Beyond The Paris Agreement

The Battle for Atmospheric Space

Sagar Dhara

Global warming is a consequence of humans using 35% of the known 1,700 Gt[i] (Johansson, 2012) of conventional fossil fuel reserves, and cutting a third of the 60 million km² of forests that existed when the industrial revolution began in the 18th Century, thus emitting 2,000 GtCO2e of greenhouse gases (GHGs) since the industrial revolution began (IPCC, 2014).

Consequently, the average global temperature is 0.85°C higher than pre-industrial times and that has triggered significant environmental change—rainfall variation, e.g., scanty rainfall in Telangana this year; frequent extreme weather events, e.g., excess rainfall in Chennai; higher migration and extinction rates of species; impacts on human health, food and water security; crop yield reduction, 19 cm mean sea rise and a 40% reduction in Arctic's summer ice extent in the last century, glacier shrink by 275 Gt per annum in the last two decades; social conflicts, e.g., the Egypt spring uprising and the current Syrian turmoil are now being linked to food shortages caused by global warming induced continuous drought years in Syria (Ian, 2015) and countries from where Egypt imported wheat (Werrell and Fernia, 2013).

Who is responsible for global warming?
The primary responsibility for global warming falls on the developed countries. About 75% of the historic emissions[ii] (Baumert, et al, 2005) have been released by the developed countries. Their per capita historic emissions [iii] is 1172 tCO2, fourteen times that of developing countries and forty times India's.

Average per capita historical and current fossil fuel use and GHG emissions



Developed countries
(A1 countries)

Developing countries
(NA1 countries)



GHG emissions
(tCO2e/per capita)


GHG emissions
(tCO2e/per capita)


GHG emissions
(tCO2e/per capita)















Sources: CAIT Climate Data Explorer

The rich, regardless of nationality, are also responsible for global warming. The top 10% of global emitters contribute almost half of the current global emissions, while the bottom 50% contribute only 10%. The poorest in countries like Honduras and Mozambique, emit 0.1 tCO2e/per capita annually, whereas the richest in North America and Europe emit more than two thousand times that amount.

While the rich—countries and individuals—have benefited the most from excessive emissions, developing countries and the poor, whose emissions are low, will be impacted the most because of their geographical location and their greater vulnerability to sea rise, drought, floods, cyclones, vector borne diseases. For example, a 1m sea rise by 2100 will cause 65 million fishermen and coastal farmers in India and Bangladesh to migrate inland. The rich—countries and people—will be affected the least; again due to their geographical location and wealth-generated resilience.

Kyoto Protocol (KP)
Inter-governmental cooperation on tackling global warming began in 1997. In the third Conference of Parties (COP3) meeting, the KP was drafted to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions. The protocol obliged 42 developed (Annex 1 or A1) countries to collectively reduce their emissions in 2012 by 5.2% over their 1990 emissions.

International transport emissions (bunker fuels) were excluded from the protocol, and developing (non-Annex 1 or NA1) countries were exempt from making emission cuts. The US did not ratify the KP and is not bound by it. By 2011, Canada's emissions increased drastically and it pulled out of the KP.

In the 1990-2012 KP period, the A1 countries reduced their emissions by 16%, i.e., 32 GtCO2. The KP appears to have succeeded, but there is more to this than meets the eye. Targets were met because East Europe and Russia's emission reduced by 55% as their economies shrank drastically after 1990 Soviet bloc collapse. This more than compensated for the poor emission reduction performance of North America, Australia and Japan and the average performance of West Europe.

More importantly, the emission reduction of developed countries is fictitious. Under the KP, emissions from the production of goods and services are credited to the country that produces them, regardless of where the goods and services are consumed. A1 countries have in the recent past become large net importers of goods and services from developing countries, particularly China and India. Cheap imports from developing countries helped developed countries maintain high consumption levels at low costs. Emissions from producing the imports were credited to the developing countries and not the developed countries. The developed countries' net trade emissions (emissions from producing imports minus that of exports) were 40% over their emission reduction.

