'No Joint Statement on Climate Change with US on the Table for Paris'

Q&A with Ashok Lavasa, Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.

Ashok Lavasa, secretary for India’s Environment, Forests and Climate Change ministry tells Nitin Sethi about India’s plans for the Paris climate change agreement.

Please give a sense of how you see Paris talks shaping? What are the unresolved things central to Indian interests?

First of all, when you look at the draft (of Paris agreement) from Bonn, it’s a different draft from what was initially given out. We all felt that the draft with which the Bonn session started did not represent the interests of the developing countries. So, in a sense, this revised draft does capture many of the issues which are important for us. We have been always saying that we would like to see an agreement in Paris based on principles of the convention and those are well known, whether it is equity or common but differentiated responsibilities and all other elements of technology transfer, climate finance and capacity building. So we would feel that the interests of the country revolves around these basic principles of the convention and we would like the agreement to be based on these and effectively capture them in the text.

When you talk of the agreement at Paris, I presume you are referring to the core Paris agreement and not the other decisions that would be taken as well?

Yes we are talking of the Paris agreement.

On the issue of finance, how would India be satisfied that the issue has been agreed in the right manner in the core agreement rather than outside?

What happens outside the agreement is quite independent of what is contained in the text (of the Paris agreement). I suppose all countries are gathering for and the Conference of Parties is about the agreement. The possibilities that exist between two countries working together, they exist outside the agreement. I don’t think that is the focus of the Paris meet. As I said, we would like to see a text that is balanced and reflects the interests of the developing countries.

On finance, developed countries suggest that developing countries in the “position to do so” should also contribute. Where does India stand on that?

I think the concept of “countries in a position to do so” has an element of somebody determining who is in a position and who is not. We do not know if there is any objective criteria to make that decision. And, even if there is a criteria, we are talking about fulfilment of obligations made in the past. So the question on countries deciding to fund some climate action beyond their borders – that is a voluntary action by countries. We don’t understand how that can be decided in an agreement in this nature. The $100 billion funds and the GCF stems from a past commitment. The concern of developing countries is the fulfilment of past commitments. That having been done or said is a recognition of what it would take for any country to be enabled to take the kind of actions reflected in the INDCs. So, India does not understand the expression, “countries that are in a position to do so”.

Earlier we had a long term goal of maintaining temperature rise within 2 degree. Now we hear phrases like decarbonisation, climate neutral. Some say India opposes this idea of quantifying for 2050 or further what nations ought to do. Could you explain India’s stance?

The long term goal has already been in a sense measured by the IPCC and I suppose all parties are conscious that is the goal we are all trying to achieve. So, in making their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (pledges for Paris agreement) they would have kept in view what it will take for a country to undertake the kind of contribution it can make which will ultimately contribute towards this goal. While India fully appreciates the need to reduce emissions and reduce emissions intensity that accompanies development and growth, India is also conscious of the fact that it has very major development imperatives that also need to be fulfilled.

As part of our public policy that, for us, the development imperative is very important and we are committed to achieving it in the best possible manner so that we minimise in the best possible way the damage it causes to and leads to the adverse consequences of climate change. Therefore we feel the long term goal – whether you call it deep decarbonisation or climate neutral or any other phrase – that can be an objective that we keep in mind but the primary objective has to be to fulfill the development agenda. As I said, pursue that agenda in a manner that the objective of keeping the temperature rise within 2 degrees, which the IPCC has talked about, can be achieved. Essentially this is about employing a lot of technologies and many of these technologies in the 85 years remaining in this century we have not even conceived or thought of what can become available. You have to look at the long term perspective in that manner. Today it would be unrealistic for a country to say that it would be in a position to achieve a long term goal in 20-30 years. And, we are talking about a global goal, not about individual countries ensuring that they maintain the temperatures over their territories.

At the moment is there enough differentiation in the mitigation section of the Paris agreement for India to be satisfied? What do you expect from developed country partners on this?

What we would look at and what would help in achieving this global objective would be a certain acceleration in the mitigation actions of the countries which have a huge pie of the carbon space and which have already occupied a lot of space and emitted in the past. If the development imperative is kept in view we should see how much space countries would have to grow. It would help if the mitigation efforts of the countries which had committed to actions is seriously pursued and accelerated. I don’t think we are looking at a world where there is no action for 4-5 years because Paris agreement will take effect from 2020. So the differentiation represented by this historic fact this must be translated in to action.

Do you really see anything more really happening between now and 2020 and developed countries increasing their existing targets for 2020?

Well, one can always hope for countries to do so. As we are all aware the expression used is fair and ambitious. So, we are only expecting countries to be more and more expression.

On the OECD report claiming developed countries have already provided US $ 62  billion…

The entire system of ODA and bilateral cooperation, all that has been happening from before the time climate change debate started. The multilateral assistance that is provided, our understanding is it is provided on the basis of priorities and policies that these institutions have. We will have to see whether these institutions in their scheme of things consciously took a decision at some point of time and shared it with developing countries that this money we are giving you for climate action. In Lima last year when the negotiations were taking place, a figure of some $10 billion was thrown up. Now we have a figure of $62 billion in a year. I don’t know if it is an additional contribution made after Lima. Even in multilateral funding our understanding is that there are many shareholders in the organisations and these organisations are independent with their own development philosophy and terms of lending. To what extend these philosophies are dependent on the priorities of individual countries is difficult to ascertain. So this OECD report is to be studied in greater detail and a question needs to be asked to the recipient countries if they are indeed the beneficiaries of this much money that is claimed to have been spent on climate funding

The incoming Presidency has asked heads of states to arrive ahead of the negotiations. What are India’s expectations from this meeting? Do you see a political package being derived out of the heads of states of meeting or is it to encourage nations to do more?

I think it is an interesting development. It shows the keenness of the Presidency to create an environment in which we achieve an effective agreement

But do you see the heads of states negotiate on the first day for a political package, say, on finance?

It is difficult to say at this stage what the heads of states are thinking.

Considering that last one week of negotiations at Bonn went in creating balance, do you see the 55-page draft being crunched down in two weeks to an agreement?

It’s difficult but certainly achievable. Am sure all negotiators are looking at the text and see how they can reach an agreement protecting their interests. If everyone is like-minded it’s possible to do so.

On the possibility of a bilateral statement between US and India, where do matters stand on that?

At the moment there is no joint statement on the table with the US. As I said, these are bilateral issues countries discuss and based on their understanding come up with these. So, we shall look at one when there is one being discussed.

But we have had a US delegation come and discuss this with India before the PM visited the US?

We have our joint working groups which have meetings off and on. They have been discussing various issues but in the joint working groups I don’t think any statement has been discussed so far.

Some observers have raised concerns about the ability of France as hosts and presidency to act independent of the EU, of which it is part? Have you heard similar concerns?

That question will be applicable to any presidency. Whenever a Presidency hosts a conference of this nature it shall willy-nilly be belonging to one group or another. I think it is unfair to make any presumption on this count. Like any presidency, the French presidency should also be keen that there is a good agreement that comes out of Paris.

How would you define a good core agreement?

Something which captures the interests of most developing parties and does not deviate from the principle of the convention.

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