India’s leadership challenge in the climate negotiations
What countries will do at the national level is less important than the nature and scope of international cooperation
The just concluded tenth round of preparatory meetings at Bonn, an 83 page compilation document yet to become a negotiation text, 193 countries seeking to secure their national interest and only one more formal meeting before the Climate Summit in Paris in December has been described by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as “snail pace”. Veteran negotiations will point out that it is at the extended hours on the last day, or rather night, that trade-offs are made. The strategic issue before India is the strategy to shape those options.
The universal global deal must stress new international cooperation goals rather than the old burden sharing obligations.In 1992 the major concern was the impact of human activity on nature. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has now focused on the remaining global climate budget and stressed the importance of ethics and justice in sharing it. How best to incorporate this new element in the universal regime is the subject of the current negotiations.
The initiative to host a meeting of 107 “sunshine” countries prior to Paris to forge a common platform on exchanging experiences, sharing research and looking for common financial solutions can be the game changer. Prime Minister Modi made a proposal at the G20 meeting, in Brisbane in November 2014, to set up a global virtual centre for clean energy development and fund collaborative projects to make solar energy competitive with conventional energy, in orderto manage the sustainability transformation. CToo often, our discussion is reduced to an argument about emission cuts. But,we are more likely to succeed if we offer affordable solutions, not simply impose choices.hairing the first meeting of India’s reconstituted high-level climate panel, on January 19, 2015, hecalled for a paradigm shift away from focusing on emissions and cuts to reviewing what the country has done for clean energy generation, energy conservation and energy efficiency.Speaking at UNESCO in April 2015 he was more emphatic – “we are more likely to succeed if we offer affordable solutions, not simply impose choices”, and he called “for a change in lifestyle, because the emission reduction that we seek will be a natural outcome of how we live”.Too often, our discussion is reduced to an argument about emission cuts. But,we are more likely to succeed if we offer affordable solutions, not simply impose choices. Too often, our discussion is reduced to an argument about emission cuts. But,we are more likely to succeed if we offer affordable solutions, not simply impose choices.Too often, our discussion is reduced to an argument about emission cuts. But,we are more likely to succeed if we offer affordable solutions, not simply impose choices.
Over the last 20 years the national response of all countries to climate change has evolved. The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted so far reflect national circumstances, stages of development (or, urbanization) and capacities as well as the world-view of the respective countries. Developed countries, which have to cap emissions, have focused on absolute reductions of greenhouse gases. China has based its vision on a peaking year when it will have completed its infrastructure development and urbanisation process – 2030 – and expressed actions in terms of 60-65 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP; 20 per cent share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption; and 4.5 billion cubic metres increase in forest stock from 2005,while differentiating itself by not directly referring to emissions reductions in absolute terms. The common factor is that all countries are basing emissions reductions from the year their emissions will have peaked as a part of their growth process; the United States has chosen 2005and China 2030.
India’s climate policy is evolving on the lines of this differentiation, based on the global carbon budget rather than on international environmental law. First, per-capita emissions of the United States are twice those of the European Union, six times those of China and thirteen times those of India; per-capita emissions should be among the central parameters in assessment and review of national actions. Second, China’s industrial production is eight times, consumption of primary energy five times, metals eleven times and GDP four times higher than India’s. Climate variability will affect India much more than China. Therefore, India, rather than be defensive on why it is not following China and capping its emissions in 2030, should take a strategic decision that it will “aim” to cap its emissions in 2050.With two-third of its population below 30 years of age India will continue to urbanize and grow till at least 2050.Third, India should not shy away from arguing that countries that have used two-third of the global carbon budget to raise levels of wellbeing cannot expect citizens of late developers to bear the burden.
India is rightly shifting the focus on use and distribution, rather than scarcity, of natural resources and must demonstrate that it is contributing its “fair” share. As urbanization spreads, and if current trends continue, three ‘basic’ human needs – housing, food, mobility – will account for 80% of resource use, 60 % of household spending, 40% of energy demand and 36% of carbon dioxide emissions, in 2050. Construction is one of the largest economic sectors; housing is the largest direct expenditure of households, automobile emissions are expected to be 50% of global emissions of greenhouse gases and current lifestyles in developed countries lead to 30% of the food being wasted at the end of the value chain.
We know that modular construction reduces building costs by 50% and energy consumption in buildings can be reduced by 60%.It has been estimated that fast-urbanizing cities in Asia could potentially reduce total global energy use in cities by more than 25% from business as usual. This is the area where India’s national contribution is rightly focusing instead of absolute emissions reduction. In an urbanized world, where three-quarter of the population are consumers, and in the middle class,decoupling economic growth from resource use requires creating new consumer choices and innovative technology will be critical.
As climate policy transitions towards integrating longer-term transformations in national policy the defining feature of the new climate regimeshould be recognition of renewable energy and agriculture technology innovationas global ‘public goods’ to speed this process. Securing a global consensus on sharing prosperity, or innovative technology, and not only responsibility, will be the biggest leadership challenge for India.
Ex Director UNFCCC and author of ‘The World’s Search for Sustainable Development’, Cambridge University Press, July 2015).