With the 24th. Conference of Parties (COP 24) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) scheduled to be held in Poland from 3rd. to 14th. December this year, the next two months promise to be busy ones for India on the climate front. COP 24 would review the progress of implementation of the pledges made by member- countries In Paris in 2015 to take steps to reduce their emissions of the global warming Greenhouse gases (GHGs) and adapt themselves to conditions in a warming world. Expectedly, countries would be exhorted to up their pledges as a measure of their ambition to combat warming since the Paris pledges are not found sufficient enough to keep down global temperature rise to desired critical levels.
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The forthcoming Conference has to be looked at against the background of certain ominous developments on the climate front. The latest of these is the alarming conclusion of the Special Report prepared by an expert body at the instance of the Parties to the UNFCCC. The expert body called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was tasked to look into the desirability of keeping the global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Currently, the temperatures stand at about a degree above such levels. Under the Paris Climate Agreement (2015), a rise of 2.0 degrees was accepted as the target to aim at pending completion of the study by the IPCC. By way of assistance, it may be added here that the build- up of carbon dioxide and some other gases (collectively called Greenhouse gases or GHGs)in the atmosphere leads to the formation of a cover which traps the heat released from earth and reflects it back, thereby raising earth’s temperature. Therefore, containing temperature rise means reducing GHG releases into the atmosphere from the present levels.
The IPCC Special Report has concluded that limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius confers several benefits over the 2.0 degree target , particularly in avoiding irreversible damage to earth’s life supporting ecosystems. Hence, a target of 1.5 degrees should be aimed at instead of a 2.0 degree one. Further, to have a two-thirds chance of temperature rise not exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius, it would be necessary to limit the total releases of the premier GHG, that is carbon dioxide, from now on, to a cumulative figure of 550 giga tonnes ; if one could risk having a lesser chance of keeping within the 1.5 degrees limit, say fifty percent, then the total releases can remain at a lower level of about 550 giga tonnes. These figures would show how limited the availability of atmospheric space has become thanks to the profligacy in its use by the developed countries in the past. Whatever limit we choose, with the current global releases of 42 giga tonnes of Carbon dioxide per year and possible increases in the medium run , the available atmospheric space for this gas would be consumed in another ten to thirty years. Unless steps are taken now to reduce these releases drastically, runaway temperature rise would result.
The release of the Special Report is expected to generate pressures on all countries, except the least developed and the climate endangered, to raise their levels of climate ambition backed by appropriate action plans in extension of their Paris Pledges. This call may become strident because of the US pullout from the Paris Agreement last year. The slack has to be picked up by others. Further, other developments like Japan entering into a phase of expansion of its coal-based power generation capacity or Canadian efforts to step up oil extraction from tar stands or the melting of the Arctic ice cover are also not friendly to efforts to contain global warming.
Should India commit itself to step up its efforts? The answer should be a firm “no”. It has already been deprived of climate justice and equity because its cries for allowing it to raise its annual per capita releases of GHGs to the global average of about 4.0 MTs has not found acceptance. Even today, its per capita releases amount to 1.8 metric tonnes only. Despite this denial, India’s Paris Pledge was a generous one. India committed to raise its installed renewable energy generation capacity to 175 giga watts by 2022, reduce its carbon emission intensity of growth by 33-35% from 2005 levels by 2030, and lastly, to create an additional carbon sink capable of absorbing 2.5 to 3.0 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.This is a Herculean task and the way the country has gone about it is worthy of appreciation. But this does not mean that there is scope for vaulting these ambitions.
Historically, developed countries have been responsible for landing humanity in this “existential crisis”. Some of them have accepted this charge, though grudgingly. The US has not. Calls for compensation for damages caused already have been turned down. Given this less than fair treatment, India cannot be saddled with more commitments. It is for the rich to pick up the new challenge thrown up by the IPCC.
India’s first and foremost task is poverty alleviation. It has quite some way to go in this direction. Hence, India should do what it needs to do. It need not do what others desire it to do.
Former Secretary to the Govt. of India
Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change