Emission law next for India after ratifying climate deal

Emission law next for India after ratifying climate deal

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has proclaimed that India would ratify the Paris Agreement on October 2, and will become the 62nd country to do so. The Government of India has time till 2030 to amend its existing legislation on environment protection in adherence with the global standards evolved from various conventions and agreements on climate change.

Apart from this, India needs to formulate a new legislation specially related to emissions from agricultural combustion, domestic fuels and quarrying which degrade environment and which are India-centric in character. Prime Minister Modi has highlighted that India needs to work with various political and social constituencies to accept its position externally on climate change.

Today, the problem is that both the poverty-stricken classes and the manufacturing industry in the country survive on fossil fuels which is, therefore, a politically sensitive issue. Niti Aayog Deputy Chairman Arvind Panagariya has, in this context, stated that the country is not ready to terminate the subsidies on fossil fuel.

India has sought to adopt measures to conserve fossil fuels through the introduction of CNG in the capital. Also, traffic restrictions like passenger cars with odd and even registration numbers to operate only on specified days (experimentally) in New Delhi is another innovative initiative.

The Kerala government has introduced bio-diesel pumps for vehicles. Bio-diesel helps to reduce carbon monoxide in the atmosphere. Likewise, the Karnataka government has introduced a State Action Plan on Climate Change to help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) effects within the state.

The Centre has formulated a National Action Plan on Climate Change which has initiated policy parameters related to renewable energy, solar energy and carbon emission from industrial and vehicular emissions, especially from metropolitan cities. Besides, the action plan also includes the national green energy fund.

Various states across the country have become conscious of the need for environmental protection as evident from their respective action plans to reduce carbon

emissions. These include solid waste management programmes, ban on plastic packaging material in the retail sector etc. The demarcation of industrial areas to ensure efficient pollution control management methods is another step in this direction.  

The existing legislative framework specifies the role of the state and citizens towards environmental protection. A citizen has a fundamental right to a clean environment under Article 21 which is the state’s responsibility. While Article 48A is a Directive Principle of State Policy, which implies that the state has an obligation to take effective measures towards protection of environment.

Under Article 51A(g), it is a fundamental duty of the citizen to protect environment despite the existing legislations on environment protection like Environment Protection Act 1986, Air Act 1981, Water Act 1974, Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and Forest Conservation Act 1980. Towards this objective, the then Congress-led UPA government formulated an environment protection policy known as the National Action Plan on Climate Change 2008.

Unlike a policy which is not enforceable and only provides broad guidelines, an Act has the power to punish those citizens who violate it. The Environment Protection Act does not define the expression climate change or address the problem of GHG.

The Act also does not impose liabilities on the GHG emitters which include pollution generated from agricultural combustion. Besides, vehicular emission which does not comply with the latest pollution emission regime, forms a major chunk of environmental pollutants.

Though the US has been a member state to the various conventions on climate change, it has so far never ratified any agreement related to environmental protection. The main reason being that it never wanted to be party to international treaties which have the power to override domestic regulations related to carbon emission levels. To that extent, to do so would mean that the US would not be able to indulge in unhindered economic development at the cost of environment.   

Binding on members

The enforceability of the Paris Agreement would be binding on the member states only after 55 member states have consented to the same. This would be in accordance with Article 21, paragraph 1 of the Agreement. Moreover, Washington and Beijing have also announced their consent to amend a sister treaty – the Montreal Protocol – to reduce aviation emission and hydro-fluorocarbon emissions. This is expected to be deliberated at the meeting in Kigali, Rwanda this month. 

The outcome of the US presidential elections scheduled for November 2016 would also have a bearing on the position Washington chooses to take towards the Paris Agreement. While presidential candidate Donald Trump is against ratification of the Agreement, his opponent Hillary Clinton has taken an opposite stand. To that extent, this could support or defeat the entire endeavour towards environmental protection. 

Together, the US and China contribute to 38% of global pollution due to their enormous economic growth wherein they are unable to restrict their carbon emissions. Therefore, the other countries, which comprise agrarian, semi-industrial and industrial economies, contribute to 62% of global warming. In turn, this collectively affects the planet through glacial melting, health hazards, ozone depletion in the atmosphere and rising sea levels.

Hence, US President Barack Obama’s recent decision to ratify the Paris Agreement amounts to a major step towards a cleaner global environment. The fact that China has also decided to do so suggests that powerful countries have become more conscious about environmental threats. Importantly, the move should encourage smaller nations across the globe to follow suit towards a greener environment. 

(The writer is Assistant Professor, School of Law, Christ University, Bengaluru)

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