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Paris Agreement May Unravel Next Year, India Fears

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Nitin Sethi, Business Standard

Neither the US nor India has committed to a formal ratification of the Paris agreement by the end of 2016 in the much-hyped joint statement on climate change.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with US President Barack Obama  during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House. Photo: PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with US President Barack Obama during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House. Photo: PTI

The political imperatives before outgoing US President Barack Obama, domestic legal requirements in India and the procedural complications of the Paris agreement collectively ensured that the two didn’t.

The statement, issued during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington, reads: “The United States reaffirms its commitment to join the Agreement as soon as possible this year.”

The US has shied from using the word ‘ratification’, as it would require approval from the US senate, which President Obama is unlikely to secure from the Republican citadel.

During the negotiations between the two countries, preceding Modi’s tour, the US had insisted that India should commit to a joining the Paris agreement as well by 2016-end, India, however, stopped short of such a commitment in the bilateral statement.

Consequently, the joint statement reads, “India similarly has begun its processes to work toward this shared objective.” Indian negotiators insisted upon this insertion to replace the single and asymmetric sentence that the US had offered, binding only India to ratification by the end of this year, sources told Business Standard.

The Paris agreement provides four options for the countries to adopt the global deal. Article 21(1) of the pact permits countries to ratify, accept, approve or accede. Each term has different implications in different countries’ domestic, constitutional and legal framework. For the US, a ratification of a non-trade agreement necessarily requires approval from the Senate, which President Obama is keen to avoid. But other terms, which provide options for the US President to adopt the agreement through an executive order, also leave the door open for the future US Presidents to walk out.

The option available to the US, to easily walk out of the deal, worries many developing countries, including India. The fact that the US had kept out of the Kyoto Protocol after negotiating till the last moment, as well as the current election rhetoric by the Republican candidate Donald Trump, who has threatened to pull out of the Paris agreement, have impacted the negotiations between key developing countries and the US.“

President Obama is pushing hard to get the Paris agreement going as his legacy. But he can only join the agreement. He can’t ratify it. What if developing countries ratify it, helping the Paris agreement come into force by 2016-end, but the next US President walks out of it with a simple executive order? We have to be mindful of the possibilities,” said one of the negotiators.