Catch 22 situation
The KP has expired and its successor is under negotiation since the 2007. Emission shares of countries in the remaining 1,000 GtCO2 of carbon space, seen as being synonymous to development space, has become the most important factor in the negotiations. To retain their development advantage, A1 countries claim squatters' rights in this space, while NA1 countries demand equity to gain more development room. Only another 1,000 GtCO2 (remaining carbon space) can be emitted if the world is to remain under a 2C° temperature rise that is widely regarded as a not-to-be-crossed redline, beyond which global warming impacts on the environment and human society will be severe.

Even if the entire remaining carbon space is given to NA1 countries they will not achieve A1 countries' development levels. To gain development space, if NA1 countries refuse emission targets, the consequences of global warming will hurt them the most, particularly their poor, as geographically and economically they are more vulnerable to global wanning impacts than A1 countries. If they accept emission targets, inequality between them and A1 countries will persist for a long time.

Carbon Space Politics
In I960, NA1 emissions were 25% of A1 countries. Between 1960-80, A1 country emissions grew more rapidly than NA1 countries. But after 1990, NAI country emissions grew much faster than A1 countries', with China and India being the primary growth engines. In 2012, the average per capita emissions in A1 countries were double that of NA1 countries, though the poorest in Malawi and Rwanda had a per capita emission of O.I tC02e pa, i.e., 0.05% that of the average emissions of the richest in USA and Luxemburg (Chancel and Piketty, 2015).

When the KP was drafted in 1997, NA1 emissions were 40% less than A1 emissions. Consequently, NA1 countries had less say in KP's drafting. By 2005, NA1 country emissions overtook A1 country emissions. By 2014, they were 65% more than A1 country emissions. A1 countries have now begun to clamour for NA1 countries, in particular China and India, to accept emission targets.

The NA1 countries demand for a greater share of carbon space hides the true development story that is occurring in most NA1 countries. For example, India's human development index rank at 130 is only 10-12 ranks ahead of Cambodia, Laos and Bangladesh, and 57 ranks less than Sri Lanka. Yet, India's per capita GHG emissions are more than five times that of any—Cambodia, Laos and Bangladesh and almost three times that of Sri Lanka (Jahan, 2015). India's emissions are not primarily doing the job of eradicating poverty but are making profits for businesses that cater to the consumerism of the rich and the middle classes.

China and India, the first and fourth highest GHG emitters, have discovered that higher emissions give them greater bargaining power in COP meetings. They have sought support of other NA1 countries to use their new-found weight to bargain with the A1 countries for greater carbon space so that their elites can benefit. Their position is similar to Germany in early-20th Century. Germany went to war with Allied Powers to gain colonies (energy yielding land space) so that its elite could benefit just as that of the Allied Powers did. History is repeating itself, although this time the battle is for atmospheric space as a dump ground rather than land from which energy can be extracted easily.

Paris COP
The 2009 COP15 meeting in Copenhagen marks a watershed in climate negotiations. The pre-rneeting draft agreement circulated by the Danish hosts suggests that developed countries be allowed 2.67 tCO2 per capita pa emission, almost double that of developing countries (1.44 tCO2), and that the climate negotiations be shifted from the democratic UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the body that coordinates the COP meetings, to the developed countries-dominated World Bank. Developing countries protested this attempted grab of an inequitable share of the carbon space and this foreclosed the possibility of having a binding agreement. But it paved the way to make non-binding pledges to tackle global warming by developed and developing countries. A bottom-up approach had begun replacing the top-down KP approach and was strengthened in the 2014 COP20 at Lima when each country was asked to submit its intended nationally determined contribution (INDC), i.e., country's pledge to tackle global warming, to UNFCCC. As on 1 December 2015, 157 submissions, (of 184 countries, including EU28 states), covering -95% of global emissions and population, were received.

