An ugly dichotomy
India should take a leading stand against the emergence of climate economy which has led to the dumping of polluting industries towards the global south
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), established by the UN in 1988, has published its sixth Assessment Report (AR6) in August 2021. The report unequivocally observed that 'human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land'. Global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2 degrees Celsius will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades. AR6 concluded that limiting human-induced global warming to a specific level requires limiting cumulative CO2 emissions, reaching at least net zero CO2 emissions, along with strong reductions in other greenhouse gas emissions.
Against this background, the 26th Conference of Parties (CoP26) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) would begin in Glasgow on October 31. The first conference (CoP1) was held in 1995 in Berlin.
It is reported that the official agenda of the two-week meeting at Glasgow is to finalise the rules and procedures for implementation of the Paris Agreement (2015), which was supposed to have been completed by 2018.
Politics of climate change
Until the 1970s, the scientists discussed the possibility of a return of the Ice Age. Then from the mid-1980s onwards, especially after the Chernobyl Nuclear disaster in 1986, a section of scientists and policymakers directed our attention to a gradual rise of the earth's average surface temperature.
The global climate change problem has two components
(i) Depletion of ozone layer: The chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the man-made 'miracle' gases of the 1930s, were identified as the main cause of ozone depletion. And to implement the phasing out plan of ozone-depleting substances (ODS), most of the countries had unanimously agreed to the Montreal Protocol (1987). Interestingly, during the ODS phase-out period, a huge quantity of HCFC was transferred to the developing South from the developed nations, as the Montreal Protocol had allowed the use of hydrochlorofluorocarbon in the developing countries!
(ii) Rise of atmospheric temperature: Higher concentrations of few inorganic and organic compounds like carbon-dioxide and methane in the atmosphere have been identified as the major cause behind global warming and the 'greenhouse effect'.
The concern for global warming had arisen from the prediction of a general circulation model (GCM), which indicated gradual warming of atmospheric temperature resulting in dramatic climate change, melting of polar ice, and drowning of low coastal areas in the near future. This complex model however provoked a lot of controversy among scientific communities about its accuracy. Questions were raised about the veracity of the claims of the global warming phenomena.
To address this issue, the UN had formed an IPCC in 1988. Climate change in IPCC usage 'refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity'. In their first Assessment Report (AR1), published in 1990, IPCC identified 'natural variability' as the main cause of global warming. But this did not satisfy the business lobby and a group of global leaders (the Club of Rome) who wanted to convert this crisis into an opportunity.
The Club of Rome, established in 1968, believed that the possibilities of continuous economic growth have been exhausted and timely action is essential in order to avert a planetary collapse. Their first report, 'The Limits to Growth' (1972 made a tremendous influence on academia, policymakers, and environmental activists across the globe. It had predicted that by the year 2000, the world would face an environmental holocaust due to overpopulation and other environmental problems.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the cold war came to an end, and the need for a huge defence budget for national security reduced considerably. In this transition phase, again, the Club of Rome came out with a new prescription in their widely-read book, the 'First Global Revolution' (1991). It wrote, 'in searching for a common enemy against which we can unite, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine, and the like, would fit the bill.' (p 75)
The authors cautioned, "All these dangers are caused by human intervention in natural processes and it is only through changed attitudes and behaviour that they can be overcome. The real enemy then is humanity itself." (p75). They advised linking 'global warming' with human activities because the 'real enemy is humanity itself'!
The 1992 Rio Earth Summit, aimed at saving the mother earth, apart from leading to the formation of UNFCCC, had put emphasis primarily on three important issues: (i) sustainable development; (ii) protection of biodiversity; (iii) global warming.
Climate change in UNFCCC usage "refers to a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and that is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods." In this new definition the cause of climate change has been assumed to be linked to human activities!
The differences in the views of IPCC and UNFCCC came out more nakedly in 2012 when the renowned science magazine 'Scientific American' blamed IPCC saying, "across two decades and thousands of pages of reports, the world's most authoritarian voice of climate science has consistently understated the rate and intensity of climate change and the danger those impacts represent". Interestingly, since then IPCC has consistently (refer to AR5, AR6) upgraded their confidence level towards a human-induced cause of climate change.
Once human-induced carbon emission and global warming were widely accepted as the major threats, the world economy was left with two options: (i) reduce the total energy consumption, drastically, (ii) reduce the consumption of fossil fuel, biogas, firewood and substitute these energy sources with a cleaner form of energy. The first option was not feasible immediately with the existing structure of the world economy. The solution to the global warming problem was linked to the second alternative. A vigorous search for a benign and stable alternative source was initiated all over the world. However, at the end of the day, the 'global warming' thesis strengthened the position of nuclear energy.
Public opinions were built systematically to consolidate the position of nuclear energy in the context of global warming. The Rio Earth Summit had actually strengthened the hands of the nuclear lobby. The media and opinion-makers echoed the arguments put forward by the nuclear establishment. For example, in India, Raj Chengappa, a renowned columnist, advocated (India Today June 15, 1992) for considering nuclear energy in a 'big way'. Simultaneously, the Communist Party of India (Marxists) also demanded a nuclear power plant in West Bengal, and on March 2, 2006, India and USA had entered into a civilian nuclear deal where India promised to separate its civilian and military installations in return for uninterrupted supply of uranium and access to advanced nuclear technology to fuel growing energy needs.
