Climate change: In Glasgow, India should take the lead

Last Updated : 24 August 2021, 07:01 IST
Last Updated : 24 August 2021, 07:01 IST

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When the International Energy Agency (IEA) published its report (Net Zero by 2050), urging dramatic steps to limit the temperature increase to less than 1.5 degree Celsius above the average temperature of the pre-industrial era, the energy industry was shocked. Out of the IEA’s 480 recommendations, three have taken the centre stage — no more investment to look for new oil and gas reserves; stop production of all fossil fuel vehicles by 2030; and, stop production of fossil fuel boilers. In the developed countries, the IEA report has resulted in governments holding discussions to make appropriate policy changes in the energy sector; in India, there has been a deafening silence.

India feels that since the developed countries have precipitated the climate change crisis, they should shoulder the main burden. While this is true, India cannot be indifferent by arguing that it has met its responsibility. India has agreed to increase its power generation through renewables by adding 175 GW by 2022 and 450 GW by 2030. India will also be able to meet another target — of reducing the carbon footprint by 33-35% from its 2005 levels by 2030. Undoubtedly, this is a remarkable contribution on India’s part. However, we can and should do much more.

The IEA’s stunning recommendations were followed a few weeks later by the European Union’s ambitious proposals to achieve net zero by 2050. It was also equally shocking because the EU would impose carbon border taxes on imports from countries that have less stringent climate protection rules. The proposals include stopping the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 (five years later than recommended by the IEA), and requiring that 38.5% of all energy be from renewables by 2030, as well as the imposition of carbon taxes.

By reacting to the IEA report, the EU tried to take the leadership role by declaring its road map to fight climate change. However, this will not be enough. The US is also interested in taking leadership, as demonstrated by President Joe Biden. He held a virtual climate summit of 40 world leaders to assure the world that the US is serious about fighting climate change, reversing Donald Trump’s rejection of the Paris Agreement and walking the US back into it. However, there was no new earth-shaking outcome from the summit.

While 60 countries have pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and China by 2060, India has not committed to any goal. The latest statistics show that of the total greenhouse gases produced in 2019, China accounted for 27%, the US 11%, India 6.6% and the EU 6.4%. However, of the total GHGs produced since pre-industrial times, the developed countries account for 79% and India, a mere 1.5%. Also, on per capita basis, India’s emissions are 1.9 tonnes, while that for the US and China, it is 15.5 and 7.4 tonnes.

As can be seen from the above, climate change is on the global agenda. At the last G-7 meeting, leaders agreed to meet the overdue pledge of $100 billion per year assistance by developed countries to help poorer countries cut carbon emissions. Will they?

However, it is the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), giving a devastating message, “hell on earth”, that has ignited the media. The IPCC warns that within two decades, the average global temperature will rise by 1.5 degree C in comparison to pre-industrial times, and under some scenario, it can go as high as 5.7 degree C by the end of the century.

Scientists have been able to draw clear links between global warming and specific severe weather events like heat waves, wild fires, floods, relentless rains and storms, droughts, etc. Atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have not been this high in at least two million years. The last decade was quite likely the hottest the planet has been in 1,25,000 years.

There is no dearth of books, reports and articles by climate change pundits on how to fight global warming. Microsoft founder Bill Gates, in his book How to Avoid a climate disaster has also laid out a detailed plan to achieve net zero to avoid climate catastrophe. Unlike Nobel prize winner Al Gore, who consumes 210,000 kwh of electricity a year, Bill Gates was frank enough to admit that he is an imperfect messenger: he owns big houses, and flies in a private plane. But he argued that he compensates for his absurdly high carbon footprint by buying carbon rights — not a very convincing argument.

All environmental experts warn of a climate catastrophe. They also suggest that by quickly decarbonising the economy, the world will be able to avoid it. Their recommended strategies are to replace energy from fossil fuels by renewables like solar, wind, biofuels, hydrogen; to implement energy efficiency technologies to reduce energy demand; and to develop carbon capture and storage. It is surprising that no one has raised any inconvenient questions to challenge the thesis that we can avoid the climate crisis.

What happens if we do not succeed in solving carbon capture and storage? How to manage the intermittency of power connected with renewables — solar and wind? Why should we blindly follow the GDP-maximising development goal, which will continue to increase energy demand?

As the world gets ready to hold the CoP-26 global climate conference in Scotland in November, India should consider taking the leadership role, at least of the developing countries, to push a new agenda. India should impress upon the developed world that their payment of $100 billion, if they do fulfil that promise, would neither be charity nor aid. It is their responsibility to solve the common problem they created by using most of humanity’s carbon budget.

India should also impress on the world that we may not be able to solve the climate change crisis by only concentrating on decarbonisation. It should promote its civilisational message of “simple living, high thinking.”

This may sound too naive or audacious or even simply idiotic. But when we weigh the consequences of our failure to avoid climate change catastrophe, we will realise that there are no painless or simple solutions.

The only sure way to save the planet is by reducing energy demand by changing our very concept of development which, even in economic terms, is benefiting mostly the 1%.

(The writer is an international oil industry expert)

Published 24 August 2021, 06:50 IST

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