The mean world of climate
The prime minister this week released India’s national action plan on climate change. For most of us, engaged in the business of environment and climate, it may seem that the plan has nothing new or radical to offer. But as I see it, firstly, it asserts that India can grow differently, because „it is in an early stage of development.“ In other words, it can leapfrog to a low carbon economy, using high end and emerging technologies and by doing things differently. Secondly, it prioritizes national action by setting our eight missions – ranging from solar to climate research – which will be detailed and then monitored by the prime minister’s council for climate change. These are the good part of the action plan.
But it is weak on how India sees the rest of the world in this extraordinary crisis. Let us be clear, climate change is a global challenge. This is a problem we did not create and even till date, we contribute little to global emissions. We are in fact climate-victims as it is vast parts of our lands and our people who will be worst affected by what science is predicting as the outcome of increasing temperatures – from extreme weather events to melting of glaciers in the Himalayas.
Let us also be clear that international negotiations on climate change, to put it politely, stink. The mood is downright mean, belligerent and selfish. The club of rich countries who in the past may have agreed to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (meaning that countries would act based on their responsibility to creating the problem) are learning the hard lessons of climate change. In the past 15 years, their greenhouse gas emissions have increased and not decreased, in spite of their commitment to do otherwise. Now, they want to find any which way to please their green constituency but also to balance their economic growth imperatives and ensure competitiveness of their industry.
Their strategy has many parts and players. Firstly, it lets the most climate-renegade nation, US, finger-point at China, India and other emerging countries saying that if they do not take action, it will not. Even if this means ignoring that US emissions, already one-fourth of the global total, are on the increase – 20 per cent increase in the past 15 years. And accepting that the US says its emissions will peak after 2025 – meaning 10 years after what scientists say is the least risky target for global emissions to peak and then decline. Secondly, it lets the guru of energy efficiency, Japan provide an alternative road-map, which will be a win-win solution for its industry. Thirdly, it let the green- czar, the European Union (EU) be tough in words, but give in at strategic moments, saying there is a need for pragmatism in global action.
The stage is now set for the last act of this deadly climate-play. Lets do a replay to catch up with current events.
Last year July at the G-8 summit in Germany, leaders of the rich world agreed to ’seriously consider a goal to halve world greenhouse gas emissions by 2050′. In December, Bali, Indonesia the EU went huffing and puffing to the conference of parties with a proposal to cut industrialised country emissions by 25-40 per cent over 1990 levels by 2020. At this meeting there was a complete turnaround, as targets disappeared and what emerged in its place was a twin-track approach, which would allow rich countries to set voluntary targets or just reduction objectives. Then, in February, Japan – the current G-8 president — came out with its proposal to set targets for 2050, not for total emissions but for emission intensity cuts in different sectors. This proposal provides for technology benchmarking of ‚polluting sectors‘ by all ‚major emitters‘ and the ‚transfer‘ of high quality technology to reduce emissions in these industries. It includes countries like India in taking on commitments; it then identifies sector-specific best technologies and practices, which are naturally held in countries like Japan so it becomes a big business opportunity. It then goes on to demand tariff reductions on these environmentally sound technologies. Now its pain can become its gain and it can sell expensive stuff to the poor polluting sods. Brilliant.
During this period, the US has fast-tracked its own climate attack. It had already scored a coup bringing all major emitters — China and India included – into one group, which blurred if not removed the difference between rich countries legally required to take action and others. It is said to have cajoled countries like India by offering amnesty – join my club and I will protect you from taking commitments. But with the domestic mood changing, the US government has also changed tack. Instead of no commitments, it wants China and India, to take on voluntary targets – called ‚aspirational‘ in its language. This way it brings them in but ends up protecting itself, as the targets for action are set, not for the interim – 2020 but for 2050. Long enough for it to agree to do nothing and for it to increase its emissions and grow its economy. Climate-murder. But who cares.
Japan, US (and all rich countries hiding behind their petticoats) are also bent on sweetening the deal further. They have proposed the change in base-year from when change in emissions will be measured. Currently, rich countries have to reduce over what they emitted in 1990, but that is tough for countries, which in this period have increased emissions; US by 20 per cent; Japan by 7 per cent; Australia by over 35 per cent. Even the EU has increased in most individual countries. So, Japan has proposed that the base-year should be ’shifted‘ to 2008 so that its growth is ‚forgiven‘. How convenient.
Last week, negotiators met in the city of Seoul confronted this agenda: US and Japan resisted interim targets for 2020 and made China and India the scapegoats. Next week at the Hokkaido Toyako G-8+ 5 meet, our prime minister will be given the same treatment. It is tough world there, not just because of the threat of climate change. It is time we suggested the way ahead – not just for us, but for the world.