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Need Serious Efforts to Save Mother Earth

Admin November 16, 2021

While India cannot afford to shy away from its commitment to save climate catastrophe, surely the axiom of equitable and just sharing comes paramount. — KK Srivastava

 

Notwithstanding the annual climate meetings prodding nations to take collective action against adverse climate change, the crisis is worsening continuously. The quantum of action actually taken has been woefully short of that required and committed. Even if the commitments announced till now are fully met, a highly unlikely scenario, the average temperature will rise 2.7 degree centigrade. This breaches the Paris agreement’s target of 2 degree rise beyond the preindustrial age. According to IPCC it will have catastrophic consequences. While reductions of 30% are needed to meet the 2 degree goal, the present commitments (made in 2015) will reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by only 7.5% till 2030. There is a two third probability of the planet becoming warmer by 2.7 degrees by the end of the century with present commitments about nationally determined commitments. Since very often economic and foreign policy imperatives override environmental concerns, most countries have missed targets, backtracked on their own commitments, and postponed actual action. What we have witnessed as a consequence is lack of planned action; instead, the world is in perpetual fire fighting mode.

Emission Levels, 1990-2018
(Million Tonnes to CO2 Equivalent)
                                 1990                2018
World                      32646              48940
US                            5543                5794
China                       2874               11706
India                        1009                  3347
 

Indeed, since even the present commitments may not be met, the IPCC has recently warned that due to spike in greenhouse gas emissions the world is likely to witness a three degree Celsius plus increase in global temperatures by the turn of the century. It suggests that if global warming is to be reduced to plus 1.5 degree by 2100, then the global CO2 emissions must reach net zero by 2050. But the past action does not instill much confidence. Climate change became a global issue in 1990. But between 1990-2010 very little action was taken to curb growing emissions. The developed countries never took seriously the first target of returning to the 1990 level of emissions by 2000. The Kyoto Protocol subsequently asked 37 rich and industrialized countries to collectively reduce their emission levels of 1990 by mere 5% between 2008-2012. Most of the countries failed to meet even this modest commitment. In fact the US emissions in 2012 were marginally higher than in 1990. To be fair, global emissions went up by 40% between 1990-2012 and the major contribution was made by China and India. In 2007 China became world’s leading emitter. Its current emissions are more than 4 times the 1990 levels. Likewise, India’s emissions have grown over 3.5 times from 1990. But countries like China, India, Brazil, etc., the so called fast growing economies, were not asked to cut down their emissions anyway, since over 90% of the accumulated GHGs in the atmosphere had come from the rich and industrialized nations over the past 150 years. Historically the now emerging economies had contributed little to global warming.

Yet there is no gainsaying the fact that due to the non environment friendly by developmental path being adopted by fast growing economies, since it is less costly even if more polluting, the emission in these countries is growing very fast. So developed countries feel that they are being unfairly targeted. Besides, they also feel that these growing economies are gaining unfair economic advantage at their cost. This has led to the countries being asked (Paris Agreement, 2015) to do what they thought they were best capable of. While earlier there were set (Kyoto Protocol) science based emission reduction targets, which were binding in nature, now there were self set goals which were neither obligatory on a nation nor was there any incentive to achieve them. Thus, for example, US committed average 27% emission reduction between 2005-2025. But by 2018 only 10% reduction has taken place. Worse, China said its emissions will peak by 2030. But between 2005-2018 the emissions have actually gone up by nearly 71%. 

The developing countries are actually handicapped in taking climate related action due to lack of funding and technology. While developed countries have committed to provide both, there is very little action on the ground. Thus while ideally all nations should share the burden ‘equitably’, this certainly does not mean ‘equally’. Climate justice thus demands that individual countries should have the freedom to offer net-zero dates keeping in mind their own unique needs and conditions. The advanced countries should accelerate the transition. If the nationally determined contributions (to global warming) add up to excessive level of global emissions, then these targets should be reviewed. However, India should step down from its position that emission reduction is not for India. Earlier, non polluting technologies were not available; this is no more the case. Thus India should refrain from rejecting the idea of setting a net zero targets. In a climate constrained would, with large dose of externalities, only climate friendly economic growth is morally and practically desired. If it needs structural changes, appropriate policies, and supporting institutions to meet the goal of eco friendly growth, so be it.

Mere palliatives like carbon offsets and carbon sinks cannot balance out emissions to hit a net zero target. Our argument is twofold: we cannot compromise on our economic growth targets which will supposedly happen if we commit ourselves to a net zero targets. Second, by heeding to what the developed world says we are letting them shirk their responsibility though they are the ones more responsible for the present state of affairs. Thus, the argument goes, India should push for climate justice and equity. Thus the contribution towards cooling should be made based on historical responsibility; the responsibility should be differentiated. However, this automatically means that India cannot shy away from making a commitment. According to a latest estimate, the decline in rice and wheat yields due to climate change could alone lead to economic losses to the tune of 1.8-3.4% of GDP of India by 2050. Besides, quality of life and health would be severely impacted. Among the G20, India is lagging in the process of transformation of its energy sector due to transmission and distribution losses, lack of access to clean cooking devices, and high level of energy intensity of economic activity.

In short, while rich countries must move to net negative (and not merely net zero), and fast, India must commit itself to net zero. This is essential for carbon removal in excess of the 40 billion tonnes added every year. India must offer an emission reduction pathway subject to the condition that advanced countries adopt net zero dates earlier than 2050 and commit to transfer of technology and finance for mitigation of climate risk. A net zero target for India would facilitate additional investment, boast economic growth, improve quality of life, and ensure better health for the citizens.              

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