It came as a shock to those who recently attended the annual climate conference organised by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai to learn that there were only some 20 days left before India submitted its commitments to the UN global summit, culminating in Paris this December.
By now, pledges have been made by major players, barring this country.
Together with China, India was being demonised as the problem big polluter — the world’s largest after China, the US and the EU. But China has committed, proactively, to peak its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and reduce its carbon intensity — the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of GDP — by 60-65% by then. India is being seen, in former environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s summation at the 2014 TISS conference, as “the last man standing in Paris”.
India is scaling down its pre-summit commitment to a ‘minimalist’ offer, which will probably ratchet up its pre-Copenhagen summit pledge to cut carbon intensity by 20-25% by 2020, based on 2005 levels. It may raise this to 35-40%.
At this year’s TISS meet, Meena Raman from the Third World Network in Malaysia questioned why there was pressure from industrial countries for developing nations to declare their voluntary commitments — known inelegantly as Intended Nationally Determined Commitments or (INDCs) — before December. As T Jayaraman, who heads the TISS climate group, observed, the EU was christening the ‘Paris Protocol’ even before the baby was born.
What was the rush, Raman asked, without developing countries first having thought through their commitments? For instance, India should not declare that it is going to generate 175 gigawatts (GW) of renewables by 2020, something many Indian experts at the meet thought was implausible, and then be held accountable for not meeting it. “We had might as well not go to Paris!” she declared. Developing countries were not going to get a cent by way of funds.
While Raman set the cat among the pigeons, some sober reflection reveals that the protracted UN climate treaty negotiations will demand that India, as a large emerging economy, should put some numbers where its mouth is. However, this should be consistent with its own development objectives rather than due to pressures from the global North. India should list a number of national actions that will help it to adapt to climate change, which is a global problem not of its own making. It should not specify the numbers or targets, which are then subject to international scrutiny.
It is an open secret that the EU, as the most proactive group in climate negotiations, is keener on developing countries announcing INDCs to mitigate their carbon dioxide emissions rather than adapt to the crisis, which overlaps with a nation’s development programmes. The EU, Norway and the US have revealed their INDCs without indicating their contributions to finance and technology to help developing countries mitigate their emissions.
The arithmetic, as TISS has detailed, is self-explanatory. There is a carbon “budget” — the amount of emissions left if the globe is to stay within a temperature rise of 2°C above pre-industrial levels, failing which there will be catastrophic consequences worldwide.
Between 2012 and 2100, this amounts to 270 gigawatt tonnes of carbon (GtCO2eq). Forgetting about ‘historical’ emissions, the pile-up of pollutants caused by industrial countries over some 165 years, and dividing these on a per capita basis, industrial countries would have 50 GtCO2eq of the pie. They can’t exceed this cap if the entire world is to stay below 2°C. However, based on pre-2020 pledges (the earlier deadline for commitments in the UN negotiations) and their INDCs (mostly extending to 2030) as of June this year, industrial countries will be emitting 51 GtCO2eq before 2030. An 88-year budget, therefore, would be exhausted in just 18 years.
Simply put, developed countries would be consuming more than their fair share even of the future carbon budget, just as they have done of fossil fuel energy in the past. Developing counties are therefore faced with a Faustian bargain: Either take on mitigation targets that are inequitably large to curb their emissions or the world’s temperature would go beyond the 2°C tipping point. Both the North and South are in the same boat, an apt metaphor when ocean levels are rising, but the North has far greater responsibility for tackling the crisis.
A Global Climate Fund was set up in Copenhagen with $10 billion a year for a couple of years, building up to $100 billion — as triumphantly announced by none other than Hillary Clinton herself — by 2020. Six years down the line, only $5 billion has been coughed up. As Raman put it, this isn’t even peanuts, let alone monkeys. What is more, this will also include overseas development assistance as well as private sector finance. Currently, there are moves to ensure that this fund doesn’t go the way of the Bretton Woods sisters — the World Bank and International Monetary Fund — which are controlled by the US and Europe, respectively.
India should shed its defensive policy and get aggressive, based on its reiteration of global equity and common but differentiated responsibilities of nations. It shouldn’t hide behind poverty but call the bluff of industrial nations by asking them to bear their fair share and meet the 2°C goals. In return, India can domestically commit itself to reducing its emissions in several sectors, like power generation, transport and buildings. It can further agree to peak its emissions by around 2045. All this is entirely in the national interest. Considering that the entire world faces the climate crisis, India has to play its role in averting it.