No climate for change

Indian fans have been celebrating how Jairam Ramesh?s proposals for International Consultation and Analysis for enhancing reporting for non-Annex 1 countries made it through.

Because, after lots of build-up, Copenhagen failed to yield an accord that was officially adopted, die-hard optimists clapped at Cancun. International press has been singing paeans to how Mexican foreign affairs minister Patricia Espinosa, the COP-16 president, sidelined Bolivia?s many objections by declaring that ?consensus does not mean unanimity,? then ruling that ?consensus? had been achieved and the Cancun Agreements adopted. Indian fans have been celebrating how Jairam Ramesh?s proposals for International Consultation and Analysis for enhancing reporting for non-Annex 1 countries made it through. Some take satisfaction in the fact that, in a first for an official UN agreement, countries agreed that deep cuts in global GHG emissions are required to hold the increase in global average temperature below 2? C above pre-industrial levels. Others are just happy that the Kyoto Protocol didn?t get its burial at Cancun.

But start looking for details in the Agreements, and you will be stumped. What?s the time frame for peaking GHG emissions? It will be ?considered? at COP-17 in Durban. How will developed country Parties actually provide enhanced support to developing country Parties? How will mitigation actions be subject to international measurement? Plenty of Indians, Americans and others will form a ?national sovereignty? wall before this happens. Where is the money for the Green Climate Fund coming from? The quantum of monies was decided at Copenhagen after all, and remains ill-met after a year.

The Kyoto Protocol set specific, strict, binding targets. Despite Japan?s vigorous protests, the Cancun Agreements keep alive the possibility of a second incarnation. But again, there are no details or binding commitments ?only an ad hoc working group aimed at completing its work ?as early as possible and in time to ensure that there is no gap between the first and second commitment periods?. If this is an admirable global pact, then, well, the IPCC?s fourth assessment 2007 report was endorsed by all the world?s governments.

IPCC goals find a rhetorical echo in the Cancun Agreements, which recognise ?the need to strengthen international cooperation and expertise to understand and reduce loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including impacts related to extreme weather events and slow onset events (including sea level rise, increasing temperatures, ocean acidification, glacial retreat and related impacts, salinisation, land and forest degradation, loss of biodiversity and desertification?.

But if existing emissions-cut commitments are not adequate to hold temperatures to the 2? C goal (which is equivalent to holding emissions at 450 ppm CO2-equivalent?see graph 1), then the real urgency of a GenY climate pact is to push more challenging commitments forward. By this criteria, we cannot call Cancun a success. It holds on to the ?common but differentiated responsibilities? enshrined in Kyoto Protocol. Annex 1 Parties are to improve the reporting of information. Developing country Parties are to ?enhance mitigation actions, depending on the provision for finance, technology and capacity-building support provided? by Annex 1 countries. Yet, non-OECD countries account for 93% of the projected increase in world primary energy demand as per IEA. Others argue that more than 50 non-Annex 1 countries now have higher per capita income than the the poorest of Annex 1 countries. How can the world move forward on a common pact purely on the basis of historical rather than present and future emissions?

In an American Economic Review paper, Benjamin Jones and Benjamin Olken show that if a poor country is 1? C warmer in a given year, its exports come down by as much as 5.7% while there is no comparable effect on a richer country. This is beyond the kind of vulnerabilities seen in UNFCCC research. In the face of such multiplying vulnerabilities, it makes little sense to hold on to dogmatic positions that offer no real protection from global warming. It is in this context that the Ramesh push for enhancing reporting for the non-Annex 1 Parties makes sound sense.

Our environment minister has already announced that India will cut carbon intensity?the amount of CO2 emitted for each unit of GDP?by 20-25% between 2005-2020. This is not too onerous a commitment given that our carbon intensity declined by 17.6% over the previous 15 years anyway, and given that China has announced a 40-45% target. The problem is that India cannot commit too much till other players do the same, via an ambitious global pact. The Cancun Agreements don?t deserve this title.

So it is that the 2? C goal appears really distant. As the IEA warns, in the absence of new policies today, demand for fossil fuels will keep rising through to 2035. By then, the required emission reductions will be too steep and long-term temperature rise will look like 3.5? C or more.

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First published on: 18-12-2010 at 22:23 IST