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  • 12 March, 2021

  • 8 Min Read

Global Governance on climate change

Global Governance on climate change


  • Joe Biden as U.S. President has catapulted climate change to the top of the global agenda, allowing him to keep his promise to “lead a major diplomatic push” to increase global climate ambition.

The U.S.’s moves

  • Interestingly, the U.S. is not just striding back to the Obama signature achievement of the Paris Accord with its voluntary commitments but also to the Bush days.
  • This is, perhaps, best evidenced by the presidential call to reconvene the Major Economies Forum (MEF) starting with a Leaders’ Climate Summit in April this year.
  • The MEF, which was first convened in March 2009, originated in the Bush-era U.S. efforts to rope in major emitters.

Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate Change

  • The Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate (MEF) was launched on March 28, 2009.
  • The MEF is intended to facilitate candid dialogue among major developed and developing economies, help generate the political leadership necessary to achieve a successful outcome at the December UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, and advance the exploration of concrete initiatives and joint ventures that increase the supply of clean energy while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The 17 major economies are: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
  • Denmark, in its capacity as the President of the December 2009 Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the United Nations have also participated in this dialogue along with Observers
  • It was also to push a way forward on climate change without heed to the principle of differentiated responsibilities and recognition of historical responsibilities, which are rightly hallowed principles of the climate discourse given the decades of staying power of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere.
  • The serious unwillingness of emerging economies to be labelled “major emitters” saw the meeting retitled “Major Economies Meeting” given the clear link between GDP and GHG.
    • While the meeting’s purport was not hidden, the retitling provided a feel-great and one from which retraction was not possible for the emerging economies.

The stern message, border levies

  • This time the push appears to have come to shove, with all countries being told to commit to net zero (GHG emissions) by 2050 with credible plans to ensure meeting this domestic target.
  • Indeed, the Chinese to reach net zero (GHG emissions) by 2060.
  • Taking a cue from the new U.S. Administration, the UN Secretary-General has even called on countries to declare national climate emergencies apart from building a coalition for a carbon-neutral world by2050.
  • As of today, countries representing around 65% of global CO2 emissions have already agreed to this.
  • The UN Secretary-General would like this figure to reach 90% within 2021.
  • These plans and their implementation will, undoubtedly, be subject to international reviews and verification.
  • Historical responsibilities and differentiation, obviously, have no place in this discourse; but neither does the level of development.
  • India, with its huge population and now one of the world’s largest economies, can easily be in the crosshairs of such a discourse no matter its extraordinarily small carbon footprint in per-capita terms and huge development imperatives.
  • Adding to the challenges of this proposed global goal is the distinct possibility of the EU imposing carbon border levies on those who do not take on high carbon cut-down targets and do so unilaterally if there is no global agreement.
    • While as of now the U.S. Administration appears ambivalent on these border levies, the possibility of their coming around cannot be ruled out.
  • In such a scenario, World Trade Organization rules that presently exclude the use of tariffs on environmental grounds will certainly get modified.

A fund pay-in idea

  • In this context, Raghuram Rajan has recently put forward a proposal for India to consider — it calls on countries to pay into a global fund amounts based on their carbon emissions over and above the global per-capita average of five tons.
  • This obviously disincentives coal in a big way while incentivising renewables.
  • Those above the global average would pay, while those below would receive the monies.
  • As far as India is concerned, for starters, such a proposal may appear attractive as India today has a per capita CO2 emission of only 2 tons and is a global record setter in pushing renewables.
  • Furthermore, the proposal focuses on current and future emissions, and in keeping with the contract and converge approach, allows practical considerations to trump fairness by not only giving short shrift to historical responsibility but also denying priority access to the remaining carbon space for developing countries.
  • In that sense, it double penalises them while giving developed countries a certain free pass.
  • Here it bears noting that more than 75% of the carbon space available to humankind to keep global temperature rises to 1.5° C has already been taken up by the developed world and China.


  • Climate negotiations are not just about the environment and human well-being or even energy, but are also about global governance, and will henceforth be pursued with a vigour which requires India to carefully calibrate its approach including on the economic and political fronts.
  • Climate justice is an imperative for India, which needs to leverage its green and pro-nature commitment to ensure carbon and policy space for its developmental and global aspirations. India’s diplomatic and negotiating efforts must be quickly geared to that end.

Source: TH


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