Building on the Paris Agreement

The 174 countries and the European Union that signed up to the Paris Climate Change Agreement in New York on April 22 have committed themselves to the decision that a range of actions must be undertaken to keep the rise in global average temperature well below 2° Celsius over pre-industrial levels. The debate on climate change shifted after the climate summit in Paris in December from whether scientific evidence is strong enough to warrant making aggressive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, to how this should be achieved without hurting economic growth in developing countries such as India. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change accepts differentiated responsibility for developing nations, which are not responsible for the accumulated stock of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as opposed to rich countries that historically had the benefit of the unfettered use of fossil fuels. What makes carbon emissions particularly problematic, however, is that polluting local flows have a global effect over relatively short periods, and far-flung countries, such as small island nations, suffer the impact. India’s estimate of its share of global greenhouse gas emissions submitted to the UN for the Paris treaty is 4.10 per cent, but it faces a double jeopardy: of having to emit large volumes of carbon dioxide to achieve growth, while preparing to adapt to the destructive effects of intense weather events, such as droughts and floods, linked to climate change.

After Paris, the challenge before India is to implement its pledge — to sharply cut emissions intensity of GDP by 2020. A small reduction was achieved between 2005 and 2010, and the effort now should be to maintain the trend. Energy, transport and infrastructure are key areas where sound national policies are needed. The doubling of the cess on coal in the Budget, and the general policy to keep fuel prices high using taxation are welcome, but they must translate into funding for green alternatives. It should be possible, for instance, to unlock middle class investments in renewable energy with an effective grid-connected rooftop solar subsidy programme. In the absence of strong backing from State governments to ensure net metering and transfer subsidies, progress in this area has been slow. New buildings should also be required to conform to energy efficiency codes in all States. The National Electric Mobility Mission Plan aims to put about seven million electric or hybrid vehicles on the road by 2020, but for this to happen, the creation of charging infrastructure and introduction of consumer incentives are vital; greening public transport bus fleets will give the Mission a face. Once the Paris Agreement is ratified, funding for such initiatives should come from the wealthy countries, which are required to raise at least $100 billion a year. The pact requires them to provide even higher levels of assistance. The success of the climate compact will ultimately depend on whether rich countries, including the U.S. — where a conservative President and Congress could reject it — fund innovation and open-source their green technologies to developing nations.

Courtesy: The Hindu