Vol. XLII No. 51 December 23, 2018

Katowice Rules: Exacerbating Inequality in Tackling Climate Change

THE recently concluded UN climate conference in Katowice, Poland (COP24) was held to prepare a rulebook for the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The decisions adopted marked the further consolidation of the hold of the developed countries. The US is very much in the driver's seat in the negotiations along with the EU and others despite its announced withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and its public differences on climate action in forums such as the G-8. They are clearly designed to reinforce the inequitable and discriminatory aspects of the Agreement. They ensure that the rich nations will be able to shift the burden substantially on to the developing countries, even while they continue to evade their own responsibility in taking the lead in drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Modi government has also clearly misjudged the significance of COP24 and permitted a significant blow to India’s interests in the negotiations. Confronted with the prospect of staring down the US and its allies on the critical question of equity and the safeguarding of global carbon space for development, it did not press home its point and backed down with an ineffectual protest.

By the “Katowice” rules all countries, despite their vastly different emission levels, are made equally responsible for accounting for them. This virtually erases the differentiation between developed and developing countries which was the cornerstone of the original global climate compact, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Though ostensibly some flexibility has been provided to those developing countries that lack the requisite scientific and technological capabilities to implement these rules, they are subject to conditions designed to force them towards implementing these fully in the near future.

Apart from erasing differentiation, the US and its allies were successful in stalling any reference to operationalising equity in the implementation of the Paris Agreement and the proposed periodic evaluation of the progress being made towards achieving its goals.  

The developed countries also stalled any meaningful progress on climate finance. Despite intense efforts by the developing countries, the developed countries evaded any major commitment of financial assistance from public sources. They are increasingly intent on making climate finance a new arena for the operation of multinational finance capital. Indeed, under the current rules, even loans from developed country sources for climate mitigation and adaptation will be treated as “climate finance” under the UNFCCC. In short, the developed world is all set to further exacerbate wealth transfer out of the developing world through the new opportunities provided by global climate action.

From the intense negotiations over carbon trading and negotiations on related issues such as technology transfer, it is evident that the US and its allies seek to ensure that climate mitigation and adaptation will be dealt with primarily through the operation of multinational private capital and markets. All efforts are being made to prevent climate action from becoming a pathway to the re-emergence of the public sector across the world.

The rules, as they have now been set, overwhelmingly focus on mitigation, while a large number of small or poor developing countries have dire need of support for adaptation and for dealing with loss and damage due to extreme events. Little of substance has been obtained from the developed countries by way of support to even the most vulnerable countries on this score.

The consequences of the Paris Agreement and its rules and implementation set at Katowice are serious, as they set the stage for significantly curbing the development options of many nations of the global South, especially the larger ones such as India. Further efforts to force India to increase its efforts in mitigation, leading to higher energy costs on Indian industry, business and the population at large are likely next year.

India and other developing countries have expressed serious criticisms of the outcome, with India entering specially its reservation on the neglect of equity. Nevertheless, they did not block the final decisions. These constitute a strategic setback to their interests who constitute the majority of the world’s population, especially of the poor. The evolving climate regime evokes in many ways the evolution of the global trade regime, with its emphasis on complex rule-making, restricting the scope of public investment and support to the poor in developing economies, and thus reinforcing global inequalities between the global North and South.

But neither the Paris Agreement nor its modalities of implementation provide any respite from the dangers of global warming. Little attention is being paid to the crux of the problem: to drastically curb the emissions of developed nations, without which the world is set for disastrous global warming, well beyond the limit of 1.5 or 2 deg C set by the Paris Agreement. No new or enhanced commitments have been announced by the developed countries.

In retrospect, it appears that the recent report of the IPCC that warned of serious consequences even for 1.5 deg warming, was used to stampede nations into accepting the rules and procedures.

The global crisis of climate change will only exacerbate under the present conditions. A warming world  while being made safe for capital will only pose increased danger to humanity.

(December 19, 2018)