The Paris Agreement (PA) in COP21 sets the clear objective of holding the global average temperature increase to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. However, the widely varied and INDCs, the means to achieve the objective, do not match the objective. Realizing this, the PA requests all countries to submit fresh INDCs every 5 years and provide necessary information on INDC implementation. The PA recognizes the importance of loss and damage associated with global warming but does not make compensation legally binding. The PA provides for financial transfers to assist developing country do mitigation and adaptation.

There is no legally binding emission cut target in the PA. Each country can do what it pleases and if it falls short on its pledge, it can pledge to do a little better in the next 5 years, and there is no penalty for not meeting its pledge. Financial commitments of A1 countries towards NA1 countries for mitigation and adaptation in the PA are fuzzy. Going by the past, money is not going to flow very easily to NA1 countries. Moreover, this financial commitment is not reparations, which is what it should be as much of the impact of global warming is expected to happen in NA1 countries. By forsaking adequate means for NA1 countries to cope with global warming, climate justice has been defeated. The PA fails to specify that 80% of the remaining fossil fuels should be left in the ground for the temperature rise to be kept below 2°C, and does not address emissions from bunker fuels.

The PA also raises another serious question—whether the selfish gene or the collective self-preservation instinct will prevail.

Now can the pledges keep temperature rise below 2°C? The UNFCCC (2015), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP, 2015) and several researchers in their recently published assessments indicate that even if all emission cut pledges are fully implemented, temperature rise by 2100 will definitely exceed 2°C, and may be in the range 3-4°C.

This author's assessment is that if the pledges are fully implemented, the additional carbon space of 1,000 GtCO2 will fill by 2040, just 5 years later than had emissions continued in a business-as-usual manner. Clearly, the pledges are too little and have come too late.

The PA falls far short of its objectives. It therefore postpones finding a solution by successive 5-year periods by asking for fresh INDCs every 5 years, and makes NA1 countries also responsible for tackling global warming even though they are not responsible for problem.

Real drivers of Global Warming
Fossil fuels emissions are the physical cause for global warming, but the real drivers of global warming are anthropo-centrism and class society. Both aid growth of energy consumption, and consequently the economy. Anthropo-centrism does it by prioritizing human use of energy over other species. Class society does it by legitimizing accumulation of surplus (profit) by a small property-owning class.

Anthropocentrism has allowed humans to usurp an increasing amount of energy and other resources from nature, leaving other species less resources. Humans today appropriate 24% of all new biomass that is produced (Haberl, 2007). A century back, this was 13%. Humans have continuously stolen increasing quantities of energy from nature. Since the advent of primitive agriculture 10,000 years ago, human energy drawl from nature has increased 50,000 times.

A small class of humans can reap large amounts of surpluses by acquiring ownership rights over nature and its products. They also ensure that the majority population does not have the means to acquire such property rights. This process perpetuates inequality between people of different classes, nationality, caste, gender, colour, ethnicity. In 2009, the richest 1% in the world held 44% of the world's assets, and by 2014 it grew to 46%. By 2016, the asset holding of the richest 1 % will equal the asset holding as the remaining 99% (Oxfam, 2015). Inequality has caused conflict throughout human history. In the last century, interstate, colonial and civil wars, all being conflicts over resources, killed a 100 million people.

It took nature 300 million years to bake coal from dead plants and animals of the Carboniferous period. Humans created private ownership rights over coal when in fact they played no part in making it. The same logic holds for other natural resources used in artefacts and services. Humans therefore have no ownership claim over nature or its products. At best like other species they have a usufruct claim, and such rights should be equal for all humans.

Some scientists contend that waste heat, a byproduct of energy use, causes global warming. Its contribution to global warming may be relatively small today, but it has the potential to cause significant temperature rise if energy use grows exponentially, regardless of the source and without the presence of GHGs. Other scientists differ with this view.

i.   Gt:Giga (109) tonnes
ii.  Emissions since the beginning of the industrial revolution
iii.  Emissions since the beginning of the industrial revolution

Vol. 48, No. 32, Feb 14 - 20, 2016