015.
  • In that agreement, all countries agreed upon a common target of “2 degrees Celsius” – they resolved not to allow the world to warm more than 2 degrees over the average temperatures that existed in the pre-industrialisation period of the mid 19th century.
  • To limit global warming to not more than 2 degrees, all countries brought in their own action plans — NDCs — and pledged to walk the talk.
  • They also agreed that the developed countries should mobilise funds for the developing countries to undertake climate-action projects — but neither any quantum of funds nor the nature of such funds was specified.
  • In general, it was agreed that the developed countries would provide technology and that all countries would sit for a review of the status once in five years – called ‘global stocktake’ – and would “raise ambition”.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

Explained: What it means to host UNFCCC COP?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : UNFCCC COP

Mains level : Climate change negotiations and issues

  • Chile, the designated host for this year’s UN climate change conference, has said it would not be able to organise the December event because of political unrest at home.
  • Spain which stepped in and offered to host it on the same dates, December 2-13 will host the CoP.

COP25: The event

  • The signatories to the 1992 UNFCC (UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) meet to discuss and decide on steps that countries need to take to fight climate change.
  • The year-end conference called COP has been held since 1995 and never been postponed.
  • This will be the 25th edition of the meeting, hence COP25.

Why is it for?

  • It is the same meeting that, at COP3, delivered the 1997 Kyoto Protocol the first international agreement to fight climate change.
  • The Kyoto Protocol was later deemed to be inadequate, and after several years of negotiations, COP21 in 2015 delivered the Paris Agreement.
  • In subsequent years, countries have been trying to finalise the rules and procedures that will govern the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
  • One of the most important tasks at the upcoming COP is to complete the negotiations over the rulebook.

How is a host decided?

  • The venue for the COP meeting is rotated among the five UN-identified regions — Africa, Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Caribbean, and Western Europe and Others.
  • The countries in the region have to propose a candidate, and a host is usually decided at least two years in advance.
  • If no one else agrees to do it, Bonn in Germany, as headquarters of the UNFCCC secretariat, has to step in and host the event.

Trends in the hosting pattern

  • The rotation cycle has not been followed very strictly.
  • The first and second COPs were both held in Western Europe (Berlin and Geneva), and so were the fifth and sixth (Bonn and the Hague).
  • After the 2012 COP in Doha, the event has not returned to Asia.
  • That is because Fiji, the host in 2017, lacked the resources to organise an event of this scale; as a compromise, the event had to be held in Bonn under the Fijian presidency.
  • Even before the ongoing unrest, Chile had been a reluctant host. The only other contender from the region to host COP25 was Costa Rica, but it lacked the resources.

Why hosting a COP is difficult?

  • The host city incurs huge expenditure on the event, not all of which is reimbursed.
  • Apart from the over 20,000 participants, the city has to make arrangements for visits by heads of states and governments, and other personalities.
  • Side events and demonstrations invariably come with the conference, and the host city has to brace for such disruptionsthe for more than two weeks.
  • The event does help local economy, and tourism, but many countries do not see that as an adequate incentive.

A weak climate leadership

  • For countries with smaller greenhouse gas emissions, this is not much of a problem, but such expectations explain why the US, China or Russia have not shown much interest in hosting the event.
  • Japan hosted the 1997 event that produced the Kyoto Protocol, but it also happened to be the first country to walk out of it in 2011.
  • Australia, which too withdrew from Kyoto Protocol, has never hosted it.
  • Spain will now host it for the first time, and so will the UK, in Glasgow next year. Germany and Poland have been hosts three times each.
  • India, the third largest emitter, hosted the 2002 COP in New Delhi, much before climate change became this big.
  • The EU which has a relatively strong climate change action plan, has hosted the most COP editions — 11 of 24 COPs, with Madrid now the 12th of 25.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

[pib] India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP)


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ICAP

Mains level : India's committment to curb global warmings

  • India’s Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) has been appreciated internationally by the UN on World Ozone Day.

