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A new step towards Paris Treaty

By Ibu Sanjeeb Garg

Beating the Rhetoric

On 2nd October last year India took a step towards allaying global fears with regards to its commitment in combating climate change. It announced the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions to reduce domestic emission of its gross domestic product by 33% – 35% by 2030 from 2005 levels. This year India has taken a step further by agreeing to ratify the Paris deal which aims to contain Earth’s increase in temperature by 2 degree Celsius and if possible  within 15 degree Celsius above pre industrial levels.

The history of the global fight against climate change can be traced back to Rio Summit of United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCC) held in 1992. Since then countries around the world have come to recognise that climate change indeed poses a larger challenge and a larger qualified global initiative must be mounted against it. Some initiatives such as the Montreal Protocol- which seeks to reduce use of CFC gases which harm the ozone layer, have been successful. Yet others like the Kyoto Protocol have still not been ratified by a large number of countries. Nevertheless there is a large agreement today that climate change is a menace that has to be fought globally in a collective manner.

As with any global negotiations climate change talks too hinges on a few factors. The principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR) is at the core of climate change negotiations. CBDR recognises that while all nations of the world have a stake at climate change the responses should also encompass historical as well as current responsibilities. Translated into more common terms it means while India and USA would have equal stake at fighting climate change today, the responsibility of USA is more because of its historical pollution (industrialization). Another component of CBDR includes the capacity of countries to deal with the problem in technical and economic terms.

India has always been strongly committed towards combating climate change in tune with global concerns. And thus it comes as no surprise that India has agreed to ratify the Paris deal towards combating climate changes. The Paris Agreement will come into force when 55 countries contributing to atleast 55% of the global emissions ratify the deal. So far 61 countries have ratified the deal and deposited their acceptance or approval. India has committed to diverting 40% of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2030. India will also seek to include production of 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022.

Yet the Paris deal has to be approached carefully for a number of reasons. Lately the issue of CBDR is being pushed to the background and talks of “incremental pollution” have began to make rounds. Being the third largest polluter in absolute emission terms there was a pressure on India to ratify the deal .Yet one must remember that in per capita terms of emission India still stands in one of the lowest polluters of the world. Also while discussing incremental pollution the developed nations tend to forget the historical damage that they have caused to the environment. Hence ratification of the deal must be accompanied by negotiations which root itself firmly around the notion of historical pollution.

Another major aspect in this debate on climate change is the question of finance. No global mechanism has been reached upon yet which would ensure transfer of finance and technology to developing nations, to combat climate change. The Global Environmental Facility GEF is one such financial mechanism which sought to finance technologies to help combat climate change. While the GEF set laudable goals for itself, it has failed to collect the kind of finances that the countries had hoped to achieve. Countries have also failed to capitalise on the “carbon sink” mechanism which would have financially benefited countries which would maintain such sinks. Thus it is worth mentioning that despite well intentioned measures a number of mechanisms have failed to take off. On the flipside it must be remembered that at the same time larger polluters are beginning to commit themselves towards climate change combat goals. The success of Montreal Protocol towards reducing the ozone layer has infused new optimism about the fight against climate change. This week EU too ratified the Paris deal making it one of the largest groups to ratify the same.

It is in the context of this that India’s role must be analysed. India must equip itself on two front negotiations as well domestic action. On international negotiations India must continue to stick to the context of historical responsibility. It must also argue that polluter pays principle has to be seen in the context of per capita emission rather than absolute numbers. These positions are important since globally the developing nations also see India as a leader in these negotiations, negotiation on their behalf. Hence it is important that India must stick to these positions, while continuing the fight against climate change and displaying solidarity on the global front.

It is on the domestic front however that larger steps have to be taken. Climate change has affected monsoon patterns which have adversely affected agricultural productivity. Hence India must work on the twin principle of adaptation and mitigation. In the past few years India has achieved laudable progress towards its afforestation goals. The forest cover in the country has been increasing albeit slowly. While critics argue that dense forest cover has not increased it must be understood that dense forest cover happens over time. Hence the fact that forest cover has been increasing is a laudable step in itself.

India has also set up ambitious goals towards using alternative renewable energy sources. The National Solar Energy Mission is an example of the same commitment. Focus on wind energy is also on the anvil .At the same time India seeks to restrict nuclear energy to 4% of the total non renewable energy which is a welcome step in itself. These figures points to the fact that India has a firm plan for alternative renewable energy sources in place.

Yet what India has achieved so far is not enough. New technology needs to be mounted towards stemming falling water levels. Droughts have become a regular phenomenon in the country which often leads to political instability as the recent Cauvery droughts have proved. New agricultural technologies have to be developed which would give higher per acre yield, have better drought resistant seeds and so on. And not all of this is possible on its own. This is where global finance and technology has to flow in. The target of reducing emission by 33%-35% is itself not hard to achieve. But in order to do so it would require persistent efforts of the Indian government and the global community. India remains firmly committed to its role in combating climate change however as reiterated the global community must fulfil its responsibility as well. Now that the Paris deal has been ratified a clear roadmap must be drawn for the journey ahead.

( Views expressed by the author are personal)

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