It is with a sense of déjà vu that the world readies for another annual climate ministerial at Sharm El-Shaikh (Egypt) from November 6-18. Meanwhile, news on the climate change front remains dire as ever with catastrophic weather incidents on the rise everywhere, and commitments to cut emissions going haywire. What’s worse is that the promised emission cuts might be off the table for now — given the way Europe, starved for gas in the wake of the Ukraine war, has gone back to burning coal. The International Energy Agency, however, takes a less grim view in its latest World Energy Outlook, arguing that high energy prices will keep up the shift towards renewables. The US, EU, Baltic countries, South Korea and Japan have readied plans to bolster renewables capacity. But even if renewables do bounce back, it will take a lot of doing to contain future emissions to required levels.
To get there, a deadlock has to be broken — namely, that the developed world should not only undertake deep emission cuts, but also help the developing world, with their lower living standards, grow with the help of cleaner technologies. The former are morally bound to do so, after having exercised the liberty to pollute and grow over centuries. The developing world need the capital and know-how to develop clean technologies from erstwhile colonial masters. These technologies are needed to raise the proportion of electricity, cleanly produced, in final energy demand; reduce inefficiencies in sectors that drive growth such as chemicals, steel and cement; and develop carbon capture and storage methods.
India cannot be expected to sacrifice growth at current levels of per capita income. Even so, it has embarked on a green path with its renewables programme, driven by private investment and subsidies. Electric vehicles’ sales have been on the rise. At Glasgow last year, India also for the first time promised an absolute emissions reduction by 2030. Policies have given a boost to green hydrogen, battery technologies and other low carbon solutions. India should not brook criticism from the West, at a time when it has taken initiatives without much help, save some PE funding. Instead, it should show leadership in foregrounding climate finance. The Green Climate Fund has raised barely $10 billion over about eight years, after hollow promises to cough up $100 billion annually. The UN report on adaptation (the funds required to reduce future emissions) released on Tuesday says that “international adaptation finance flows to developing countries are 5-10 times below estimated needs and the gap is widening. Estimated adaptation needs are $160-240 billion by 2030...” Developing countries need at least the same level of funds for mitigation (coping with climate change’s near term effects). It is futile to expect public funds. However, there is no reason why a public-private global initiative for tech transfer, of the sort initiated during vaccines for Covid, cannot be tried out. That would invest COP 27 with some meaning.
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