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Copenhagen Talks:SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS MUST, by Dhurjati Mukherjee,11 December 2009 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 11 December 2009

Copenhagen Talks


By Dhurjati Mukherjee

It is now quite clear that a legally binding climate pact will not be reached at Copenhagen and may be delayed till 2010 or even later. The meet was earlier mandated two years ago to hammer out a comprehensive agreement to stem human-induced climate change. But the hope of such a pact receded with the differing and rigid stands taken by the developed and the emerging economies, specially China and India. The host country, Denmark, and its Prime Minister along with other developed nations began a public campaign seeking a political commitment at the talks which could be followed by binding agreements on targets, finance and technology transfer on a slower track with an agreed deadline.   

However, it is heartening to know that many countries have decided to cut emissions. China announced it would do so by a drastic 40-45 per cent compared to 2005 levels by the year 2020. This comes close on the heels of the US’ decision to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020 and by 83 per cent by 2050. Other countries too have committed to reduce their emissions. The European Union decided to reduce 20 per cent emission compared with 1990 levels, while Russia has doubled its commitment and promised to cut emissions by a quarter by 2020 if other countries come forward. Brazil’s target is to curb emissions by 36 to 39 per cent by 2020 provided it is offered additional funds for preventing deforestation while South Korea reduction would be around 30 per cent.

India also announced it would consider voluntarily reducing its carbon intensity by 20-25 per cent on a purely domestic level. Though this has been criticized by some experts and environmentalists, suggesting that the country has succumbed to the pressure of the US, this was necessary as all the emerging countries promised to bring down emission levels. This represents a big leap on the measures announced so far by the government to cut emissions and would extend to the entire economy and not restricted to specific sectors. Experts, however, believe that proposed actions taken by the country could mean around 38 per cent lower amounts of carbon emissions.   

The vexed issue of carbon emissions reduction is still a stumbling block with the emerging economies opposing the proposed mandatory cuts which the developed countries want to impose. As is well known, the per capita emission of both China and India are way behind that of America or Europe but the emission in the coming years is expected to increase at a fast pace in these and other developing countries because of electrification, industrialization and other activities which cannot be ignored.

India’s average per capita emission is a mere 1.6-1.7 tonnes compared with the U.S. figure of 22.1 tonnes and China’s 2.85 tonnes. Moreover, a recent study by the Centre for Science & Environment (CSE) found that the richest 10 per cent of Indians have per capita emissions between 3.4 to 5.1 tonnes while the poorest Americans emit 4.3 to 8 tonnes. Thus, even with the largescale energy programmes of India and other developing nations, the emission figure would be much less than that of the western nations though the total figures for both China and India may be quite big.

However, the obvious answer to the world-wide energy needs would have to be found in green technology and innovative solutions. Developing nations argue that the costs should be paid by the rich nations and that a new global body is required, perhaps working as part of the UN to direct the world’s low carbon transformation in sectors such as transport and heavy industry. In the short term this means rolling out proven technologies such as onshore and offshore wind power, solar photovoltaics and other energy efficiency measures.   

A recent analysis by Climate Group found that to meet the emission targets agreed by nations, 9.3 billion tonnes of CO2 must be prevented from entering the atmosphere by 2020. But the proposed cuts – between 60 to 80 per cent of 1990 levels – which many of the rich countries are expected to deliver by 2050, may not be enough to meet the desired targets and limit warming to 20 C that scientists agree is the safe limit.

Countries like India, whose per capita emissions are below even the stringent stabilization targets, cannot be expected to follow a developmental path which would jeopardize the welfare of the masses. Emissions from such countries would obviously increase in the future because of more power generation for rural electrification and expansion of industry as also mechanization of agriculture.

However, efforts have to be made by them to decrease the carbon intensity through greater energy efficiency and by moving towards low-carbon energy sources without, of course, increasing the costs of energy for the lower income and economically weaker sections of society. If India with 17 per cent share of the world’s population were to freeze its 4 per cent share of the planet’s emission, the results to the problem of climate change would indeed be insignificant.

There is unanimity among experts and politicians that along with the developed nations the emerging economies must do what they can to combat global warming. There has to be a national plan of action with specific commitments in certain sectors. This is more so because of the increased frequency and severity of extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, floods and cyclones. 

Mention may be made in regard to India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change 2008, wherein the overall strategy has been to “promote development objectives while also yielding co-benefits of addressing climate change effectively”. Though the document does not specify about the likely impact of the national ecosystems as well as socio-economic impacts in the country, it has taken note of the rise in sea-level thus triggering decline in crop production, loss in the dairy and fishery sectors, increase in floods and cyclones and increase in vector-borne diseases and the need to counter these.

Lately, the approval by the Cabinet of the National Solar Energy Mission for promoting expansion of solar-powered electricity and fund research projects specifically aimed at developing “disruptive innovations” thereby helping solar energy compete with fossil fuels has been a very positive step, which other countries should follow. The Mission is also expected to increase local photo-voltaic productions to a level of 1000 MW per annum as early as possible though this may take some time to actually become a reality. 

Obviously, the key to reduce greenhouse gases lies in bringing a balance between commerce, ecology and social and political equity. The ecosystem has to be managed in such a way that the rivers are not dead, the lakes are not polluted, deforestation is checked so that biodiversity is maintained, food production is not hampered and diseases are controlled. The community must be able to sustain the use of renewable energy like solar, wind and hydro power as well as reduce dependence on carbon-laden fossil fuels through optimum energy efficiency.  --- INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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