Lima climate meet: Will India stand up to pressure?

“Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. The period from 1983 to 2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years in the Northern Hemisphere, where such assessment is possible.”

On the eve of the UN Climate Summit at Lima has come the warning from the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change. A reality check for the world leaders, who would meet in the capital of Peru between December 1 and 12, seeking to prepare the first negotiating draft of a global emission reduction treaty to be adopted at the 2015 climate summit in Paris.

In between the two summits, lots of water will flow in Mississippi, Amazon, Danube, Volga, Ganga and Yangtze. The Lima draft is sure to be modified at Paris before it is adopted. A bloodbath on the negotiation table in Lima and subsequent meetings is almost assured because climate change is intractably linked to economic growth and no country has ever built a low carbon economy.

The talk about a low carbon economy began in the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and an implementation formula known as Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997. The protocol became effective in 2005. But even after 10 years, little has been achieved though its validity has been extended up to 2020.

The world is in search of a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol post 2020. The process began in 2011 in the Durban summit. A working group under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change called Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) was created with two specific tasks – to negotiate a fresh global climate agreement and to prepare a work plan on mitigation ambition to close the existing gap that exists between the current pledges and steps needed to keep the temperature rise below the two degrees guard rail.

As the ADP is talking to different nations to assess how much each of them can contribute to reduce carbon emission, a USA-China deal changed the dynamics of climate politics. It says the USA will reduce emissions by 26-28 per cent below the 2005 levels by 2025 while China will peak its carbon emissions by 2030 and then start reducing it.

According to an IPCC calculation, the world's total carbon budget is 3670 gigatonne if the rise in temperature can be restricted to two degrees. Out of this, almost 2900 gigatonnes were spent since the beginning of the industrial era in the 19th century. This leaves less than 1000 gigatonne of carbon dioxide is to spend.

In 1992, rich nations contributed 70 per cent of the world’s emission. In 2012, their contribution stood at 43 per cent. It does not mean that the rich have reduced, but how countries like China, India and Brazil grew economically. Unfortunately, not much carbon space is available unless rich nations reduce their emissions.

Two degrees objective
A Danish government report suggests that a gap of 8-12 gigatonne of carbon dioxide equivalent exists between the current pledges and what is needed to achieve the two degrees objective. The assessment was made before the new US-China deal that suggests when compared against the 1990 level, the US reduction would be just 15-17 per cent by 2025 while the requirement is to cut on the emission level by at least 50-60 per cent considering USA’s historical responsibility of causing climate change and its capability of solving it.

The United Nations Environment Programme’s emission gap report that came soon after the IPCC findings demonstrated widening of the emission gap by 2030. The green house gas (GHG) emission will go way beyond the safe limit by 2050 if the business as usual situation continues.

To stay within the two degrees safe limit, the total GHG need to shrink to net zero between 2080-2100. The challenge is to find out a way to achieve this without moving away from economic growth. While scientific facts are not non-disputable, the negotiation becomes more complex if individual nation’s aspirations are taken into account.

The US-China pact puts more pressure on India – world's third largest polluter after USA and China – for making a commitment. Given by India’s low per capita emission, USA and European Union may not clamour for emission cut in absolute terms, but they are more likely to ask for a peaking year in the line of China.

It remains to be seen if the 19-member strong Indian team at Lima can stand up to the pressure or will give in. The government has so far claimed there would be no compromise on development – associated with carbon emission – but New Delhi would stick to its 2009 promise of voluntary reduction of carbon intensity by 20-25 per cent by 2020 from the 2005 level.

In the process, the three major polluters agreed on shifting the goalposts by changing the base year from 1990 as agreed in the Kyoto protocol, to 2005. It was one of the demands of the USA which argued that the draft should not be based on the 1992-era of bifurcated approach of developed and developing nations, but should reflect current emission trends and scenario.

The Lima meeting would be followed by declaration of every country's “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” by March 2015. The aim is to check if voluntary contributions are good enough making up the emission gap. If the numbers don't add up to fill he gigatonne gap, things will heat up at the political level. India's stand would be counted crucial in realising the treaty.

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