Climate Talks As Shortchanging International Law | 6th December 2022 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the shortcomings of ongoing negotiation of climate treaties from the perspective of developing countries, particularly India.


  • GS3: Conservation, Environmental Pollution and Degradation, Environmental Impact Assessment;
  • Essay

What is the climate treaty?

  • It is an international agreement, which can be legally binding in some cases, to reduce global anthropogenic carbon emissions in order to minimise global warming. eg Kyoto Protocol. Paris Agreement, etc
  • Climate treaties are being negotiated under the broad framework of the UNFCCC.
  • The objective of the Climate Treaty is to avoid a concentration of cumulative emissions of carbon dioxide, prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system and enable sustainable economic development.

What are the shortcomings of the current negotiating process?

  • First, citizens in developed countries are not even aware that two-thirds of their national emissions of carbon dioxide come from their diet, transport, and residential and commercial sectors, which together constitute the major share of their GDP; the consumption sectors are not independent silos but reflect their urban lifestyles.
  • Second, the process ignores that global well-being will also follow urbanisation of the developing country’s population, requiring fossil fuels for infrastructure and energy to achieve comparable levels.
  • Third, the need for vast quantities of cement and steel in developing countries for infrastructure — constituting essential emissions, as they urbanise — is not being considered.

Ignoring science while negotiating climate treaties:

  • Earlier negotiations were based on science, but in Glasgow, in 2021, negotiators zeroed in on coal to reduce future emissions.
  • This initiative was not based on science and it ignored the key finding of the IPCC on the centrality of the carbon budget, i.e., cumulative emissions associated with a specific amount of global warming that scientifically links the temperature goal to national action

What is a “Carbon Budget”?

  • The concept of a “Carbon Budget” has progressively emerged from the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),
  • Like a household budget, climate scientists define the “Carbon budget” as the number of greenhouse gases that can be “spent” – or emitted, considering global warming. Exceeding this threshold could cause global temperatures to reach dangerous levels.
  • Therefore, the carbon budget implies that a country must limit its carbon emissions, in order to meet its temperature reduction target. As a result, there cannot be a single universal deadline to phase out coal use.

What is Climate Justice?

  • Climate justice is a concept that addresses the just division, fair sharing, and equitable distribution of the burdens of climate change and its mitigation and responsibilities to deal with climate change. If these principles are ignored, then it becomes climate injustice.

What are the reasons for climate injustice?

  • Climate injustice flows from the negotiations and not from the text of the Climate Treaty.
  • First, the process adopted the structure of international law in a manner that rejected historical responsibility for a continuing problem, and steadily shifted the burden to China and India.
  • Second, the agenda was set around globalised material flows described as global warming (the symptom), and not wasteful use of energy.
  • Third, public finance is used as a means to secure a political objective, and not to solve the problem itself.
  • Fourth, the longer term trend has been ignored.

Way Forward:

  • India’s thrust on LiFE (or “Lifestyle for Environment”), with the individual shifting from wasteful consumption of natural resources goes back to the original science.

Lifestyle for the Environment (LiFE) Movement:

  • The idea of LiFE was introduced by India during the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in 2021.
  • The idea promotes an environmentally conscious lifestyle that focuses on ‘mindful and deliberate utilisation’ instead of ‘mindless and wasteful consumption.
  • The Mission plans to create and nurture a global network of individuals, namely ‘Pro-Planet People’ (P3).

Note: LiFE Movement is very important for all stages of exam: pre, mains & interview.

  • Consumption-based framing challenges the ‘universalism’ that has dominated the negotiations and its common path of reductions based on single models.
  • The carbon budget formalises a ‘diversity’ of solutions. For example, in developed countries, exchanging overconsumption of red meat for poultry can meet half the global emissions reduction required by the end of the century.

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