'The Paris Conference is a decisive meeting on climate change.'
'Negotiating an agreement between 196 countries is indeed a challenge.'
'If we go beyond 2°C, the consequences will be extremely difficult to deal with.
'The poor are the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change.'
With France being the chair at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris next fortnight, French Ambassador to India Francois Richier has been active in encouraging Indian civil society to attend the informal session being held at COP 21 (the 2015 Paris Climate Conference).
Ambassador Richier believes while 190 nations gather to discuss crucial climate issues, average citizens must also get an opportunity to deliberate on climate change and energy issues that affect them on a day-to-day basis. The envoy, below, left, spoke to Rashme Sehgal for Rediff.com
The UNFCCC meeting in Paris has been described as the most significant climate meeting being held in the planet's history. Unfortunately, the average global citizen remains sceptical about the outcome of this conference especially with most countries taking different stands on how to go about cutting down on emissions.
What do you feel about the conflicting stands that are being taken and especially the differences between the developing and developed nations?
The Paris Conference is indeed a decisive meeting on climate change. Of course, there are different stands on how to deal with this issue. But this is natural in a multilateral negotiation.
It is expected that all countries will express their views on how we should build a new mechanism to fight climate change. The stakes are high: We are talking about how to change our growth pattern in the long run, how to make our growth more sustainable.
What is important is that there is now a global consensus that we all need to act on climate change. It does not mean that we all have to take similar stands.
Each country is in a specific situation. There is a debate, which is happening not only between governments, but also with civil society and private companies.
The future agreement cannot be a 'one-size-fits-all' agreement, it has to be differentiated. The atmosphere now is very different from that prevailing before and during COP15 in Copenhagen.
As future chair of COP21, France's role is to help build a consensus among more than 190 countries to reach a global agreement. We have been reaching out to all parties and stakeholders. We have been listening to ideas, initiatives and concerns.
This is what we have been doing in India in particular, since India is a key stakeholder. One of these ways is our monthly seminar series at the French embassy with Indian experts to foster the debate and gather ideas that will ultimately help us to reach a consensus.
Everyone knows the importance of these talks, yet some scientists have described the Paris meeting as being yet another 'talking shop' given that there is a gap between emission cuts countries have pledged and the reductions needed on the ground to reverse climate change. How do you see this gap being bridged?
We need to think about the Paris Conference as a starting point for a positive dynamic. It will not be the end of the story, for at least one simple reason: We do not know what technologies will be available in the next 10 to 20 years that will help us better tackle the challenge of climate change.
Whether there is a gap or not is, of course, an important question because the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change clearly said that if we go beyond 2°C, the consequences will be extremely difficult to deal with.
What we intend in Paris is to gather all these contributions and see how to make the best use of them. We would like to achieve a dynamic agreement that will help all countries to put their economies on a low-carbon growth path, taking into account national circumstances. The agreement needs to send the right signal to the private sector.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed a 'paradigm shift' on climate change, which means a more active promotion of clean technologies dissemination and development of renewable energy. This is what we would like to achieve and operationalise through the future agreement.
President (Francois) Hollande has called for a 'miracle' climate agreement in Paris. How will this miracle come about, especially with several leaders including President Obama and President Xi Jinping reportedly not attending the meeting?
Negotiating an agreement between 196 countries is indeed a challenge. I have the experience of multilateral negotiations on other subjects and I can tell you that it takes time.
We have seen the past several global conferences on climate change either failing or not delivering. We are committed to making the Paris conference a success. We share this goal with India.
We have an excellent and regular bilateral dialogue with India on climate change. Prime Minister Modi visited France in April and met President Hollande on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in September.
The atmosphere has changed these last few years. President Hollande and Laurent Fabius, the minister of foreign affairs and incoming president of COP21, have invited world leaders to participate on the first day of COP21 on November 30. Together, they will give a final impetus to the negotiation process.
Prime Minister Modi has been invited, and we hope to have the honour of welcoming him in Paris. He will once again put India in the league of the leading countries of the world.
