Roadmap for India Ahead of Paris Climate Talks

Published: 19th September 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 19th September 2015 12:47 AM   |  A+A-

From Lima, the capital of Peru, to Paris, what will be India’s role in the global debate on climate change and emissions? Prakash Javadekar, Union Minister of Environment and Forests, addressing the first meeting of the environment ministers of BRICS nations in Moscow, had said that India, by launching various campaigns like — ‘Fresh Air, My Birthright,’ ‘Save Water, Save Energy,’ ‘Grow More Plants,’ and ‘Urban Green’ — wants  to lead the developing nations with greater stress on need-based consumption. The Paris talks on climate change will unfold this December and it is time to prepare well and do our homework, before India moves to the negotiating table.  Without sound preparation we will fumble in Paris. The US and China, the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, have agreed to cut emissions — the US by 26-28 per cent in 2025 over its 2005 levels. China will peak its emissions by 2030 and then, start cutting, but in the meantime, it has committed to produce some 1,000 gigawatts of carbon-free energy. The European Union also proposes to raise its share of renewable sources by 27 per cent in total consumption by 2030.

In Brisbane, during the G20 Summit, US President Barack Obama had said, “If China and the US can agree on this, we can get this done,” and announced a US $3 billion fund for climate mitigation to the UN-backed Climate Mitigation Fund. These voluntary assurances do not unambiguously show the contours of a roadmap for climate mitigation with no penalties for missed targets. Disturbingly, Russia, Australia, Canada and Japan are doing far less than they had earlier promised, especially going by the original Kyoto Protocol.

The 26 to 28 per cent reduction in emissions over 2005, which the US has promised, too is less than the 30 per cent promised at the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, where both Obama and the Chinese President were present in addition to leaders from Europe. China is allowed unlimited emissions until 2030, though it has set a goal of raising its share of renewable energy use. The UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) endorses the two degree Celsius cap route endorsed by scientists the world over, which entails emission reductions of 40 to 70 per cent by 2050 over 2010 levels and, hopefully, to zero by 2100. Against this backdrop, the pledges of the US, China and EU are insufficient, to say the least.

For India, the big question ahead of the Paris talks is: decline to cut emissions and risk the pain of isolation among the comity of nations, especially the most powerful, or succumb to external pressure? China emits 8,500 gigatons of carbon, the US 5,400, EU 3,800, India 1,900, Russia 1,800 and Japan 1,300, as of 2012. India is the fourth biggest carbon emitter in the world, and emits a quarter of China’s and a third of the US levels. Russia emits as much as India, yet the focus of China, the US and the EU is India. Why?

The emissions-cut pledges do not bind India for a cut in Paris. Emission calculations are based on fossil fuel use, not renewable energy. The latest global energy reports suggest that increasing the share of renewables will prevent a lock-in on fossil fuel-dependent technology. It is in India’s interest to enhance the share of renewables in the energy mix. Paris will see pressure on India as the energy superpowers will want pledges of huge cuts. As things stand, there is no reason why we should. But this line of argument may cut no ice. So, what do we do at Paris?

Four options are available to India: 1) Let there be no reduction until we achieve economic stability. India has a young population and it could expand emissions until or even after 2050, when the urban transition and industrialisation will almost be complete, and carbon emission will stabilise; 2) We could propose to peak emissions by 2050, and commit a 25-30 per cent reduction below 2005 levels by 2025; 3) Increase the share of renewable energy to 20 per cent, same as China, in total energy consumption by 2030. Solar, wind and biomass electricity can enhance renewable contribution from 6 to 18 per cent by 2030. An important rider to this will be to switch from the highly extractive agriculture, euphemistically called the Green Revolution, to organic farming. Kerala is set to go completely organic by 2016, others can follow;  4) India must demand firm timeliness and financial commitments from the super rich and super emitters for climate control strategies. This will help the poorer land-locked nations and island nations around the country to come closer to India. Lastly, we must relentlessly press the US, China and the European Union, the biggest polluters, to curb emissions by 40 to 70 per cent by 2050 over the 2010 levels.

In the tug of war between the rich and the poor nations, Lima turned out to be an exercise of little scientific relevance. The agreement sets out guidelines for the submission of national greenhouse gas (primarily carbon dioxide) pledges by this year. It is obvious that the initial ambitious goals became less so by the day. So, against the backdrop of extreme weather in the Philippines and potentially, the hottest year on record, governments at the UN climate negotiations opted for a half-baked plan to cut emissions.

There is one point these conferences routinely miss. The world over, climate negotiators harp ad nauseam on carbon dioxide as the principal culprit in global warming, ignoring the potentially more dangerous nitrous oxide, a byproduct of chemically intensive agriculture. One gram of nitrous oxide stays put in the atmosphere for about 350 years. The equivalent number for carbon dioxide is 50 years. This should give an idea of Green Revolution’s role in global warming. It is no coincidence that the US is the biggest contributor of nitrous oxide because of its chemical-intensive farming practices. But the fertiliser lobby simply looks the other way when knowledgeable people point this out. Our own fertiliser lobby is no exception.

India’s experience with chemical fertiliser intensive Green Revolution has been disastrous. Punjab, the cradle of Green Revolution, stands testimony to this with degraded soil, dried aquifers, polluted ground water and vanished bio-diversity. Ministers and UN officials are busy overstating the “achievements of Lima,” but the truth is that too much has been left for Paris to sort out. Without the presence of heads of state, Paris will again fumble like Lima. For India, the crucial question is do we go by the Mahatma’s dictum, “There is everything in this world to meet man’s need but not greed,” or the late Chinese President Deng’s statement that “It is glorious to be rich.” The choice is up to the Modi government.

The author is an  agricultural scientist and formerly professor of the National Science Foundation.

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