Sunday, November 24, 2013

Climate Change Discussions

Recent Developments in the Climate Change Discussions and the Indian Case - Tirthankar Mandal

Climate change has put before the global community an epochal development and environmental challenge. The overriding complexity of the problem is attributed to its deeper global ramifications on a vast range of issues impacting the very survival of life on Earth. Understanding such a complex issue with vast and varied dimensions and implications, assumes greater significance for all stakeholders, especially for our policy makers. There are varieties of perceptions regarding the exact size and consequences of climate change. Yet, it is no secret that risks emanating from climate change are indeed profound, which call for urgent mitigation. India, in this whole milieu of things and complexities, is in a very tricky situation and faces a multiplicity of challenges. On one hand India is home to a large number of poor and vulnerable people in the world rendering itself to be affected adversely by the impacts of climate change, and on the other, to meet the development needs, India has been arguing that it needs emission space for GHGs for the time to come in future. This brings to the forefront the question of prioritizing development versus meeting climate change obligations.  In the domain of climate change negotiations, developing countries, including India have been arguing for the right to develop, which in turn requires emission space to meet the goals of development.  This then requires a share of the burden of emission reductions between the group of developed and developing countries in order to avoid violating the planetary boundary limits in future.
The following figure (Figure 1) shows a global emission pathway (red line) consistent with a reasonable probability of keeping warming below 2°C (It assumes a budget of about 1,700 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e) for the first half of the 21st century, which still carries an unsettlingly high one-in-four chance that warming will exceed 2°C. It also shows an Annex 1 emission pathway (blue), with the Annex 1 countries undertaking ambitious mitigation actions, sufficient to drive emissions down by 40 per cent by 2020 and 90 per cent by 2050 (relative to 1990 emission levels). Having stipulated a global trajectory and an Annex 1 trajectory, simple subtraction reveals the carbon budget (shown in green) that would remain to support the South’s development. Despite the apparent stringency of the Annex 1 trajectory, the atmospheric space remaining for developing countries would be alarmingly small. Developing country emissions would have to peak only a few years later than those in the North – still before 2020 – and then decline by nearly 90 per cent by 2050. And this would have to take place while most of the South’s citizens are still struggling to maintain or improve their livelihoods and raise their material living standards.
Figure 1: Global Limits of 2 Degree C Pathways
Source: Kartha (2011)[1]

