The term ‘climate justice’ has become very popular in wake of adoption of the Paris Agreement by member countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). There is, however, no official definition of the term in the UNFCCC or the Paris Agreement, although the latter takes due note of the importance of the concept. Therefore, the term ‘climate justice’ is rightly open to various interpretations. The various elements of the concept remain flexible and can be moulded according to the needs and situations of different people and countries, as and when they arise.

The Mary Robinson Foundation, an Irish non-profit organisation, describes the concept as follows:

 “Climate Justice links human rights and development to achieve a human-centred approach, safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its resolution equitably and fairly.”

It is patently unfair that poor and vulnerable people of countries of the global south should pay the price for the behaviour of the global north that has traditionally been responsible for majority of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. An increase in the number of extreme weather events in a short span of the past few years have led to thousands of deaths and damage worth $100 billion per year. And with predictions of intensified droughts, cyclones, and floods, scientists fear that the situation will worsen in the coming years.

Typically, people affected by severe instances of climate change are also the least able to adapt to climate change. Very often, after damage or loss of their homes and livelihoods, the victims get mired into a relentless circle of poverty and displacement. Often overlooked, but equally important aspects are the loss of traditional lifestyles and cultural heritage. Thus, climate justice is ultimately related to the future of climate action.

The fact that after several years of failed or stalled climate negotiations the Paris Agreement was signed by all countries reflects the urgency of the matter and appreciation on their part that climate change is an existential threat that must be countered by making strenuous efforts. In contrast to the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 which created binding emissions reduction obligations for developed countries, and is yet to be enforced at Doha Amendment, the Paris Agreement is founded on nationally determined contributions (NDCs). NDCs are voluntary commitments that countries have submitted to the UNFCCC secretariat and undertaken to fulfil. This is precisely where the need for increasing ambition comes into the picture.

The term ambition in relation to climate change, has been defined by World Resources Institute, an American research organisation, as ‘countries’ collective will – through both domestic action and international initiatives—to cut global greenhouse gas emissions enough to meet the 2°C goal.’

Unfortunately, NDCs submitted to the UNFCCC secretariat by member countries are insufficient to meet the goal of the Paris Agreement i.e. holding the rise in temperature to well below 2 degree Celsius above pre - industrial level. The current emission levels will likely raise temperatures by 3 degree Celsius or more. This is corroborated by the Emissions Gap Report 2017 released by the United Nations Environment Programme. The report calls for ambitious mitigation action. It warns that for the emissions gap to close by 2030, and the rise in temperature to not exceed 2 degrees Celsius, global GHG emissions must peak before 2020. In their present form, NDCs will reduce emissions only by a third of what was originally planned.

The decision of the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP) of the UNFCCC – called the Fiji Momentum for Implementation – makes due note of the utmost importance of pre - 2020 ambition i.e. enhanced action on emissions mitigation by 2020, and its role in post - 2020 ambition. Negotiations between member countries on raising the pre - 2020 ambition will be conducted by means of a facilitative dialogue called the ‘Talanoa Dialogue’. The dialogue will be structured around three general topics - Where are we? Where do we want to go? How do we get there?

Apart from countries collective ambition, there must also be efforts at increasing of domestic ambition to mitigate GHGs. On its part, India, with regard to its pre - 2020 ambition has pledged to reduce emissions intensity (excluding emissions from the agriculture sector) of its GDP by 20 to 25 % by 2020 compared to the 2005 level. The NDCs submitted by India are even more ambitious. These include reduction of emissions intensity by 33 to 35 percent by 2030 from 2005 level, 40 percent cumulative electric power installed capacity from non - fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030, and creation of an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030. However it will require adequate climate finance from other countries.

While, overall the 23rd COP has given a boost to the concept of ratcheting ambition on climate change, how countries will step up to the meet the challenge is something that remains to be seen.

(This article has been written by Zeenat Masoodi who is a Lawyer from Srinagar and is also a COP 22 online fellow for Climate Tracker. This article first appeared in Counter Currents)