About ICAP

The India Cooling Action seeks to

  1. Reduce cooling demand across sectors by 20% to 25% by 2037-38,
  2. Reduce refrigerant demand by 25% to 30% by 2037-38,
  3. Reduce cooling energy requirements by 25% to 40% by 2037-38,
  4. Recognize “cooling and related areas” as a thrust area of research under national S&T Programme,
  5. Training and certification of 100,000 servicing sector technicians by 2022-23, synergizing with Skill India Mission.

Why focus on cooling?

  • Cooling requirement is cross sectoral and an essential part for economic growth and is required across different sectors of the economy such as residential and commercial buildings, cold-chain, refrigeration, transport and industries
  • Cooling is also linked to human health and productivity.
  • Linkages of cooling with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are well acknowledged.
  • Its cross-sectoral nature of cooling and its use in development of the economy makes provision for cooling an important developmental necessity.

Benefits of the Plan

  • Thermal comfort for all – provision for cooling for EWS and LIG housing,
  • Sustainable cooling – low GHG emissions related to cooling,
  • Doubling Farmers Income – better cold chain infrastructure – better value of produce to farmers, less wastage of produce,
  • Skilled workforce for better livelihoods and environmental protection,
  • Make in India – domestic manufacturing of air-conditioning and related cooling equipment’s,
  • Robust R&D on alternative cooling technologies – to provide push to innovation in cooling sector.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

BASIC Countries


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : BASIC group

Mains level : Mandate of the group

  • The BASIC countries — a grouping of Brazil, South Africa, India and China — held their 28th Ministerial meeting on Climate Change between August 14 to 16 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
  • India was represented by Union MoEFCC who underlined the importance of the grouping in “making the 2015 Paris climate Agreement accepted by all countries in its true letter and spirit”.

BASIC Countries

  • The BASIC group was formed as the result of an agreement signed by the four countries on November 28, 2009.
  • This emerging geopolitical alliance, initiated and led by China, then brokered the final Copenhagen Accord with the United States.
  • The signatory nations, all recently industrialized, committed to acting together at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly known as the Copenhagen Summit.
  • The four committed to act jointly at the Copenhagen climate summit, including a possible united walk-out if their common minimum position was not met by the developed nations.
  • These nations have a broadly common position on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and raising the massive funds that are needed to fight climate change.
  • The Accord is however not legally binding.

Why it is significant?

  • The BASIC group wields considerable heft purely because of the size of the economies and populations of the member countries.
  • Brazil, South Africa, India and China put together has one-third of the world’s geographical area and nearly 40% of the world’s population.
  • The BASIC nations will work together ahead of the United Nations Session on Climate Change and the next Conference of Parties (CoP25) in Chile. China will host the next meeting of the BASIC Ministers.
  • BASIC is one of several groups of nations working together to fight climate change and carry out negotiations within the UNFCCC.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

[op-ed snap] Paving a green path


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Agenda for Climate Change Negotiations


On the margins of the UN General Assembly in September, the UN Secretary General has convened a summit to discuss plans to address climate change.  The UN Secretary General is concerned that the collective climate ambition is low and is keen to launch new initiatives to close the gap between the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) made under the Paris Pact and the goal of climate stabilisation.

  • The recent IPCC report which called for limiting the global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius has added momentum to the push.
  • For this goal, the world will need to move towards zero carbon emission around 2050.
  • But such a world is contingent on heavy electrification of energy, industry and transport systems in the medium term and market adoption of low or near zero carbon technologies in the longer term.

Industry Track

  • Nine tracks of discussion are planned at the summit, with the hope of nudging countries to move to an aggressive path of decarbonisation.
  • One of them, the “industry track,” focussing on industrial decarbonisation, is led by India and Sweden.