Recent Developments in the Climate Change Policymaking:
There has been lot of focus on the reductions of emissions originating from the big developing countries such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, and Philippines to name a few, on the premise that the recent emissions have seen a larger growth in these countries due to their increased economic activities, and also in future these are the regions where the emission is going to grow most. At the same time it has been observed that the ambition of the global community has been on downward spiral with each passing climate Conference of Parties (COP) every year (Khor 2013)[2]. This happened at the backdrop where almost each and every global climate research agency depicted a picture of increasingly threatened world in the future. For the developing countries, each COPs turned out to be baby steps while the world required quantum of progress to avoid the catastrophic climate change.
On one hand, the developed countries are increasingly getting non-committal about their commitments for emission reduction as required by science and on the other there has been increased pressure by the global communities for enhanced emission reductions by the large developing countries due to their current emission growth. On another count, the developed countries have been also non-committal on the support through finance and technology for the developing countries to take up enhanced actions on climate change. This has resulted in breach of trust between the developed and the developing countries to develop a global effort sharing mechanism through these negotiations.
In this milieu, the Indian stand in the climate change negotiations is often being questioned. India is among those countries of the world, which has seen exponential growth in its current emission of GHG (Dubash 2009)[3]. Indian position has been rooted in the belief that the focus of burden sharing should be based on equitable and fair principles of global effort sharing. The core of this argument, according to India, lies in the historical responsibility of developed countries that have occupied bulk of the atmospheric space due to the emissions of the past.  Due to this skewed situation, coupled with rising trends of future emissions, India has been demanding a deep cut from the developed countries to compensate their past emissions. This will ensure that adequate atmospheric space is available for the developing countries like India to grow and meet their developmental needs.  In this regard it is also necessary to put the bigger picture of emissions scenarios against the context of developmental needs and climate change.
In the latest reports from the UNEP (2012)[4] and UNFCCC (2013)[5], it has been observed that the countries are falling short of the emissions as required by science. Even if the developed countries meet their higher end of the targets there would be substantial gap in meeting the levels of emissions reductions as required by science. This brings us back to the situation where the developing countries would need to take up ambitious emissions reductions for keeping the limits of temperature rise to 2 degree C of the pre-industrial level. Therefore, countries like India and others need to enhance their emission reduction efforts to meet the gap. India has been arguing that development goals are priority and the developed countries must take up the lead in emission reductions.
The issues of emission reductions efforts by countries are based on the principles and provisions of the Convention. Of late India has been championing the cause of equitable sharing of emission reductions burden based on the principles of the Convention. This has been the core fundamental of the agreement at Durban in 2011. However, the Durban agreement marks a shift from what India has been arguing till recently that the current cause of emissions and adverse changes in the climate are more due to the stock of carbon and GHGs that has been accumulated historically and not because of the current emissions and therefore, the developed countries should take the onus of reductions. The Durban agreement adopts a stance which iterates that the principles of equity in efforts to reduce the emissions should rule the emissions reductions paradigm of the future. In this regard, however, India has not come forward with a proposal about how to operationalize the principles of equity as laid down in the Convention which will meet the objectives of development and also keep the global emissions under admissible levels. It is seen by the global community as tactics to delay the negotiations, but there is no denial of the fact that the developed countries have also not lived up to their leadership role as they are supposed to be doing.
Providing support in the form of finance and technology for undertaking climate actions in the developing countries has been at the core to develop a fair and equitable mechanism globally. In this case as well, the developed countries have performed miserably. Except for setting up structures of global finance and technology mechanism there has been little progress over the last few years. Further, the global finance mechanism and the technology mechanism is seen as a half-baked cake as they do not have the adequate amount of funding available for supporting actions in the developing countries. This has not gone down well with the countries like India, China, and other big developing countries as they consider this as breach of trust from the developed country counterparts.
What could be done in future?
The most important deficiency in the system is the lack of political will and trust among the countries. On one hand the developed countries have been minimally ambitious in putting the targets of emission reductions for their own, and on the other, putting pressure on the developing countries to meet the gap that is emerging on the premise that the current emission for these developing countries are more than their own share. Secondly, the developed countries have not performed on allocating funds and technology support for climate actions in the developing countries.  Therefore whenever a discussion on emission reduction happens within the climate regime, the developed countries have failed to assure the developing countries about science-based actions to save the global community from catastrophes.
The global community should involve in a discussion that would identify the operationalization of equitable effort sharing mechanism in emission reductions. For India, it could mean coming out with clear vision of emission reductions which will state its priorities both globally and internationally. Also the actions it has been undertaking recently under various fronts should be properly communicated. Currently the country is seen as obstructionist force. It therefore requires changing the views towards becoming constructionist one and also not compromising on the developmental goals it has set for countries.
India needs to change its strategy for communicating to the world about its actions on climate change and its obligations domestically. The global community has been getting mixed views about the country. On one hand India has been claiming the inability to undertake deeper cuts on the premise of immediate development needs and lack of capacity, on the other, it wants to evolve as global power. Being a global power send a different signal about the overall capacity and capability of a country. In the domain of climate change this positioning of India is slightly problematic and should be more strategic. It should clearly lay down the actions it has been undertaking and communicate to the world about its intention to undertake further actions with appropriate conditionality so that it need not compromise on the development goals.
Finally, India should build strategic alliances with the countries from the blocs like Small Island states, LDCs, and other vulnerable countries as they form a substantial force within the G77 and China which India is also part of. This would ensure that the predicaments of India are well understood and we can avoid a situation where these countries stood firmly behind the collective positions of G77 and China at the negotiations. One of the fears the vulnerable groups of countries from Small Islands, LDCs perceive is that the big developing countries will attract all the international climate finance available and this fear needs to be addressed at the earliest to keep the coalition of the developing countries intact so that adequate pressure can be put against the low level of ambition for the developed countries. This is a situation where developing countries cannot afford to be seen as a divided house.

[1] Kartha, S (2011): Discourses—Global South, in Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society edited by John S. Dryzek, Richard B. Norgaard, & David Schlosberg

[2] Khor, M (2013): Doha 2012: A Climate Conference of Low Ambitions, Economic and Political Weekly, Jan 12, 2013, XLVIII No.2

[3] Dubash, N (2009): Climate Politics in India: Toward a Progressive Global and Indian Politics, Working Paper (2009/1), CPR Initiative, CPR, New Delhi.

[4]UNEP 2012: The Emissions Gap Report 2012. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi

[5] UNFCCC (2013):

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