For the developed nations, especially Japan and Western European countries, the energy crisis was at their doorsteps. In the early 1990s, OPEC possessed 70 per cent of global oil reserves and its supplies were forecast to last for another 90 years, whereas for the rest of the world, oil had a life expectancy of only 17 years (OPEC Bulletin, Feb.'92). The USA and Russia were two exceptions with adequate hydrocarbon reserves. This could be one of the reasons why, at the Rio-Earth Summit, the USA was a 'reluctant participant' and the Russian president did not even visit the summit!
The emergence of a Climate Economy
The major beneficiaries of the climate economy are (i) green technology providers and their consultants; (ii) traders of clean air. Clean air is mostly traded in units of CERs (certified emission reductions). One unit of CER is equivalent to one tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) avoided or removed from the atmosphere. EU-ETS (European Union–Emission Trading System) is the largest trading market for emission reduction certificates. The greenhouse gas brokers have organised themselves in various lobby groups such as the Emissions Marketing Association (EMA) and International Emission Trading Association (IETA). They bring together consultants and corporations from around the world.
While a climate economy formally came into existence after the signing of the Montreal Protocol (1987) and pollution got formally transferred to the developing countries, the signing of the Kyoto Protocol (1987) created a huge market for green technology and emission trading. In their third annual meet (CoP3) at Kyoto, UNFCCC agreed to a Protocol on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. US President Bush had withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 as he thought it would "severely damage the United States' economy"!
After the exit of the USA, the Russian Federation announced, in 2004, that it would ratify the Protocol in exchange for EU support for Russia's admission to the WTO. Commenting on this, the Economic and Political Weekly of India in their editorial (16.10. 2004), wrote, "…… the manner in which the EU, for instance, has gone about 'persuading' Russia to sign the protocol gives rise to suspicions that this is now less about the environment and more about business". Ultimately, KP got ratified in 2005.
The Kyoto Protocol was negotiated to transform the UNFCCC goals into legally binding policies. The protocol set individualised carbon dioxide emissions targets for each of the Annex I parties (industrialised countries including 'economies in transition' like the Russian Federation), which would add up to a total reduction of 5.2 per cent below the level of their collective emissions in 1990 during the commitment period, 2008-2012. The developing countries have been grouped as Non-Annex I countries and they had no emission reduction targets. With the introduction of Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), applicable to Non-Annex I countries, a huge market for green technology and CERs was created by KP.
In 2012, the emission data revealed that instead of reducing, the global GHG emission has increased by over 50 per cent. In China, the increase was around 287 per cent! Taking advantage of the non-binding provision of KP for non-Annex 1 countries, polluting industries and processes were shifted from the developed to developing countries. Imported crude oil now gets processed in the Indian refineries and petroleum products are exported.
After the great recession of 2008, the developed countries realised that they won't be able to keep their commitment made to the Kyoto Protocol. So, they made it defunct during CoP 15 at Copenhagen where the US President re-joined UNFCCC and stole the show. Meanwhile, the USA had initiated VER (Verified Emission Reduction) trading similar to the trading of CERs in Annex 1 countries of KP. Thus, the USA became an active player in the climate economy. Meanwhile, China has also emerged as a major beneficiary of the climate economy. They now dominate the global renewable energy market.
In CoP21 at Paris, the green market was further expanded with the introduction of a new approach called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) where 175 countries, including India, have committed (though non-binding) to reduce carbon emission to a certain specific level.
Role of India
India should take the lead to set the agenda for climate justice. In WTO negotiations, many times India and China, along with the G20 members, had successfully stalled unethical and exploitative moves of the developed nations. In climate negotiations also, China and India should collaborate and demand an acceptable un-exploitative agreement.
India should not dilute its stand on the 'polluters must pay' principle and insist that all the pending commitments, made during CoP3, Cop15, CoP21, must be fulfilled first before any further commitments. In Copenhagen (CoP 15) it was promised that richer countries will provide USD 100 bn per year to the Climate Fund. Till 2019, only USD 79.6 per cent has been raised. This needs to be flagged in the Glasgow conference (CoP26)
Transitional arrangements from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the defunct Kyoto Protocol to the Sustainable Development Mechanism (SDM) of the Paris Climate Agreement (clause 6.4) should be done on priority. Currently, one CER is traded at below USD 0.5 and huge investments made by developing nations in CDM projects have been sunk.
UNCTAD study has revealed that if the European Union initiates its proposed Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), a kind of Carbon Tax, it will negatively impact the developing countries' exports in favour of developed nations. How much loss of export revenues would be compensated should be clarified and an acceptable solution must be arrived at before the EU or any other nation implements the same.
India should propose 'compulsory licensing' for all types of green technology that would be used for carbon mitigation for a sustainable world.
The climate agreements have failed to mitigate greenhouse gases. During the last few decades emission has increased. Unfortunately, the rate of increase was much higher in emerging economies like China, India; Brazil et al. Polluting industries have been shifted from the developed North to the developing South. Thus, the world is getting divided between green and indigo economies. Citizens of the developing countries like India are swallowing, like mythological Lord Shiva, the poison of the northern countries and turning Indigo-necked (Nilkantha)! This unethical practice of weaponisation of climate, by a few developed nations, to boost their economy at the expense of the developing South must be halted.
Views expressed are personal