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Voices of a Subcontinent grappling with Climate Change

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The Long Road to Ratification: India Signs Paris Climate Agreemen

This article was originally published by the Center for Global Development.

By Kartikeya Singh and Jennifer Richmond

Since the start of international negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), India helped lead the global South in demanding its rightful share of the global carbon budget, while simultaneously wagging a finger at the developed world for creating and exacerbating the climate problem. India has struggled to do so while accounting for the fact that unabated climate change will continue to inflict devastating impacts on the Indian people, especially those who are poorest and most vulnerable. Yet on October 2, India signaled its serious commitment to climate action by ratifying the Paris Climate Agreement, which is the most promising international climate agreement since the hailed success of the Montreal Protocol agreement from 1987.

India’s ratification will shrink the remaining margin needed for the agreement to enter into force. A total of 55 countries, who produce at least 55 percent of global emissions, is required for the agreement to take effect. Currently, 61 parties have ratified, accounting for 47.79 percent of emissions. India adds another 4.1 percent of emissions, bringing the total to 62 parties and 51.89 percent of emissions.

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Changing discourse and the road ahead

The road to ratification has not been easy for a country of over one billion people, nearly 400 million of whom lack access to reliable electricity and over 20 percent of the country lives under the poverty line ($1.90/day). The timeline here highlights major milestones in India’s domestic and foreign climate-related energy policies. A closer examination of these markers reveals a struggle between ideologies and ground realities.

Historically, India has sought compensation from industrialized countries who exploited cheap, carbon-intensive expansion at the expense of the global South’s opportunities for growth. But in an increasingly hot world where India’s summer heat waves are reaching inhospitable temperatures, continuing to pursue a stalwart position on climate action would not even be self-serving at this point. In May of this year, the state of Rajasthan recorded India’s highest temperature ever: 123.8 degrees Fahrenheit. A recent study projected that parts of South Asia and North Africa are experiencing temperature increases at a rate that may make certain areas uninhabitable by the end of the 21st century. This is exacerbated by other major stressors attributed to climate change, such assea-level risedesertification, and increasing mortality due to industrial air pollution.

Balancing climate action with growth continues to present a challenge for India’s leadership. Gaining access to energy is key to unlocking economic growth, essential for tackling India’s poverty. India has vast coal reserves and will continue to tap into them to connect millions of citizens to the grid, but the Modi government also aims to increase its mix of renewables to meet 40 percent of the country’s electricity demand by 2030. This makes sense given that India is now the third largest greenhouse gas emitter after China and the US (excluding the EU) and is projected to continue growing steadily with a current economic growth rate of 7.5 percent. Ultimately, India’s political will to emerge as a responsible superpower and mounting pressures to abate the worst impacts of a shifting climate have reshaped its posture as a leader in international climate negotiations.

Domestic policy action

India’s educated middle class is rapidly expanding and will require millions of new jobs, nudging the government to create employment opportunities while ensuring secure energy in the context of a climate-constrained world. The Modi government has announced several national missions that promote greater energy security by developing more renewables at scale. India has also realized its potential to save energy, especially among its fleet of coal-fired power plants. India’s energy efficiency programs and the desire to foster a business environment that supports low-carbon technologies, such as electric vehicles, could make it a leader in both these sectors.

Partnerships for progress

India’s proposed actions to address climate change through a web of policies at the national and subnational levels may serve as a blueprint for nations interested in driving clean energy innovations. However, the country cannot do it alone. India has acknowledged that it will need the help of partner countries to achieve its ambitious energy goals. Rather than developing independent agendas, multilateral development institutions and bilateral partnerships should aim to help India meet its impressive targets. Simultaneously, to make these partnerships productive, India should be more transparent about its progress on achieving its targets. India’s commitment to ratify the Paris Climate agreement sends a strong message, but the leadership’s determination to pull off such a comprehensive and long-term effort demands successively concerted action over the next several years.


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A Whole INDsea of Issues OR Incrementally Nonsensical Difficult and Confusing

Pandora Batra 

Seeing as large international organisations telling individual countries what to do and how to do it hasn’t really worked so far, in the lead up to the COP 21 countries have been asked to provide their own ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contributions.’ (INDCs). These take the form of a report from each of the UNFCCC parties (countries) outlining what they are going to do to reduce CO2 emissions and help their populations adapt to the impacts of climate change.

You may have seen mention of India’s INDCs in the news recently as they were released on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday (2nd October, 2015) and have created quite a stir in the Indian and global climate change community.

The main Indian INDCs in the report were:

To reduce the emissions intensity of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 33% to 35% by 2030 from 2005 level.