Industrial decarbonisation –

  • The challenge of industrial decarbonisation looks daunting at first glance. However, India’s experience in this respect is telling.
  • As per government data, India may be on track to achieve its NDC target of emissions intensity well ahead of time.
  • The period between 2005 to 2014, for which emissions data is available, has seen consistently higher economic growth (around 6-7 per cent) than the rate of growth in emissions (around 3.8 per cent).
  • Falling energy costs of renewables have made it possible for incomes and jobs to be protected while lowering the emissions.
1.Harder-to-abate sectors  –
However, over a third of the emissions is generated by the harder-to-abate sectors which will witness high growth rate in the next decade, leading to three to four times increase in energy demand.
2.High emissions intensity –
  • While the energy intensity of these sectors may fall because of improved energy efficiency, their emissions intensity may remain high.
  • The fall in India’s emissions intensity of GDP may not be sustainable unless attempts are initiated now to address the carbon intensity of these sectors in the long term.
3.No Replacements –
  • The trouble is that for heavy industries such as iron and steel, cement, aluminum, plastics, and long distance transport, which depend on fossil fuels, technologies to replace such fuels are either not ready for commercial-scale application or simply not available.
  • Typically, industry is hesitant to adopt better but costly technology because of concerns about market share. 
Way Forward

One can think of the summit helping to build three levels of coalitions in a push for such transformation.

1.A voluntary coalition of industries – 

  • First, a voluntary coalition of industries having the desire to accelerate to low or zero carbon technologies could be formed.
  • These coalitions could adopt sector-wide goals by 2023 based on the best-available technology using life-cycle methods.

2. A coalition of Countries –

  • The second coalition could consist of countries interested in promoting decreased carbon intensity through specific schemes — for example, the perform, achieve and trade scheme for energy efficiency in India.
  • A coalition of industries and countries could also be formed to push for international agreements aimed at promoting technology solutions in harder-to-abate sectors through working groups and partnerships.


Whichever coalition India may offer to join, it will be useful for the country to think of its sectoral actions as part of a long-term low carbon national growth strategy.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

[op-ed snap] Naming of the Anthropocene epoch


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Anthropocene

Mains level : How anthropocene is different from other epochs.


 On May 21, the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) overwhelmingly voted to recognise Anthropocene as an epoch. The vote gives form to the efforts of scientists, notably the Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen and Eugene F. Stoermer, who coined the term in 2000 to highlight how human activity had changed many facets of the earth. So overwhelming is the concept of the Anthropocene that it got mainstreamed in scientific and general literature years ago.

Relevance of this naming

  • The AWG vote is a sobering reminder to humanity that failure to end destructive activities will irrevocably change the face of the earth and make it uninhabitable.
  • Officially, humans will continue to live in the Holocene epoch for a couple of years more before the Anthropocene epoch is finally ratified by the International Union of Geological Sciences.
  • The vote by the working group will contribute to the formalisation of the Anthropocene as a stratigraphic entity on a par with other geologic epochs.
  • But unlike the others, it will be the first time that the beginning of an epoch would be based on human activity and not the consequences of changes brought about by nature.

Difference from other epochs

  • For instance, the start of the Holocene epoch 11,700 years ago marks the end of the transition from the last glacial phase to a period of warming and a rise in sea level.
  • Human activity has been drastically changing the earth, with the greatest impacts coming from agriculture, large-scale deforestation, the industrial revolution and increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, besides the creation of materials such as concrete and plastic.
  • However, the working group voted to look for unique signatures around the 1950s to define the start of the Anthropocene.
  • A decrease in deuterium excess, a proxy for climate change, owing to the reorganisation of North Atlantic Ocean-atmosphere circulation was a definitive geologic marker, or golden spike, to signify the base of Holocene.

Basis of change –

Now, radionuclides from atomic bomb tests from the early 1950s are emerging as a favourite golden spike candidate to define the base of the Anthropocene.

Presence of geological marker across the globe

  • To be chosen as a geologic marker, the golden spike must be present globally across most environments and must be a part of deposits for a geologically significant length of time.
  • Thus, plutonium isotope Pu-239 with a half-life of 24,110 years will remain detectable for more than 1,00,000 years and continue to exist as uranium 235 when Pu-239 decays.
  • The next task is to find a single site from among the 10 sites chosen across the world for inclusion in the formal proposal.
  • Here, coral reefs and Antarctic glacial ice located far from nuclear detonation test sites might be more suitable as they would not reflect any local spike but a global distribution pattern.

Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

[op-ed snap] A stop sign


Mains Paper 3: Bio diversity and Environment| Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not Much.

