Editorial

The UN climate ministerial has failed to live up to civil society expectations

| Updated on December 17, 2019 Published on December 17, 2019

The two principal mechanisms that were supposed to make emission reductions happen — a market for carbon credits and the transfer of funds from the rich to poor countries — have not worked

A protracted UN climate meet at Madrid yielded little by way of concrete commitments on emission reductions — despite mounting pressure on governments the world over to act fast. The two principal mechanisms that were supposed to make emission reductions happen — namely, a market for carbon credits and the transfer of funds from the rich to poor countries — have not worked. While the delegates managed to kick the can down the road to the next ministerial at Glasgow, to be held a year later, they would surely know that public pressure would bear down on them harder than ever when they convene again. The reasons for this change in public mood, represented by a surge in protests across the developed world, are not hard to seek. While the nasty effects of global warming are increasingly being felt and realised — from Arctic melt to thunderstorms and hurricanes, and more so the imminent migration of populations from low lying regions and islands that may disappear below the sea — the recent UN and IPCC reports have also set alarm bells ringing. The United Nations ‘Emissions Gap’ report brought out this year says that, since the world has consistently faltered on its emission reduction targets over the last two decades, the future targets will have to be really ramped up (7.6 per cent emission reduction annually till 2030) for the temperature rise to be restricted to 1.5 degrees centigrade vis-a-vis pre-industrial levels. The report observes that “based on today’s commitments, emissions are on track to reach 56 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030, over twice what they should be.”

While the science looks grim, the fact is that some pragmatic nitty-gritties need to be recognised to move ahead. Carbon markets cannot work unless the commitments to emission reduction improve, with the US too joining the league. When the world’s second largest emitter, accounting for 15 per cent of total emissions, walks out on the Paris accord, the rest of the world cannot be expected to do all the heavy-lifting. The onus is expected to rest on EU28, China (the biggest emitter, accounting for 27 per cent of all emissions), Japan, Russia and India. India has rightly said in Madrid that the developed world must fulfil its annual commitment towards providing $100 billion in climate finance, besides meeting their emission reduction goals for which the cut-off year is 2020, with respect to 2005, before expecting emerging economies to do more.

India has succeeded in reducing the emissions intensity of its GDP, its renewable energy capacity now accounting for about 22 per cent of its power capacity, against the goal of touching 40 per cent by 2030. The shift to EVs will make a difference. However, the elephant in the room is forest degradation, which adds to the carbon concentration in the atmosphere, contributing to at least 15 per cent of all emissions globally. Sustainable living has to become a citizen’s credo as well.

Published on December 17, 2019
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