Translation: rather than making absolute reductions in emissions they are pledging to reduce the amount of GHG emissions released per unit of GDP.  They are saying they will continue to develop but reduce the amount of emissions that this development causes.

To achieve 40% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel based energy resources by 2030.

Translation: “installed capacity” means that lots of solar parks/ wind turbines/ hydro and nuclear power plants will be built but that the actual electricity generated from these non-fossil fuel technologies will be lower due to transmission and and generation losses.

To better adapt by enhancing investments in vulnerable sectors.

To create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of co2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

Translation: Plant many trees..but what kind of trees? And newly planted mono-culture trees do not a forest make!

To better adapt, to mobilize domestic and new and additional funding from developed countries and to build capacities for improving research and development (R&D) opportunities and implement the above mitigation and adaptation strategies.

The reactions to India’s INDCs have been varied; Climate Action Tracker  which assesses the ambitiousness of each countries targets places India in the medium category, better than countries like the US and Russia but not as ambitious as countries like Brazil and China. Climate Action Tracker also claims that India is likely to over-achieve on its targets without having to update or implement any new policies. i.e. If India sticks to the targets they had made before the INDCs came out then they will overachieve on the INDC targets. Basically, the INDCs don’t really change anything, they are a nice bit of motivation and publicity but the targets aren’t moving India towards reducing its emissions faster or more efficiently.

What does this mean in global terms? Do the INDCs add up to the 2°C target? Well, according to a recent report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) the answer, simply put, is no. In fact the IEA report stated that “If stronger action is not forthcoming after 2030, the path in the INDC Scenario would be consistent with an average temperature increase of around 2.6 °C by 2100 and 3.5 °C after 2200,”

Contact: Pandora Batra- pandora.batra@hotmail.com


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COP 21 for Dummies- What is COP? What is UNFCCC?

Christopher de Vreese

It is important to go over the basics before we move onto the more complex issues surrounding the international climate change debate. This blog post aims to paint a broad picture of what the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) is and explain; how it is important; what is at stake; and how it is different to the past Climate Change Conferences.

The Conference of the Parties (COPs) serve as formal meetings that take place within the mandate of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ‘UNFCCC’, between all 196 member states of the United Nations. (The UNFCCC is currently considered the only legitimate international environmental treaty, due in part to its virtually universal membership). The treaty itself did not set binding limits on greenhouse gas ‘GHG’ emissions (CO2, Methane, etc) for individual countries and contains no enforcement mechanisms. Instead, it provides a framework for negotiating specific international treaties (called ‘Protocols’ or ‘Agreements’), that may set binding limits on greenhouse gases.

The Parties to the convention therefore meet annually since 1995, in COPs, to assess the progress in dealing with climate change, and hopefully establish legally binding obligations on reducing GHG Emissions. In the mid-1990s, the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated to establish legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, however it did proved to be a failure due to lack of commitment and enforcement. The COP15 in 2009 (a.k.a The Copenhagen Negotiations) also attempted to create a worldwide legally binding Climate Change Treaty, but lack of consensus between developed and developing countries on various issues resulted in a non binding treaty called the Copenhagen Accord.

This brings us to the COP21, (or 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference), which aims to bring together all the Member States, regardless of their level of economic development, under a single climate change regime. However this climate change treaty, if agreed, will be different in form and nature from its predecessors.

The Treaty will have 2 dimensions, which will combine a Top-Down approach (International Legally Binding Aspects) and Bottom-Up approach (National Non-Legally Binding Aspects) into one treaty. The first dimension will try to tie together the different parties through a common thread called the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The INDCs are basically non-legally binding commitments that each country will make in order to reduce GHG emissions and to adapt to the effects of climate change. When all these INDCs are brought together they should, in theory, limit global warming to below 2.0 °C (3.6 °F) relative to the pre-industrial level. The second dimension, or the legally binding aspect, will be the international framework covering issues such as means of implementations, which will include components surrounding financing, technology transfer mechanisms as well as monitoring and review mechanisms. The aim of this dimension, will be thus to create a common and transparent framework from which all the member states can measure their climate change actions under the same criteria.

The reason why this COP is so important, for the world and the youth of India, is because we are running out of time and carbon space in order to meet the 2.0 °C target. If we do not find a common framework in Paris with common definitions and goals on how tackle climate change, the consequence will be the inability to act effectively over the next 15 years and a growing vulnerability towards the effects of climate change. It is therefore also your responsibility to make your voice heard!

Contact: Christopher de Vreese- christopher.dv@hotmail.com