Mains level: The news-card analyses how carbon emissions are rising in India and what can be done to improve efforts towards Paris Pledges.



International Energy Agency found that India’s carbon emissions grew by 4.8% during 2018, in spite of the national focus on climate change in energy policy.

Background of Indian carbon emission

  • There is wide recognition of the fact that Indians are not historically responsible for the problem.
  • it is the rich nations led by the U.S. that have pumped in the stock of carbon dioxide linked to extreme climate impacts being witnessed around the globe.
  • As the IEA points out, India’s emissions have grown, but per capita they remain less than 40% of the global average.

The situation regarding efforts to handle global climate change

  • Equity among nations is therefore at the centre of the discussion on energy emissions, and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities is central to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  • Reassuring as this may be, the universal challenge of climate change has grown to such proportions that urgent action to sharply cut carbon emissions is crucial, and all countries, including India, must act quickly.
  • Intensive measures in key sectors — scaling up renewables to raise their share in the energy mix, greening transport, updating building codes and raising energy efficiency — will help meet the national pledge under the Paris Agreement to cut energy intensity of GDP by 33-35% by 2030, over 2005 levels.

Progress in the usage of renewables sources

  • At the global level, renewable sources of energy grew by 7% during 2018, but that pace is grossly insufficient, considering the rise in demand.
  • Moreover, it was China and Europe that contributed the bulk of those savings, in large measure from solar and wind power, indicating that India needs to ramp up its capacity in this area.
  • In fact, as the founder of the International Solar Alliance, India should lead the renewables effort.

Challenges in India

A.Rooftop solar photovoltaics

in spite of falling prices and rising efficiency, the potential of rooftop solar photovoltaics remains poorly utilised. It is time State power utilities are made responsible for defined rates of growth in the installation of rooftop systems.

B.coal power plants

A second priority area is the cleaning up of coal power plants, some of which are young and have decades of use ahead.

C. India’s record in promoting green transport has been uninspiring, and emissions from fossil fuels and the resulting pollution are rising rapidly.

Way Forward

  1. Cleaning coal plant – It should be aided by the UNFCCC, which can help transfer the best technologies for carbon capture, use and storage, and provide financial linkage from the $100 billion annual climate fund proposed for 2020.
  2. Reliance on electric vehicles– The Centre’s plan to expand electric mobility through financial incentives for buses, taxis and two-wheelers needs to be pursued vigorously, especially in the large cities.
  3. Inevitably, India will have to raise its ambition on emissions reduction, and participate in the global stocktaking of country-level action in 2023.
  4. It has the rare opportunity to choose green growth, shunning fossil fuels for future energy pathways and infrastructure.


Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

[op-ed snap] A case for Commons sense


Mains Paper 3: Bio diversity and Environment| Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Basic knowledge of the importance of ‘Commons’.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the importance of ‘Commons’ and why there’s need to review how biodiversity and natural resources are governed, in a brief manner.


  • The 14th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was held at Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, last November.

Agenda of 14th CBD

  • When the 196 countries met for the 14th CBD, a key question on top of the agenda was how to govern biological resources (or biodiversity) at different levels for the world’s sustainable future.
  • The meeting had come at a significant time as it was the CBD’s 25th year of implementation.
  • Countries had approximately 350 days to meet global biodiversity targets.
  • There was also the backdrop of a damning report that humans have mismanaged biodiversity so badly that we have lost 60% of resources (which can never be recouped).
  • Finally, there was growing concern on how the Convention’s objectives of conservation, sustainable use and equitable sharing of benefits were being compromised, including by the parties themselves.

Protecting the ‘Commons’

  • For thousands of years, humans have considered natural resources and the environment as a global public good, with communities having diligently managed these resources using the principle of ‘Commons’.
  • In simple terms, these are a set of resources such as air, land, water and biodiversity that do not belong to one community or individual, but to humanity.
  • All developments we see in the establishment of civilisations across the world as well as agricultural development feeding the world today are a result of such ‘Commons’ being managed by communities for centuries.

