climate change

A beginner's guide to what transpired at the Paris climate summit

Amid the hype about the Paris Agreement, here are some home truths about what it holds for the future.

What did you bloody greenies do ? What is this Paris climate deal?
After 21 years of haggling and delays, governments of the world collectively agreed to take action domestically and internationally to tackle climate change by cutting their carbon emissions/ The “Paris package” to which the legally binding instrument – the “Paris agreement” – is annexed aims to contain the increase in the global average temperature to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels” – a more ambitious goal than had been expected. This new climate deal will come into force in 2020.

Meaning how, exactly?
Mainly by boosting clean energy investments while conserving and enhancing forests and other ecosystems. Boosting clean energy investments means more finance for research and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency, with the hope that burning of fossil fuels will be phased out by end of the century. However, nowhere in the text are the words fossil fuels, coal or oil used. Conserving and enhancing forests should mean more “predictable, sustainable, large-scale pay-for-performance finance”. Right now, the cash box is more or less empty, but hopes are tied to private financing.

Is renewable energy really ready for all this?
I caught a plane from Kochi airport, the world’s first fully solar-powered airport. I think it is.

What about forests?
The agreement includes the necessary technical and scientific rules to provide a blueprint to countries looking to protect natural forests and their biodiversity, as well as the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities, with the inclusion of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation as a standalone article.

Most importantly, it includes a system to report on how those safeguards are addressed and respected. This sets a precedent for protecting rights in all climate actions, and for the protection of natural forests. It’s important to note that there has been plenty of research demonstrating that market-based initiatives, which REDD+ focuses on, are unlikely to be the solution in and of themselves.

Sweet invitation for private financing for afforestation projects.

So it's all about money?

Climate change is happening faster than system change: the impossible demand of social activists.

So, is the deal good or bad?
Let's just agree with activist George Monbiot: "By comparison to what it could have been, it’s a miracle. By comparison to what it should have been, it’s a disaster."

No, seriously, is that good or bad?
For those who remember the debacle at the Copenhagen summit, where talks failed at the last minute, the Paris agreement is "good" in so much as that countries have finally acknowledged that they have a problem and have agreed to take collective action, but mostly “bad” because to meet these ambitious goals, the world will need to spend more than $16tn over the next 15 years.

However, the Paris Agreement only commits to "mobilising" $100 billion per year by 2020 to cover not just emission cuts but also adaptation. This is far short of the support required, and there is no firm commitment to increase this figure, merely an aspiration to review it by 2025. And since it is about money, basically no one knows where the money is coming from and until then, countries are allowed to continue emitting against self-designated targets, aka Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.

So why is everyone celebrating ?
Not everyone is, but more on that later. First, you must understand that the Paris Agreement would not have been possible if the countries had not resorted to the strategy of win some, lose some and compromise on others. No country or group can claim an outright victory on any of the contentious issues, and at the same time each of them had something to celebrate.

The ones I saw cheering the most in the plenary were the staff of the French presidency and United Nations. For them to lead and ensure the successful conclusion of a multilateral process with world leaders in attendance, at a time when France technically is at “state of war”, is a huge shot in the arm.

The Americans were dancing on the floor of course. President Barack Obama finally has a legacy to justify his Nobel Peace Prize, while his team led by Secretary of State John Kerry can boast of diabolical brinksmanship - they escaped any binding commitment by replacing “shall” with ‘should” in the text.

The Chinese were brimming because they see huge market opportunities ahead, while the Indians were seen backslapping because the agreement reflects differentiation, acknowledging that the world is not homogeneous either. The decision will be implemented to reflect “equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.”

And your friends, the green ones?
Have you been listening or not? This is it, their moment of reckoning. Imagine world governments parroting your lines, “coal kills – renewable energy is the future, save forests, change lifestyles”. It's 20 years later and probably too late, but what the hell. Now my bloody greeny friends, as you like to call them, have a moral high ground as climate guardians and raison d'etre to continue to harangue their respective governments to deliver on the promises they made in Paris.

So who is not celebrating?
The ones who are at the bottom of this soon-to-be unleashed financial trickle, for whom it is not about money at all but about daily survival, representatives of the people’s movements, of grassroots NGOs and indigenous people, the workers unions and the rights activists. Before the talks began, they had agreed on a set of criteria that the Paris deal would need to meet to be effective and fair. This "People’s Test" is based on climate science and the needs of communities affected by climate change and other injustices across the globe.

To meet the People’s Test, the Paris deal would need to do the following four things:

* Catalyse immediate, urgent and drastic emission reductions

* Provide adequate support for transformation

* Deliver justice for impacted people;

* Focus on genuine, effective action rather than false solutions

Clearly the Paris summit, in its bid for consensus, has failed to pass the test, according to them.

Paris is beautiful, despite its lingering sadness.

So another world is not possible?
No. Climate change is happening faster than system change. And there is no provision in the treaty for compensation and liabilities for loss and damage that has already happened due to climate change.

Forget it. How was Paris?
Paris is beautiful, like its people. The weather was mostly grey and the mood sombre. Despite the lingering sadness following the terror attacks in the city in November, the people were most tolerant and polite – beautiful people who understand the meaning of "tolerance" and practice it. They were nice to us suits too.

So did you go party?
No, I followed our prime minister’s advice to the world and did not change my lifestyle. Barring one evening, I ate Indian food every night. I highly recommend Saravana Bhavan and Sangeeta near Gare du Nord terminus for vegetarian food.

Shailendra Yashwant (@shaibaba) travelled to the Paris summit in a borrowed suit and on a ticket paid for by Climate Action Network South Asia, a coalition of 141 NGOs that he advises on communication and advocacy strategies.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.