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TIME FOR ACTION TO STAVE OFF CLIMATE DISASTER

By G. Srinivasan

The inexorable humid weather in the capital in the festive month of October has robbed the exuberant moments of celebrations, even as the weather patterns across the country seem to be swinging in extremes. India and other developing countries may continue to be in a denial mood that weather-related aberrations are not directly due to the broad climate change that is sweeping the universe due to the disproportionate spurt in greenhouse gases (GHC). They might persist with the folly of following the principles on equity and common but differentiated responsibilities, citing the case of how advanced countries had the prime mover advantage in exploiting the energy potentials to prime their industrial development in the last century when the rest of the world was in penury. But this in no way detracts the significance of doing something right now by all to reduce the noxious pollutions the planet is exposed to day in and day out in the name of economic growth and development that bear hardly any relationship to human happiness and well-being.

 

Only at the end of September when world leaders arrived in New York for the latest United Nations (UN) climate summit, lakhs of environmental protestors marched through the New York City in what is called a “People’s Climate March” to highlight the huge hiatus in ambition and action on the GHG reduction front the world over that has skewed up the weather pattern, much to the consternation of the people living on the margins. The World Meteorological Organization has logged more than 8000 weather, climate and water-related disasters worldwide since 1970, taking the tragic toll of nearly two million lives and a staggering $2.4 trillion. The same organization computed that carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide levels are already 42 per cent, 153 per cent and 21 per cent respectively above the levels prior to the first Industrial Revolution. Global temperatures are likely to surpass the maximum limit (2 degree Celsius above pre-industrial era levels) that was agreed to as part of the 2009 Copenhagen accord. Even as the world needs to keep global warming below 2 degree Celsius to preclude a planetary disaster, the Inter- Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IGPCC) highlighted last year that the world is on course for a 3.7-4.8 degree Celsius rise in average global temperature by the end of the century.

 

A perturbing point to ponder over is that global CO2 emissions rose to 35.1 billion metric tons in 2013, a new record and a 29 per cent increase over a decade, despite all the avowed goals and high ambitions set in Earth Summit in the early 1990s in Rio. Of the year-over-year carbon surge, China at 358 million metric tons jumped by more than the rest of the world combined and is responsible for 24.8 per cent spurt of emissions over the last five years. Over the same span, developing countries accounted for 57.5 per cent, an article in Wall Street Journal citing figures on September 22 noted. India is now third in the world in emissions, behind the United States and China. Having burnt fossil fuels in a reckless manner to move in the growth ladder, both the United States and China have taken some positive measures in recent years, even though they are far from desirable scale and depth.

 

While the US President Obama has made executive directions to cut emissions from power plants to 30 per cent below 2005 levels, China and the US agreed last year that the phasedown of hydro fluorocarbons (HFCs) widely used in refrigerators and air conditioners with lethal accumulation to the greenhouse gas pile-up should be negotiated under the Montreal Protocol. It is interesting to note that even as India and China opposed any discussion of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol that deals with ozone depletion but only under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that deals with greenhouse gases, the Chinese have changed their stance to let the issue be discussed under the Montreal Protocol. This has left India isolated and as the former Environment Minister Mr. Jairam Ramesh who led India in the Copenhagen summit, aptly observed in a monograph that India’s position on this score is not in its enlightened self-interest. This is so, Mr. Ramesh noted, because an international pact on the phasedown (as different from a phaseout) of HFCs under the highly triumphal Montreal Protocol could forestall a global average temperature increase of 0.5 degree Celsius to go a long way in reducing global warming.   The Middle Kingdom is also uncharacteristically toying with moving to a national emissions trading system in a couple of years and is not unfriendly to deploy requisite market tools to put in place eco regulations and standards.

 

It is not altogether off the mark to recall the weighty suggestion of the African Development Bank President Mr. Donald Kaberuka who recently called for a global commitment to cut GHG emissions through smart, efficient fiscal and economic policies and regulations—including carbon pricing, reduced fossil fuel subsidies, incentives and performance standards. His plea for a global agreement on a mechanism to raise and channel sufficient financial support to expedite technology transfers to developing nations to cut their soaring emissions needs to be backed by India in G-20 and other influential platforms for coordinated global action. These platforms had been successful in finding a reprieve to the global financial crisis in 2008 but the time has come to move on to important issues that have a decisive bearing on how humanity is to lead a safe and healthy existence in the planet that threatens to become a vast wasteland before long if timely action is not taken now.

 

As for India, the Modi Government has not spelt out any strategy for mitigation and adaptation on the environmental front.  Mr. Modi who was in New York last month to take part in the UN General Assembly proceedings skipped the climate summit, as was the Chinese President Xi and the Russian President Mr. Vladimir Putin(the third, second and fourth largest emitters of GHG respectively, after the United States). Mr. Modi cannot be faulted for his anti-carbon aversion when he is under the compulsion to leverage the demographic dividend signified by India’s youthful populace through manufacturing route to get employment, skill development and growth.  In order to pre-empt criticism that his pro-growth policy with a particular slant to manufacturing and the Make in India credo credible, he had already said that India would be a manufacturing hub to churn out products with “zero defect and zero effect”, the latter obviously alluding to avert any environmental damage to development. But this is easier said than done or practiced anywhere in the world hitherto. It would hence be an uphill task for India, a country of continental size with rich resources endowments, to stay away from dirtying its hands in the process of ensuring high growth.

 

Though India does not have legally binding emission reduction commitments under Kyoto Protocol, it has announced gratuitously as part of domestic actions for mitigation of GHG, reduction in emission intensity of its gross domestic product by 20-25 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020. As the world is preparing to remove all roadblocks to a legally binding universal agreement to cut emissions level at the forthcoming global climate conference in Paris in December 2015, the Modi Government has still some time to devise a concrete plan of action on the eco front that takes on board the genuine concerns for development without destruction. (IPA Service)

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