By Vijay Darda | 21-12-2015
Several years down the line, when we shall look back at the route followed by the world to fight climate change, the agreement in Paris among 196 countries would look like the easier part of the battle. The more difficult part would be implementing it. To begin with the Paris agreement has very modest goals. It aims to restrict the global temperature increase to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with a promise to “pursue” a tougher goal of limiting the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The goal is modest because, in the years that it has taken for this agreement to be hammered out, global temperatures have already risen by 1 degree Celsius and the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to fight climate change that all the countries have submitted are far from sufficient to meet this goal. These plans, if implemented fully, will result in a 2.7 degree increase in global temperature. So, at the outset the world has set to achieve a goal that is much below the desired target.
To understand the skewed world of climate change, it is a bit instructive to look at the existing scenario. The world is emitting huge amounts of carbon dioxide, and it is almost like an overweight individual. When such an individual goes on a crash diet the only thing that is achieved is the reduction at the rate of weight gain. Very little weight loss takes place. So, it is a reality that the deepest emission reductions can only prevent climate change from getting far worse. They can’t stop the warming that has already arrived, nor the warming that is locked in as a result of the fossil fuels we have already burned. Besides this countries like India that have low levels of energy consumption, and have to meet the energy needs of millions of people who cannot be simply left behind because the rich have already gobbled up their share of emissions fight for climate justice. So, we shall continue to burn fossil fuels that increase global levels of carbon dioxide.
But the existing amount of carbon dioxide locked in the atmosphere, is just a part of the problem. The other key issue is the amount of resources required to fight climate change. Whether it is reducing emissions, adapting or improving emergency preparedness, every action requires money. So far the west that has the resources and the technology to put the remedial measures in place has been reluctant to part with this without charging a fee. In other words, having first polluted the world, the west also wants to make money from this challenge to fight the situation. The disheartening part of the Paris agreement is it makes no commitment on the quantum of finance that will be provided to developing countries. Instead, it reiterates that the industrialised countries will continue to take the lead in “mobilizing” climate finance from various sources, with developing countries being encouraged to contribute to the global finance pool. Industrialised countries will increase funding levels to beyond the 2020 floor of $100 billion a year after 2025. The only silver lining is that for the first time, the countries agreed to put in place a transparent system to account, monitor and report on climate finance.
It is just a matter of coincidence that Chennai was reeling under the worst floods when the Paris deal was being negotiated. Although, technical experts did not link it with global warming or climate change, nevertheless the visuals did give us a hint of the misery that awaits the vulnerable areas when the rise in global sea levels would impact hundreds of millions of people who will be displaced from coastal regions with their agricultural lands and groundwater destroyed by saltwater intrusion from sea rise. The more important part of this damage being that the polluters would go scot-free from the impact of these changes and the sufferers would be those who have done perhaps the least bit to damage the environment.
As a country, we have acquitted ourselves reasonably well at the Paris summit, and the fact that US president Barack Obama thanked prime minister Narendra Modi for the constructive role played by India in making the summit a success, is by itself a testimony to our contribution to the entire process. This has to be weighed in the context of the initial remarks of the US secretary of state John Kerry that India could be a challenge to the negotiations in Paris. In terms of the actual agreement, the concepts of equity and Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) that have been emphasised by India have found a reference in the final agreement. We have been able to carry ourselves with credibility in these negotiations largely on the strength of the eight-point charter of our independent nationally determined contributions that include a reduction in the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 per cent by 2030 from 2005 level, to have about 40 per cent of cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil based energy resources and to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.
But all this is easier said than done, and it would require massive investments both in terms of resources and technological advancements to achieve these targets. For instance the target to generate 175,000 MW of power through non-fossil fuel resources would require the kind of investment in the renewable energy sector that has never been worked out in the past.
It must be acknowledged that far from being a threat of the future or something that needs to be the concern of the doomsday prophets, global climate change is at our doorsteps. Right now the impact may be in terms of changed weather patterns or a harsh summer or a tough winter, but given the pace at which the environment is getting degraded the other painful effects like death and destruction are not far off. We can mitigate the damage only if the commitments made at Paris are fulfilled in right earnest.
Before I conclude…
The winter session of Parliament was almost a re-run of the monsoon session with some differences. Towards the end the parties did agree to transact some business that keeps the government machinery going. After having preached that disruption is a legitimate form of parliamentary protest during its days in opposition, the onus is now on the ruling BJP to create a different working approach so that the voice of the opposition is not smothered and its legitimate concerns are taken on board before arriving at key decisions. Or else we shall continue to remain in campaign mode forever, without governance getting its due share of attention.