Over 190 countries are expected to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. India aims to reduce the emission intensity of its GDP by 33, 35 per cent by 2030 from 2005 levels and achieve 40 per cent of its cumulative electric power from non-fossil energy.
But the key question is if INDCs are going to be non-binding, then what is the compulsion on nations to reach two degree centigrade cuts?
We should not undermine the very important work already done by countries on climate change. All countries are to submit INDCs ahead of the Paris Conference. This internal process has fostered debate in each and every country. 148 countries have published their contributions as of October 12, including India.
This covers 87 per cent of global emissions. This is unprecedented in the history of climate talks. Only a few have stayed apart so far, like Pakistan.
As incoming chair of COP21 Laurent Fabius has said India's INDC is an important step towards the success of the negotiation. It was announced on Gandhi Jayanti, which reflects that India's commitment to fighting climate change has strong historical and spiritual or philosophical roots.
Increasing the share of non-fossil fuels to 40 per cent by 2030 in electricity generation, in a context of strong growth, will contribute to changing the global energy order. This ambitious target goes hand in hand with the goals of afforestation and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions per unit of GDP, which create conditions conducive to a more low-carbon economic development.
What also struck me in the INDC is the reminder of the many policies and initiatives undertaken by the present government. I commend the Indian government for all these INDC crosscutting policies and initiatives. This sends the right signal to the private sector and gives it visibility to invest.
We also noted the call for technological partnerships and increased financial support. These issues are crucial and we are committed to obtaining substantive results on these at COP21.
I also would like to underline that beyond INDCs, we need to look at the kind of partnerships and initiatives that will facilitate our global endeavour against climate change.
In this regard, the solar alliance proposed by Prime Minister Modi seems to be, from our point of view, a very substantive, out of the box and promising one. We are ready to support it.
The call for a change in lifestyles is also important, particularly in developed countries. For example, in France, we work towards banning plastic bags, which are a global pollution nightmare.
Most economists believe that a pledge and review strategy will not work. Others have called for a carbon tax. What are your views on this?
There are a lot of ideas and debates on different issues related to the review process. We recently organised a debate on this at the French embassy, which reflected diverse opinions. As representative of the incoming COP21 chair in India, my work is to gather all these ideas and concerns and to convey them to our team in Paris so we can build a consensus.
Carbon tax is also on the table in several countries. We noticed that India has already made significant efforts on this, with, for example, the coal cess which has been significantly increased in the last year-and-a-half. So what we can see is that there is movement on these ideas, which is positive.
We need to share good practices and experiences. The Paris agreement will also be about fostering these exchanges among all nations. India already has a significant record of initiatives and ideas in this regard.
The evidence of rapid climate change is very evident, especially in the developing world. The poor in developing nations are going to be worse impacted, which means a sizeable chunk of the population may see income levels decline further. What are the mitigation measures that need to be addressed?
What you describe is exactly the kind of phenomenon that will increase in the next few decades, as a direct consequence of the rise of temperatures. This is why we need to act.
As you rightly said, the poor are the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change.
Mitigation measures are a part of the solution, but we should not forget that an equivalent effort has to be made on adaptation, until the situation is stabilised, based on a low-carbon growth path.
Beyond this, we believe that the agreement shall not hamper growth, economic development and alleviation of poverty. As Prime Minister Modi puts it, fighting climate change also aims at improving the life of our citizens.
Most important, what kind of financial commitments do you see emerging from the Paris meeting given that financial flows of $100 billion annually as part of the green fund have still to be kickstarted?
India's INDC has stated that it will require several trillion dollars to switch over to a non-fossil energy.
Finance is a key element of the Paris Conference. President Hollande called for all developed countries to fulfil their commitments ahead of COP21. This would send a strong positive message.
A recent OECD study showed that developed countries are on track to fulfil the pledge of $100 billion per year by 2020. A meeting of finance ministers has recently taken place in Lima on climate finance, with positive results.
We intend to raise this question at the G20 Summit in November as well. Our objective is to put a strong financial package for sustainable development on the table in Paris.