Tipping point

| Updated on October 10, 2018 Published on October 10, 2018

While global warming poses a humongous challenge, there are signs of hope

Global warming has once again assumed centrestage, with two recent developments. The IPCC has set the tone for going beyond the agenda of the December 2015 Paris Agreement, by warning that world temperatures are set to increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels in just 12 years from now. According to the report, unless the world acts really quickly to reduce emissions and curtail temperature raises — faster than the voluntary targets or ‘nationally determined contributions’ agreed by 195 countries — it could cross an irreversible tipping point after which the effects of global warming could become exceedingly serious. The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction has observed that the economic cost of climate-related disasters touched $2.25 trillion over the last two decades, a 250 per cent rise over the previous 20 years.

If the IPCC has sought to take on climate change deniers such as Donald Trump, so has the Nobel Committee by awarding its economics prize to William Nordhaus and Paul Romer. Nordhaus’ work in particular deals with the interactions between climate and nature, being the “first person” to create an inter-disciplinary model that describes the interplay between the economy and climate. It can be used to “examine the consequences of climate policy interventions, for example carbon taxes”. On Romer’s work, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has said that his ‘endogenous growth theory’ “explains how ideas are different to other goods and require specific conditions to thrive in a market”. Their contributions are meant to provide “fundamental insights into the causes and consequences of technological innovation and climate change”. However, critics argue that their work does not take on the resource-driven growth process per se, the way the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth thesis as well as EF Schumacher's seminal Small is Beautiful did in the early ’70s. Be that as it may, the Nobel awards as well as the IPCC report will act as a strong influence in deliberations at the UN climate change conference to be held in Poland this December. The role of technological innovation in reducing emissions and the need to transfer these to developing countries has been a major sticking point in earlier climate talks. The Green Climate Fund needs generous infusions from the rich countries. At the Poland meet, the US and Canada are likely to come under pressure for persisting with the exploitation of fossil-fuel-based resources. Emission reductions depend hugely on the shift to renewables. India’s non-fossil-based power capacity is expected to touch 40 per cent (but that includes hydel, which destroys carbon sinks) by the end of 2018.

While the onus must lie on the rich countries to cut energy use, it must not be forgotten that India’s low per capita energy consumption (and emission) figures mask inequalities in energy access. Energy tariff reforms are called for. Another area that deserves policy attention is the role of green buildings in reducing energy consumption. In sum, it can no longer be business as usual.

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Published on October 10, 2018
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