Climate math and forgotten sums (Comment: Special to IANS)

A brilliant and amusing mathematician of our times, Joseph Keller, was known for his playful indulgence in mathematical explanations of everyday puzzling facts. For example, he mathematically enlightened why the ponytail of female jogger swings from side to side and not in any other way.

Joseph Keller died recently but he probably would have stumbled over the most significant numerical question of the recent times: Why the entry into force of the Paris Climate Agreement has embedded the cryptic numerical condition of at least “55 countries accounting for 55 per cent of the global emissions ratifying the agreement”.

There indeed is no pure mathematical logic to this prerequisite. This condition is transplanted into the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 from the 18-year-old Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol stated that it would enter into force on the 90th day after the date on which not less than 55 Parties to the Convention, incorporating Parties included in annexure I (developed nations) which accounted for at least 55 per cent of the total carbon dioxide emissions for 1990 of the developed countries.

During the transplantation of this condition into the Paris Climate Agreement, the countries made historic welcome and even fudgy improvements.

Historic, because the voluntary commitments made for GHG reductions — called Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDCs) — by each and every country are now global in nature, without distinction between developed or industrialized and developing countries.

Welcome, because the time between fulfilling the 55-55 conditions globally and the entry into force of the agreement is reduced from 90 days to 30 days — probably a baby step to show urgency.

Fudgy, because while Kyoto Protocol clearly spelled out 1990 as the baseline for measuring the percentage of carbon dioxide emissions of the country as part of 55 per cent of GHG emissions, the Paris Agreement will use the latest GHG emissions communicated by the country to the Secretariat of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Interestingly the year of latest communication of GHGs among 195 countries varied to a great degree. For 16 countries it is 1994, for 38 countries it is 2013 and for the rest it is in between. India’s latest communication is for 2000, the USA’s for 2013 and China’s for 2005. The base line of important condition for entry into force is, therefore, embedded into the assorted stack of apples, oranges and even mangoes.

The fudgy logic, however, did not deter the determination of the countries to get the Paris Agreement operational with amazingly good speed. While the Kyoto Protocol entered into force nearly 86 months after its scripture was agreed to in December 1997, it is now evident that the Paris Agreement would enter into force in less than 86 weeks from December 2015. The time period provided in the agreement till 2020 for the entry into force may now prove to be redundant.

So, how does this 55-55 math add up from now on?

As of September 23, 2016, 61 countries representing nearly 48 per cent of GHG emissions have ratified the Paris Agreement, including China (20.09 per cent), the US (17.89 per cent) and Brazil (2.48 per cent). The rest are mainly small countries.

India’s 4.1 per cent of global GHG emissions were added on October 2 when the total GHG emissions from 62 countries that ratified would be 52.1 per cent, just 2.9 per cent short for meeting the full requirement for entry into force. Ratification by Russia (7.53 per cent) or Japan (3.79 per cent) would be sufficient to meet the finish line of 55 per cent. But both the countries have declared that they are not in a hurry to do it.

That brings the onus on the EU countries, representing nearly 10 percent of GHGs, or on both Australia (1.46 per cent) and Canada (1.95 per cent) or on both Mexico (1.7 per cent) and South Africa (1.85 per cent) together. The EU, though in negotiations showed urgency in taking actions on climate change, is battered by Brexit and in fix. A large number of remaining small countries or individual EU countries ratifying the agreement would however add up the climate-math to operationalize the Paris Agreement.

Climate-math is now reaching the finishing line; it is time to reflect on the sum total of real and urgent climate actions.

The Paris Agreement very rightly highlights that countries need not wait to operationalise it. The singularly important and foremost action indicated in it is to jump-start the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C by continuing the efforts by the developed countries to meet the commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, whose life has been extended from 2012 to 2020 as per the Doha Amendment. The legally binding commitments taken by the developed countries under Kyoto would have to continue till the extended deadline.

Pre-2020 actions are at the heart of the Doha Amendment that pins down the developed countries to their binding commitments for reduction in emission of GHGs undertaken under the Kyoto Protocol and their contributions towards the Green Climate Fund established in 2010 for climate-actions in developing countries.

As of July 2016, of the 37 developed countries with binding commitments under Kyoto, only seven have ratified the Doha Amendment that has not yet entered into force. Canada, Japan and Russia have clearly stated that they would not ratify the Doha Amendment and will not take any continued commitment under Kyoto before 2020. Canada was committed under Kyoto to cutting its greenhouse emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012, but in 2009, emissions were 17 per cent higher than in 1990. Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol.

The Green Climate Fund set up in 2009 was to contribute $30 billion from 2010 to 2012 by the developed countries to help developing countries for action on climate, reaching up to $100 billion per year by 2020. This pre-2020 financial commitment is also in doldrums as the total funding contributed by the developed countries as of July 2016 is just about $10 billion.

Obviously the climate-sums are not adding up as regards past commitments and definitely not in tandem with the enthusiasm demonstrated by the countries for the entry into force of the Paris Climate agreement.

We indeed need Joseph Keller to make us understand these numbers in a practical way. He had famously said: “First of all, I have to understand the phenomenon; so that limits me right away. The time has come to limit the world right away in dealing with climate change.”

(Rajendra Shende, an IIT-alumnus, is Chairman TERRE Policy Centre amd a former Director of the UNEP. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at <>)



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