Delegates from more than 190 countries have met at Doha for the 18th session of the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 8th session of COP, serving as Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. To build on the aspirations of last year’s Durban climate summit, both developed and developing countries must make concerted efforts to forge an effective response to climate change.
The international community at Durban agreed last year to launch a new negotiating process aimed at developing a “protocol”, “another legal instrument” or “agreed outcome with legal force” applicable to all parties, post 2020. Therefore at Doha, all major economies are to engage in developing a post-2020 flexible international framework in which countries assume commitments best suited to their circumstances. Within such a variegated framework, some countries could have binding emission targets under Kyoto’s second commitment period, while others may commit to national policies that reduce emissions, such as efficiency standards, renewable energy targets, or measures to reduce deforestation. Consistent with UNFCCC’s fairness and common-but-differentiated responsibility principle, countries would be able to choose a path that aligns the global interest in climate action with their own national interests by precluding targets that impose enormous economic costs on them.
Building such a global agreement will be a monumental task for the international community, but time is running out. A World Bank report based on recent climate science predicts that the world is on course to grow warmer by as much as 4 degree Celsius by 2100, prompting extreme heat waves, severe drought and major floods as the sea level rises. All regions will suffer, but the tropics and sub-tropics are among the most vulnerable, hitting the planet’s poorest people. The report warns that the planet could reach that point as early as 2060 if governments don’t meet their promises to tackle climate change. At the Copenhagen Summit, the “Emissions Gap Report’”presented by the UN Environment Programme revealed that the emission levels of approximately 44 GtCO2e of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2020 would be consistent with the “likely” chance of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. Under business-as-usual projections, global emissions could reach 56 GtCO2e in 2020, leaving a gap of 12 GtCO2e.
Any additional warming would be untenable, current temperatures are already dangerous for vulnerable communities and a 1 degree Celsius temperature rise is already locked in by prior emissions. That is why unilateral efforts by the developed industrialised countries, while essential, will be insufficient if the large developing countries use more energy and produce more pollutants, making the protocol and any future climate agreement inequitable and/or ineffective. The latest data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) reveals that most of the world’s coal reserves, 22 per cent of oil and 15 per cent of natural gas reserves must stay in the ground. Geographically, two-thirds of these reserves are in North America, the Middle East, China and Russia.
The US, with 5 per cent of the world’s population and responsible for 17 per cent of GHG emissions, has agreed to quantify cuts, so that by 2020, carbon emission levels can go down to 17 per cent below 2005 levels. This is positive, for US involvement is imperative for an effective strategy on climate change. President Barack Obama has said that climate change will be a personal mission in his second term.
India needs to craft its climate policy and initiate preventive action very carefully. Its GHG emissions are projected to increase by about 47 per cent by 2020. Coal and oil, both fossil fuels, account for about 75 per cent of India’s energy consumption and approximately 70 per cent of electricity is generated from coal-fired power plants. Paradoxically, India’s developmental challenges include around 400 million people without access to electricity. It is expected to be the most populated country, overtaking China by 2025. That explains why the ambitious National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), consisting of eight national missions (solar, sustainable habitat, Himalayan ecosystem, water, energy efficiency, green India, sustainable agriculture and strategic knowledge about climate change) could set the direction for a low-carbon economy and encourage technological and business innovations, if NAPCC is not tripped up by the bureaucratic hurdles, underdeveloped infrastructure and lack of legal stability that often plague our governance.
The writer is professor of law at the University of Jammu