Final Impressions of COP 21

Television networks covering Saturday’s COP 21 meeting explained the lengthy delay in approving a final agreement  by stressing the difficulty in getting acceptance of the text of the document.  Network announcers referred to the process as “deal making”, and many times queried:  “Do we have a deal”?

In this bargaining over the text, negotiators considered that the objective was to get the best “deal” for their country. If countries continue to take that approach, their negotiators will be less persistent in their pursuit of a larger public good.

Oxfam commented that governments, i.e. the politicians, were protecting “their own self-interests instead of their own people.”  Is it possible that these interests could diverge?

India, which came out of the negotiations best of all, is an example of this possibility. Prakash Javadekar, the Indian Minister of the Environment, described the agreement as good for India.  He noted that:

“The [COP21] agreement also acknowledges the importance of sustainable lifestyles and sustainable consumption patterns. We are also happy that the agreement differentiates between the actions of developed and developing countries across its elements . . .”

India has one of the lowest per capita GHG emissions in the world. A large percentage of its population live in marginal circumstances and use little energy.  To improve their standard of living, the Government of India intends to generate electrical power from numerous new coal fired plants – just as China has done.  India will discover – as China did – that besides being a very large source of GHG emissions, these coal-fired generating plants emit toxic gases and smog-causing particulate matter – both significant public health risks.

This huge increase in GHG emissions raises another climate-change related risks: many Indian and Bangladesh citizens live in large port cities.  They are vulnerable to rising sea levels and extreme weather events, such as the recent flooding at Chennai following a record-breaking rainfall.

The Indian Government has an alternative way to improve the standard of living of its citizens: renewable energy.  The Government does intend to develop renewable energy, but has made a political choice to proceed with coal fired plants that are less expensive.

Oxfam explained how the national interest of countries could slow progress at a global level.  It referred to India and other emerging countries that in 1992 were in the class of developing countries:

“The emerging economies of China, India, South Africa and Brazil showed more leadership ahead of Paris than during the conference. Their pledges of emissions cuts helped set the stage for a new agreement in which developing countries play a full part in the fight against climate change. But once the talks began, they retreated behind defensive lines, rather than making the constructive proposals for a new era of cooperative climate action . . .”

At this stage the global interests, while they are present,  do not predominate in COP decision making. So for the near future preserving government interests will continue to be the first objective of countries participating in COP meetings.

Until we reach a stage when all countries recognize the need of cooperative climate action, COP meetings will result in agreements that are not perfect, but the best that could be negotiated under the circumstances.

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