Millennium Post

India, it’s time to commit now

Ahead of the imminent talks in Lima (Peru) and a binding legal treaty to curb carbon for emissions across the world to save the planet from the worst fallout, the United Nations (UN) has come out with a doable global carbon neutrality paradigm.  A comprehensive synthesis report of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) titled The Emissions Gap Report, just released, highlights “a worrisome worsening trend” in carbon dioxide emissions and pitches for global carbon neutrality by mid-to-late century.

This would help limit global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius and head off the worst effect of climate change that is reflected in a welter of devastating weather-related aberrations across continents in recent years including the one in Kashmir and Kedarnath earlier in India.

The report, a solid handiwork of hard-nosed 38 leading scientists from 22 research groups across 14 countries, pertinently and pointedly postulates that “taking more action now reduces the need for more extreme action later to stay within safe emission limits”.

The UN Under Secretary General and Executive Director UNEP Mr. Achim Stenier did not mince words when he maintained in the preface to the sleek report that “linking development policies with climate mitigation will help countries build the energy-efficient, low-carbon infrastructure of the future and achieve transformational change that echoes the true meaning of sustainable development”.  

It is altogether an unfortunate development that since 1990, global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) had leapt by more than 45 per cent and to have a likely change of staying below the 2 degrees limit, GHGs should drop by about 15 per cent or more by 2030 compared to 2010 and be at least 50 per cent lower by 2050 on the way to net zero, the report warns.

When so much responsibility is thrust on every country to do its mite, developed countries in general and emerging economies including China and India which are following economic reform policies to dovetail themselves into the global economy in particular remain impervious to the writing on the wall.

This is predicated on a fallacious presumption that sacrificing development for preservation of the balance of the planet responsibility is that of advanced countries which did the maximum damage to eco system in the past and that the emerging and developing economies need to catch up with them in the quality of life in a suicidal scramble in a race to the bottom!

It is not clear what the quality of life the rest of the world is seeking when the pollution of the planet has been accelerating to the dismay and ill-health of every inhabitant cutting across continents and countries.  Still, it can be argued that combating climate change is not out of compatibility with capitalism or pursuit of growth-propelling liberal economic agenda if countries adopt smart policies to be energy-efficient and switch over to non-fossil fuel to drive their development.

It is against this somber setting one can take comfort from the fact that the world’s two worst emitters of carbon  had at long last realized the folly of persisting with their eyes in the sand approach of more than two decades and stitched up a stunning deal.

On the margins of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (AEPC) Summit in Beijing in the third week of this month, the US President Mr. Obama and Chinese President Mr. Xi Jinping struck a landmark deal to commit cuts in their respective emissions.

Together these two countries accounting for about 40 per cent GHGs signaled the rest of the world to come on board by refocusing the agenda on climate change at a crucial juncture in the annals of global cooperation for survival of humanity itself.

While western analysts commended this deal, hard-core environmentalists doubted its efficacy describing it merely symbolic with no gain in the foreseeable future but to bully other reluctant countries to emulate them.

Under the US-China deal, the United States has committed to an absolute reduction in emissions of 26-28 per cent relative to its 2005 level before 2025, while the Middle Kingdom has committed to peaking its emissions not later than 2030 and raising the contribution of non-fossil fuel sources from the extant 10 to 20 per cent primary energy supply.   

Critics pooh-poohed this as a patch-up deal to restore Mr. Obama’s waning clout as the second-term President in the now largely Republican-controlled Senate where in any case anti-climate negotiation coalition would stoutly oppose any binding commitment.

The case of China is different as it need not worry about the political fallout within the country by way of any obstreperous opposition in the absence of or regulated political rights of civilians. Still, it speaks eloquently that both the leaders showed statesmanship in telling the world of their avowal that business-as-usual approach on climate talks would not do to make the planet a safe habitation, if not a haven, for humanity.  If mass weaponisation and subsequent disarmament marked the post world war global scenario till the later part of the last century, climate change and its tangible adverse consequences would be the main trope of this century as the time left for negotiation is past and credible action to arrest planetary defilement must start here and now.

Being a founder-member of BRICs and also G-20, India cannot shirk its role and responsibility by loftily contending that with about a minuscule six percent of global GHGs it is not in the same league as China, the US and the European Union (EU). Merely trotting out the pretext that “we are different and cannot be bracketed” with the Middle Kingdom in Asia in per capita terms will not carry us any farther as the associated consequence of inaction in terms of excessive emissions and worsening of the health of the demographically robust young population would be incalculable and implacable.

With a brittle public health infrastructure and private health care cost being prohibitive, India’s carbon-driven growth is bound to be ominous and costly.  

Experts on the issue have advocated India to push for carbon efficiency per unit of gross domestic product or plump for non-fossil fuel sources of energy.  Here India’s growing success in renewable energy comes handy if the authorities are able to craft a raft of incentives and bring down the cost of generation of this green energy that goes a long way in mending carbon- exposed landscapes of our country.

Incidentally, the now-defunct Planning Commission’s expert group on low carbon growth strategy had in its final report in April projected that the contribution of solar, wind, hydropower and biomass to electricity supply can pragmatically be pushed from the current six to 18 per cent by 2030. It had also estimated that a non-polluter with no carbon emission, the nuclear energy can bolster electricity supply from the over-dependent thermal route that entails emission and burning of fossil fuels mostly coal. The Modi Government may have its own agenda to replace the Plan panel with a think-tank policy advisory body but there is little harm in taking the expert views on the issue to hammer hard for a carbon-free and healthy Indian economy so that India need not leave a lethal legacy to its posterity. IPA
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