- The stage is set for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, starting October 31.
- Major preparatory conferences and bilateral meetings have been held to persuade countries to raise their emission reduction commitments from the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) under the Paris Agreement.
- Some positive outcomes have been achieved, yet many high-emitter countries are short of the emissions reductions required by 2030 to restrict global temperature rise to “well below 2°C” or the now de facto goal of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
- The loudest call is around net zero emissions by 2050 i.e., greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions equalling absorption by sinks such as forests.
NET ZERO MIRAGE
Contrary to CBDR:
- The Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released in August 2021 had revealed scientific data that shocked the world.
- The report had emphasised that to keep temperature rise within 1.5°C, global emissions should be reduced by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, on the way to net zero 2050.
- On the contrary, despite the alarming revelation by the report, the foundational principle of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), has been forgotten, amidst the clatter of net zero.
- CBDR would imply that developed countries should reach net zero by 2035-40, while developing countries can get there later.
- But if the goal is global net zero emissions by 2050, all countries cannot be obliged to reach that goal by the same year.
Hinders 2030 target:
- The Net zero 2050, deliberately diverts attention away from the urgent 2030 target that COP26 should focus on.
CRITICALITY OF 2030 TARGETS
- As of July, 2021, one hundred and thirteen parties out of 194 had submitted their updated NDCs.
- But the UN NDC report says that- even after accounting updated contributions, global emissions in 2030 are expected to be 16.3% above the 2010 level, whereas the IPCC has called for 2030 emissions to be 45% less from 2010 levels for the 1.5°C goal.
- While several large emitters like the U.K., European Union, China and the U.S. have raised their emission targets, this is still grossly insufficient to meet the temperature goals.
- At the current rate of emissions even after the updated NDCs, much of the carbon budget would be used up fast.
- Carbon budgets represent the quantum of CO2 the atmosphere can hold for a given global temperature, best assessed through cumulative emissions and not annual flows.
INDIA’S DOUBLE EDGED POSITION
- The country emits 7% of global emissions, has extremely low per-capita emissions that are far below the global average and yet ranks as the world’s third largest emitter.
- It is a G20 member and a reputed economic and industrial power.
- India has so far resisted pressures to raise its Paris Agreement emission reduction commitments. But it has not yet submitted its updated NDC as required and may face difficulties at Glasgow, especially from LDCs and most vulnerable countries feeling existentially threatened.
- The website Climate Tracker has now placed India in its second- worst performing category of countries regarding conformity with global 1.5°C goals, down from the top category for 2°C just after the Paris Agreement.
- COP26 must focus sharply on reducing emissions till 2030, rather than on net zero 2050, which is too distant.
- There is a need to exert pressure against the powerful status quo from Africa, Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Small Island States and others.
- Since the developed countries are responsible for over 75% of accumulated atmospheric GHGs causing climate change, they should shoulder most of the burden for reducing emissions.
- While developing countries should do what they can, with technological and financial assistance from the former.
- India could consider raising its NDC pledge of reducing Emissions Intensity (EI = ratio of emissions to GDP) by 33-35% from 2005 levels by 2030 to 38-40%.
- This is quite achievable since India has been averaging around 2% p.a. reduction in EI as per its own NDC.
- Considering the growing calls for net zero emissions, India could offer to achieve net zero emissions by 2070-75, invoking CBDR.
- Also, it could offer a peaking year between 2040-45.
- India should focus on increasing its forest and tree cover while at the same time shifting to green sources of energy – renewable energy, green hydrogen and electric vehicles.
- India should argue for financial and technological assistance from developed countries.
- It should also argue for adequate adaptation measures to complement the mitigation efforts at the COP26.
- If COP26 does not focus on achieving the 45% emission cuts from 2010 levels required by 2030 for limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C, and continues with geopolitics as usual, then the world may waste away one of its last chances to avert disastrous climate impacts.