Commons resource management principles are ignored in CBD

  • CBD is a multi-lateral environmental agreement that has provided legal certainty to countries through the principle of sovereign rights over biodiversity .
  • But it has also contributed to states now owning the resources, including their rights on use and management.
  • Today, states control and manage biodiversity with strict oversight of who can use what and how.
  • The intent of the CBD and having sovereign rights was to manage resources better.
  • But the results of such management have been questionable.
  • A key reason cited is that ‘Commons’ and common property resource management principles and approaches are ignored and compromised.

Why ‘Commons’ cannot be overlooked?

  • According to estimates, a third of the global population depends on ‘Commons’ for their survival.
  • 65% of global land area is under ‘Commons’, in different forms.
  • At least 293,061 million metric tonnes of carbon (MtC) are stored in the collective forestlands of indigenous peoples and local communities.
  • This is 33 times the global energy emissions in 2017.
  • The significance of ‘Commons’ in supporting pollination (the cost estimated to be worth $224 billion annually at global levels) cannot be overlooked.

Significance of ‘Commons’ in India

  • In India, the extent of ‘Common’ land ranges between 48.69 million and 84.2 million hectares, constituting 15-25% of its total geographical area.
  • ‘Common’-pool resources contribute $5 billion a year to the incomes of poor Indian households.
  • Around 77% of India’s livestock is kept in grazing-based or extensive systems and dependent on ‘Commons’ pool resources.
  • And 53% of India’s milk and 74% of its meat requirements are met from livestock kept in extensive ‘Common’ systems.

‘Commons’ have suffered continuous degradation

  • Despite their significance, ‘Commons’ in India have suffered continued decline and degradation.
  • National Sample Survey Office data show a 1.9% quinquennial rate of decline in the area of ‘Common’ lands.
  • Though microstudies show a much more rapid decline of 31-55% over 50 years, jeopardising the health of systemic drivers such as soil, moisture, nutrient, biomass and biodiversity.
  • This in turn aggravates food, fodder and water crises.
  • As of 2013, India’s annual cost of environmental degradation has been estimated to be ₹3.75 trillion per year, i.e. 5.7% of GDP according to the World Bank.

Why the concern?

  • ‘Commons’ becoming uncommon is a major socio-political, economic and environmental problem.
  • While the state can have oversight over resource management, keeping people away from using and managing ‘Commons’ is against effective governance of ‘Commons’.
  • The sovereign rights provided for, legally, under the CBD should not be misunderstood by the state as a handle to do away with ‘Commons’-based approaches to managing biodiversity, land, water and other resources.
  • Current discussions under the United Nations should focus on how and why ‘Commons’ have been negatively impacted by progressive pronouncements to save the earth and people.

Changing socio-political impact of migration on ‘Commons’

  • Another key concern is the changing socio-political impact of migration.
  • Gone are the days when we can consider ‘Commons’ as resources relevant only for rural communities.
  • ‘Commons’ are now a major provider of livelihood options for both urban and peri-urban populations.
  • The relevance of ‘Commons’ impacting urban dwellers cannot be overlooked with more urbanisation happening.

Way Forward: Approaches for the future

  • There needs to be a review of current governance of biodiversity and natural resources.
  • After 18 years of action to reduce the rate of loss of biodiversity, it is very likely that the same 196 countries will meet in 2020 to apologise to the world for having failed to meet the objectives of the convention.
  • In addition to seeking more money, time and capacities to deal with biodiversity and natural resource management, we need to focus on three specific approaches:
  1. to re-introduce more strongly, the management and governance principles of ‘Commons’ approaches into decision-making and implementation of conservation, use and benefit sharing action;
  2. to use Joseph Schumpeter’s approach of creative destruction to put resource management in the hands of the people; and
  3. to re-look at Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel Prize winning principles of dealing with ‘Commons’.


Convention on Biological Diversity

  • The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), known informally as the Biodiversity Convention, is a multilateral treaty.
  • The Convention has three main goals including: the conservation of biological diversity (or biodiversity); the sustainable use of its components; and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources.
  • Its objective is to develop national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.
  • The Convention was opened for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro on 5 June 1992 and entered into force on 29 December 1993.
  • CBD has two supplementary agreements – Cartagena Protocol and Nagoya Protocol.

