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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 1 New Delhi December 26, 2015

Global Warming: After Paris, What?

Saturday 26 December 2015

by Binoy Viswam

Finally the world has come to an agreement in Paris. It was the outcome of intense negotiations for two weeks, with representatives of 190 countries attempting to find ways and means to face the challenge of global warming. The Paris agreement undoubtedly is a step forward in rescuing humanity from a climate catastrophe. But, there are ambiguities still revolving on the climate agreement. The world will have to witness further debates focused around the interpretation and implementation of the commitments reached at Paris. And the divide between the developed and developing countries is likely to continue. The latter would take their positions in tune with their proclaimed stance in the possible conflicts that may occur in future.

The Paris agreement is to come into effect by the year 2020. How far the contentious issues could be settled by then is to be seen. The expectations that the voluntary pledges made by 186 countries would make the Paris agreement simple and straight did not come out to be true. The reason is quite known to all sensible people. The present-day world and its socio-political compulsions on various counts are not so simple!

The negotiations at the Conference of Parties (Cop 21) at Paris set an upper limit for global warming at two degree Celsius from the pre- industrial times. At the same time an unsubs-tantiated wish has also been expressed: to limit the same to 1.5 degree Celsius. The text of the agreement has provided reasons for both sides—the developed and developing world—to claim that they have come out victorious. Prakash Javadekar, India’s Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, voiced the mood of the developing countries in the following words: “The agreement has deep links with the Convention (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and CBDR (Common But Differentiated Responsibility) is imbibed in it. More importantly differentiation of developed and developing countries is mentioned across all the elements of the agreement, in mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, capacity building and transparency. That is very important.” Deve-loping countries also point to the 100 billion dollars from the developed ones, earmarked for the mitigation targets. They further argue that differentiation is manifested in references like “developed countries shall take economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets”, while “developing countries should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts”.

At the same time, the developed countries would also very well claim that their concerns have been taken care of in the agreement. When compared to the ‘Kyoto protocol’ of 1997 they have ‘achievements’ to their credit in Paris. Most important among them is that their ‘historical responsibilities’ in global warming are not mentioned in the Paris agreement. In the Kyoto protocol those countries were assigned specific emission reduction targets. It is worth remembering that provoked over this the US refused to be a signatory to the protocol. The Kyoto protocol, which was the existing international arrangement on climate change, had an annexure. In annexture I the developed countries were named categorically and the developing countries were termed as the non-annex countries. Now the responsibility has become common but differentiated. The definition for developed and developing countries is absent in the agreement. Regarding the financial commitment undertaken by the developed countries, it is said that there is no legal binding. On the question of stock-taking every five years too there exist varied interpre-tations.

All these were expected. Because the world is so divided, economically and politically, one should be clear that global warming is not an environmental issue alone. True, it affects the environment and the existence of life on earth. Hence global warming is a political as well as an economic issue. No government or political party can ignore the challenges of global warming any more. Further, nobody can deny the inter-connection between globalisation and global warming. The growth rate of global temperature from the advent of the industrial age till the 1980s was moderate. Then the political balance of the world witnessed major changes in which market forces became the determining factor. In political policy-making profit alone became the driving spirit for the neo-liberal capitalist development. Environment was the victim of this so-called ‘development’! Climate equilibrium was badly affected and the earth is becoming an unsafe place to live. Masters of fossil fuel transactions and their political friends were all along trying to ignore the impending danger. For them profit was the god! Now the time has come for everyone to open one’s eyes to the unpleasant reality, the aftermath of global warming.

India did play a role in Paris defending the interests of the developing countries. But those countries, including ours, are also undergoing ecological disasters, many of which are government-sponsored! The fearful floods in Chennai are the latest in the list as the one in Uttarakhand sometime ago. The policies of the government, hand in hand with those of the mega-rich and their profit motives, are least concerned with environment. The Government of India is on a move to do away with all the existing environment and forest laws at one stroke. The Paris Summit warrants the Union Government to initiate a relook at its environmental policy. It should be remoulded in order to address the serious concerns of the poor who are denied even safe drinking water as an evil impact of global warming.

Among all the modern political philosophies, Marxism stands distinct with its clear vision on environmental matters. Marx and Engels have elaborately discussed the environmental peril caused due to the onslaught of capital. During their time questions like global warming were not faced by humanity. Still, Marxism applied its wisdom to understand and interpret environ-mental matters. Now, Communists living in the ‘era’ of globalisation and global warming have to take up that responsibility. It is their historical duty to enrich and further develop Marxist philosophy to effectively meet the challenge of global warming.

The Paris Summit has called upon all to be on guard and maintain a strict vigil to save the earth from global warming. Governments, ‘think-tanks’ and political parties are not supposed to make statements or sign agreements alone. They are asked to take clear positions and initiate actions. Development is the right of all. But development at the cost of environment can no longer be allowed. No amount of profit and wealth can redress the damage caused to the earth because of the market-driven development. It is imperative to wage class struggles and political battles in future for a development path where people will be placed before profit.

The author, a former Minister of Forests and Housing in the erstwhile LDF Government in Kerala, is a member of the National Executive of the CPI.