The historic climate deal struck near Paris on Saturday could have gone farther to shield developing and vulnerable countries from threats posed by global warming, environmental officials and activists from India, Indonesia and Bangladesh say.
"We are of the opinion that the agreement could have been more ambitious,” Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment minister who headed its delegation to the U.N. Conference on Climate Change, said the day after India and 194 other countries struck the deal in Le Bourget, France.
They agreed to work collectively to keep Earth’s temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, and “to pursue efforts” to limit a planetary temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the United Nations.
The so-called Paris Agreement also calls for participating countries to submit updated plans for curbing greenhouse gas emissions every five years, the U.N. said. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing polar icecaps to melt and sea levels to rise.
Under the deal, which is to be signed in New York on April 22, 2016 – Earth Day – the world’s developed countries have set a goal of helping poorer countries meet their goals for reducing emissions to the tune of at least U.S. $100 billion a year in financing by 2020.
“The Paris Agreement is a monumental triumph for people and our planet … It sets the stage for progress in ending poverty, strengthening peace and ensuring a life of dignity and opportunity for all,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday.
The agreement also signified the first time that the world’s two biggest economies and top polluters – the United States and China – agreed along with other nations to work toward limiting greenhouse gases and moving toward greener energy sources.
Yet officials and environmental conservationists from the three most populous countries in South and Southeast Asia described the deal as a set of compromises that could have mixed effects in India, Indonesia and Bangladesh.
"We share the concern of several friends that this agreement does not put us on the path to prevent temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius and that the actions of developed countries are far below their historical responsibilities and fair shares,” Minister Javadekar said on Sunday.
‘Weak on commitments’
The latest draft of the Paris accord was “weak on commitments and ambition since there are no collective targets for developed countries,” Chandra Bhushan, deputy director of the Center for Science and Environment, a New Delhi think-tank, told BenarNews.
India, the world’s second most populous country, is its fourth top emitter of greenhouse gasses, according to the World Resources Institute (WRI).
In Bangladesh, Farid Uddin Ahmed, executive director of the Arannayk Foundation (Bangladesh Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation), an NGO that receives World Bank and U.S. funding, criticized the agreement for not being legally binding where developed countries are concerned.
"What Bangladesh and the least developed countries want is to set a legal binding for the polluting countries to restrict emission of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere," Ahmed told BenarNews.
Bangladesh, the world’s eighth most crowded country, may lose low-lying areas along its coast and territorial islands due to rising water levels caused by a warmer atmosphere.
"The polluting countries must pay compensation for the damage caused by their pollution. Besides, the proposal to give loans, not compensation, to the affected countries is unfair. We, as a victim of the pollution of the industrial nations, must be paid compensation – not loans," Ahmed said.
Smaller islands in Indonesia’s sprawling island-chain are also vulnerable to rising sea levels, but the Paris accord won’t go nearly far enough to save those isles, warned Abdon Nababan, who heads the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN).
“Too much compromise! While it's called historic, it will be devastating for countries like us,” Abdon said of the Paris deal.
Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous nation and, according to WRI, its sixth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases.
“We have 10,000 small islands with 70 million indigenous people. We need a far more progressive accord – it should be cut under 1.5 degree Celsius,” he added.
“What will we do when the climate wipes our shores and people?”
‘This is substantial’
But others hailed the accord.
“For the first time in history, both the U.S. and China supported the COP21 deal,” former Indonesian Environment Minister Emil Salim told BenarNews, referring to the name of the conference that culminated in the deal.
“This is substantial because this could be the source of funding and assistance for the transfer of clean energy technology for developing countries, including Indonesia.”
Indonesia should now wean itself off dirty, coal-based fuel and invest in solar energy, geothermal energy, greener modes of transportation and other cleaner technologies, he said.
The country should also move to safeguard forests and natural resources, including peat-rich areas where illegal agricultural fires have caused a haze that blankets the region almost every year, Emil said.
In Bangkok, Tara Buakamsri, the Thailand country director for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, expressed hope that Thailand and the other countries would do their part to help humanity cap greenhouse gas emissions.
“We’ve come to a point for us all to move forward, though it may take a big while to materialize the essence of the Paris Agreement,” Tara told BenarNews.
“But the movement of millions of people around the world to reduce the use of fossilized fuel will be the heart of climate protection.”
Rohit Wadhwaney, Dewi Safitri, Kamran Reza Chowdhury and Pimuk Rakkanam contributed to this report.