Outcome of Paris Climate Summit

Paris Agreement was recently adopted by 195 countries of UNFCCC, which agreed to take measures to control climate change.

We had written 4 explainers for a comprehensive coverage and they can be read here – 

As we move ahead, let’s take a look at this agreement with respect to various dimensions and debates, which are going on in the international sphere.

When this agreement will enter into force?

The agreement in Paris will come into effect only after 2020 when the Kyoto Protocol, an existing international mechanism to deal with climate change, comes to an end.

What is the temperature goal?

The agreement says that its objective is to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degree Celsius, but pursue efforts to keep it below 1.5 degree Celsius from pre-industrial times.

It also says that IPCC will come with a special report in 2018 on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degree Celsius and above pre-industrial levels. <IPCC reports form the scientific basis on which the world is taking climate action>

Let’s analyse the implications

  • Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing Countries (SIDCs) were demanding that the rising temperature be kept under 1.5 degree Celsius from pre-industrial times.
  • LDCs fear that cost of adaptation will be high, if the temperature is allowed to risee upto 2 degree Celsius.

What about Finance and Technology Transfer ?


Developed nations have been asked to provide financial resources, but $ 100 bn mark does not figure in the agreement. $ 100 bn has been shifted to the decision text, which is a list of all decisions taken at the conference.

Developing countries are also asked to raise financial resources, even as voluntary effort.< This was one of the demands of the developed countries to widen the base of countries who will provide financial resources>

There has to be a balance between the mitigation and adaptation needs of the developing countries, while allocating financial resources.


The developed countries to abide by their promises to provide technology development and transfer, and capacity building to developing countries.

Why is it a matter of concern?

  • Paris Agreement is a permanent document, while the decisions of the conference can be modified.
  • This gives a message that developed nations will provide $ 100 bn every year from 2020, but they will not increase it annually, as demanded by developing countries.

Carbon Neutral, by when?

The agreement says that, world should peak emissions as soon as possible and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the second half of this century.

This means that to limit the amount of GHG emitted by human activity to the same levels which can be absorbed naturally such as trees, soil, ocean, etc beginning 2050.

What happens to INDCs?

In the run-up to the Paris conference, 186 countries submitted their INDCs, giving information about the climate actions they planned to take until 2025 or 2030. INDCs would henceforth be called only Nationally Determined Contributions.

Every country needs to communicate NDCs every 5 years. Each NDC has to be progressively more ambitious than the previous one.

However, NDCs are not legally binding, i.e. the targets set by nations will not be binding under the Paris Climate Agreement. <India, China and South Africa were unwilling to sign up for this condition because they felt that it could hamper economic growth and development>

What is Global Stocktake?

  • It refers to a proposed a 5-yearly review of the impact of countries climate change actions.
  • It will assess whether the net result of the climate actions being taken was consistent with the goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature from pre-industrial times to within 2 degree Celsius.
  • It is mandatory for every country to participate in the global stocktake, the exercise will not assess whether actions of any individual country are adequate or not.

The best part of global stocktake is that it will also assess whether developed countries are adequate help to developing countries by providing money and technology.

Is Differentiation principle at Stake?

Experts are divided on whether developed countries succeeded in their effort to do away with concept of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities.

The Paris agreement firmly anchors ‘differentiation’ for developing countries. At many places, differentiation is achieved by having different kind of commitments for developed and developing countries.

Developed countries are expected to take the lead on mitigation and support, while developing countries are expected to take actions within the context of their sustainable development and poverty eradication imperatives.

Let’s see what is the other point of view.

  • All parties have to report NDCs every 5 years.
  • There is no differentiation in reporting, inventory of GHGs and progress made in implementation of NDCs.< Inventory is basically a list of all units which release GHGs>
  • The stocktake is universal for aggregate actions and it will happen in 2023 and every 5 years henceforth.
  • Developed countries are asked to take absolute economy-wide emission reduction targets, while developing countries will enhance mitigation efforts, but are encouraged to move towards economy-wide reduction in the light of national circumstances.

Published with inputs from Pushpendra 
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