The climate in Paris

| Updated on January 22, 2018 Published on November 18, 2015

A deal for a greener planet is on the cards, but on what terms?

Paris, reeling from the shock of the terror attacks, will shortly host a two-week meeting of world governments over an issue perhaps no less serious than terrorism — climate change. Although the causes of climate change are open to debate, the phenomenon of a warming globe is difficult to contest. There is a fear that the end of the century may see a rise in temperature of 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, and the Paris Ministerial is expected to arrive at a major agreement that will retard global warming. However, in doing so, the essence of the Kyoto Protocol principle (drawn up in 1997) — of the developed world shouldering most of the burden to cut emissions because of their being largely responsible for the mess — should not be cast aside. Despite the rising share of the developing world in annual emissions since the 1990s, it is notable that global production is driven by integrated value chains, as a result of which some of the emissions originating in the developing world ought to be attributed to the OECD — called ‘carbon leakage’ in the climate jargon.

India has sought to strike a balance between doing its needful for world climate and securing its right to develop. As a significant emitter of greenhouse gases, it has come under pressure to announce a plan to phase out emissions, the way the US, EU and China have done. India’s ‘intended nationally determined contribution’ (INDC) spells out a 15-year plan to reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP (without committing to absolute cuts), while growing sustainably to meet the electricity and fuel needs of 300 million poor and energy-deprived. While India cannot afford to be totally isolated and noncommittal about cuts forever, hyphenating India with a much more developed China in climate talks is a tad simplistic.

The fact that 146 countries submitted national greening plans or INDCs a month before the ongoing meet points to the changed situation since the Kyoto Protocol, when the lines were clearly drawn between the developed and developing world. This is not entirely because the Kyoto principle has been undermined, although the argument for differentiated responsibility has come under relentless assault from the OECD. The OECD pressure has arisen from the fact that emerging economies account for a much larger share of annual emissions than they did two decades ago. But if the latter countries have committed to greening up their economies in their INDCs, it is because of a technology revolution in renewables that makes this possible without compromising their developmental goals. India’s INDC plans to achieve 40 per cent power generation capacity from non-fossil fuel-based sources by 2030. However, achieving this transition takes us right back to the Kyoto drawing board: the OECD, which holds most of the patents in renewables technologies, must clear the decks for technology and funds transfer because of its historical responsibility for emissions. Paris must deliver on these two counts.

Published on November 18, 2015
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