Developed countries must tackle climate change: The Tribune India


Bharat H. Desai


Jawaharlal Nehru Chair and Professor of International Law, JNU

The grueling work of the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which began on November 6, came to an end in the early hours of November 20.

The final result emerged after lengthy negotiations that spanned long hours after the official November 18 deadline expired. He came amid calls for “delayed payments” and witnessed sharp divisions, posturing and bargaining between rival groups in developed and developing countries. Even as the deadlock continued and thousands of assembled delegates left the conference venue, United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) Antonio Guterres stepped in again on November 18 to renew his call for urgent action. “We are at a critical moment in the COP27 negotiations,” said António Guterres.

COP27 has been overshadowed by dire warning signs of global upheaval and changing weather patterns threatening food production, and rising sea levels increasing the risk of catastrophic floods.

“The COP was supposed to conclude its work on November 18, but was extended for a day in an attempt to bring the ongoing negotiations to a logical end,” said Union Environment Minister Bhupender Yadav. Over the years, the global negotiations on climate change have been marred by many disputes and COP meetings have allowed different groups of countries, representing narrow national interests, to score points. This speaks volumes about the tragedy of the 30-year-old treaty which is far from achieving its ultimate goal of achieving “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere (UNFCCC, article 2)”.

The UNSG sounded the alarm on the global climate emergency on June 2 at the Stockholm+50 conference. “We are facing a triple planetary crisis. A climate emergency that kills and displaces more and more people every year… We must change course – now – and end our senseless and suicidal war on nature,” Guterres said. The UNSG’s warning confirmed the scientific prognosis when the UNFCCC text was adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992: “Much of the development process in the world today does not seem sustainable… the human quest to conquer nature through science and technology has brought us to the current edge. As the 2022 ideational book Envisioning Our Environmental Future points out, we must “reflect on the rapidly running out of time we have left to take corrective action to protect our future amid warnings of impending environmental catastrophe.” .

With 198 parties, the UNFCCC became one of the first treaties to designate climate change as a common concern of humanity. With the following two treaties, the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and the Paris Agreement of 2015, it now includes three legal instruments to respond to the global climate problem. The passage of three decades (1992-2022) provides a unique opportunity to envision achieving the scientifically desired goal of global warming of 1.5°C by 2050. The Panel’s Sixth Assessment Report he Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (April 2022) has thus drawn a grim scenario: “Net anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have increased since 2010 in all major sectors globally. world…as is the cumulative net emissions of carbon dioxide since 1850.”

On October 27, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report 2022 reinforced global concerns that “the international community is far from meeting the Paris targets, with no credible path 1.5°C in place. Only urgent system-wide transformation can avert climate catastrophe.

These scenarios have elevated the climate challenge from a common concern to a global concern. However, the current regulatory approach has been plagued by the fact that developed countries are foregoing an effective lead due to their historical responsibility for GHG emissions. Labour’s narrow national interests came to the fore in the about-faces of the largest emitter – the United States – when it withdrew (2019) and joined (2021) the Paris Agreement. This reflects the vulnerability of a treaty process. The global regulatory framework now seems to be at a standstill due to the misuse of the sacrosanct UNFCCC principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR&RC), entrenchment of the applecart of the Kyoto Protocol (legal obligations of the Annex I) and the trick of pushing developing countries to undertake Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the Paris Agreement. The climate change negotiations have been blighted by the fact that developed countries are “going back on almost all the commitments they made at various conferences of the parties”.

Rolling back by developed countries goes against the UNFCCC’s emphatic declarative criterion that “developed country Parties should take the lead in addressing climate change and its adverse effects”. This is a sine qua non for the objectives of the UNFCCC. The original legal basis requires the affixing of a criterion and verification mechanism for developed countries to “take the lead”. Full compliance with commitments made by developed countries under Article 4(2)(a) and (b) remains in limbo.

As the outcome of COP27 shows, the words and actions of the main emitter of GHGs – the developed countries – leave little chance of a decisive change of course in the near future. As a result, developing countries may soon realize the futility of undertaking NDCs without developed countries fulfilling their share of the legal commitments – the cornerstone of the climate change regulatory juggernaut.

After laying the groundwork for global climate change regulation in 1988, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) played the role of conductor. It is high time that the UNGA stood up to normatively place the regulation of climate change on the high pedestal of a planetary concern. It must adopt an appropriate resolution to give future direction to the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement. As we look to the future, the trajectory of the climate change regulatory process remains uncertain. It presents an ideational challenge for international academics, the UNGA and the UNFCCC to make it work in earnest.

Teresa H. Sadler