Will the CoP26 be the turning point?

November 01, 2021 5:15 AM

India must build a new coalition of countries whose per capita emissions are below the global average

The current discussions essentially create a smokescreen for doing precisely that again at the COP 26 and this must be called out. (Representative image)The current discussions essentially create a smokescreen for doing precisely that again at the COP 26 and this must be called out. (Representative image)

By Deepak Gupta

The IPCC Report of October 2018 called for limiting rise of temperature at the end of the century to 1.5oC, which required a balance between sources and sinks of emissions leading to net zero emissions by 2050. This has become the central idea for COP 26. But it is embedded with ambiguities and contradictions. Its implications are not only highly inequitable but also dangerous for the climate itself, as pointed out even by a group of Western scientists.

A UN bulletin states that available NDCs of 190 countries show emissions of GHG will actually increase by 16% by 2030, instead of reducing by 45%. Global extreme weather events have set the alarm bells ringing because the very future of the planet now appears at stake. However, this idea potentially diverts from the real problems and actions required, such as the urgency of accelerated reduction of emissions by developed countries, and now China too, both getting shifted to some future date. And stock-taking of actions committed by the developed countries over the years and farming out an equitable carbon budget for the next three decades to give required space to developing countries since their emissions will necessarily increase.

The story of the climate change negotiations has been one of continuous failure of developed countries not only to not honour their commitments made at periodic conferences but at each to seek more from developing countries. The current discussions essentially create a smokescreen for doing precisely that again at the COP 26 and this must be called out. A gladiatorial clash is expected. And about time.

Developed countries will argue that the world has reached a stage where ALL countries have a responsibility to reduce emissions and that ALL must individually commit to the net zero target of 2050. This is evident in every statement of Western leaders and in all coverage in the Western press which I have been following diligently over the last few months. Surprisingly, India is being included amongst the bigger emitters, to argue that it has an important responsibility. The developed countries will continue to dilute the issue of financing assistance to developing countries laying emphasis on private sector investments, which may or may not come and avoid commitments on technical assistance. Their actions on the issue of vaccine developments in the pandemic are a sure pointer.

Therefore, India, along with other developing countries, has to make a strong case of climate justice and required assistance to be provided.

First, we have to insist that net zero emissions by 2050 should be a global target. It implies that countries such as India should get a longer time period while developed countries must have a net zero date of 2040 or earlier. Each developed country must come out with a time-bound plan for their emission reduction trajectory with these targets

Second, we must develop a new coalition of countries whose per capita emissions are below the global average. They should argue that all countries above this should have a net zero target of 2050. Those whose per capita is more than double should have a net zero by 2045. This will bring in countries like Australia, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Russia, Canada, etc. They together will make much greater impact than India.

Third, it is time that China is called out too. India and China cannot fall in the same bracket. China will emit by 2030 what India will do by 2060. So, in spite of what Kerry said publicly, putting China, US and India together, India is not the problem, China is. China’s emissions are no longer a developmental necessity but are that of a hegemonistic nation seeking to aggressively dominate the world. Therefore, China must now be asked to become net zero by 2040-45, not 2060 as it has promised. Nothing will succeed if China continues on its present path with peaking in 2030.

Fourth, we should ask for a global, multi-institutional research group working together in emerging technologies so that these become available in the public domain for all countries.

In this scenario, what can India promise? We are amongst the most vulnerable countries. We cannot be seen as a spoiler. We have made good promises in Paris and are the only G20 country on path to keep its commitments. Should India commit to net zero? There is a big ongoing debate, though the recent reports citing a top environment ministry bureaucrat seem to suggest that India is not going to take the West’s bait on this. I think we should promise 2070 with a promise to advance this deadline if the developed world delivers in a verifiable manner on its promises on finance and technological assistance. This would include, in India’s case, technology for hard-to-abate sectors, like steel, fertilisers and aviation and shipping, and through foreign investment, of developing massive capacities for domestic manufacture of solar ingots/wafers/cells; electrolysers and their components and different storage solutions. India must use this decade for consolidation in this area. We can promise more on lowering energy intensity of GDP and on creation of carbon sinks through forestry, both of which are much needed. We can’t commit more on creation of RE capacity, as it will be very difficult to fulfill the existing target of 450 GW in the absence of domestic manufacturing capability. We should also commit to no more coal plants after 2030. There are many other things which we need in any case to do which are getting neglected, but that is another story.

The author is Former secretary, MNRE, and former chairman, UPSC

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