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Curb Your Emissions

  • 01 Dec 2021

God forbid that India should ever take to industrialism after the manner of the west... keeping the world in chains. If [our nation] took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts. — Mahatma Gandhi

World leaders met yet again to discuss the pertinent issue of climate change and its implications on the future of our planet in COP26 (Conference of Parties) held in Glasgow, Scotland.

COP is the largest and most significant annual conference organized by United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) since 1995. This meeting aims at bringing all the member countries of UNFCCC to one table to discuss and negotiate measures for mitigation and adaptation concerning climate change.

Many protestors like environmental and social activists, along with scientists also flooded the streets of Glasgow to show their dissatisfaction with the measures taken by the leadership around the globe. Data related to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and concerns over insufficiency regarding climate action back their agitation.

Background of UNFCCC

UNFCCC is an international agency formed in 1992 to facilitate dialogue and cooperation between countries to curb GHG emissions and reduce the threat of climate change. 197 countries are members of the convention. UNFCCC has negotiated Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement, two significant breakthroughs achieved to find consensus among all the member nations to curb emissions with prescribed guidelines and targets.

Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol was a global treaty aimed at GHG emission reduction formed in 1997 during the 3rd COP held in Kyoto, Japan. Developed nations had to cut their GHG emissions to 5.2% below the 1990 levels between 2008-2012. Developing countries did not contribute to GHG emissions as much as developed nations, so they were exempt from cutting the emissions in the protocol.

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement is considered a milestone in the global fight against climate change. All the member nations (developed and developing) agreed to cut their emissions for limiting the global temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The agreement also requested members to communicate and maintain the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) every five years for transparent and accountable climate actions.

The current status of climate change-induced global warming

According to UN Environment Program (UNEP) emissions gap report 2021, due to the standstill caused by the COVID-19 in 2020, global carbon dioxide emissions dropped by 5.4%. But with increased Global activities, GHG emissions are rapidly rising again.

The report also claims that only 10 G20 member countries are on track to meet their NDC targets. India is also one of them. To limit the increase in global temperatures to 2°C a 30% reduction in emission is required. But the new mitigation pledges for 2030 made by members, reduce projected 2030 emissions only by 7.5%. The emission gap is therefore vast.

The world is moving towards an increase of 2.7°C by the end of the century with current measures. The global temperature has currently reached 1.2°C above the pre-industrial level. The world is undergoing drastic upheavals in weather patterns like unbearable heat waves, erratic rainfalls, prolonged seasons, and wildfires because of this increase. So, there is no doubt that a rise of 2.7°C would be horrific.

Why did we reach here?

The desire for economic growth and prosperity and the spread of industrialization sped up an unwanted plethora of GHG emissions that caused the greenhouse effect and contributed to rising global temperatures. Industrialization started in Britain but European countries and the United States of America soon joined the process. They became the front runners in acquiring exponential growth and development with the help of industries and thus eventually gained the status of developed nations.

In the pursuit of economic prosperity, the rest of the world also started walking on the path of industrialization, unaware of the hefty price that the planet had to pay in the form of harmful emissions, pollution and climate change.

Svante August Arrhenius, a Swedish physicist and physical chemist, highlighted the dangerous repercussions of industrial activities towards the end of the 19th century. He was the first scientist to develop a climate model and explain heat entrapment by gases in the atmosphere causing global warming. Arrhenius received a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1903.

Thus, unchecked GHG emissions that had accumulated over the years have brought us here.

Who are the largest emitters?

The World Resources Institute suggests that China, the USA and the European Union are the top 3 greenhouse gases emitters in the world currently. India is the 4th largest emitter of these gases. But historically, the USA and European Union are top 2 emitters responsible for around 47% of the global emissions since the 18th century. The United States of America, Russia, Japan and China have the highest per capita GHG emissions. The per capita emission of India is below the global per capita GHG emission.

American reluctance and ignorance towards climate change

During COP3 (Kyoto Protocol), the USA reluctantly agreed to cut its emissions despite being a massive emitter. The protocol seemed to be in conflict with the aspirations of the profit-seeking American corporate world. The same apprehension also influenced the policy-making process of the world’s wealthiest economy. The leaders of the USA showed their displeasure with the unfairness of the Kyoto protocol for exempting developing countries like India and China from cutting their emissions.

USA ratified the Paris Agreement during COP21 in 2015 and agreed to curb its GHG emissions by 26-28% below the 2005 level by 2025. But Americans chose a president who publicly opposed the Paris Agreement during the 2016 US presidential election campaign and withdrew from it in 2017.

The exit of one of the largest and most influential economies from the Paris agreement was quite discomforting. Although America re-joined the accord, negating climate change for ensuring unhindered economic prosperity to maintain global hegemony has affected its trustworthiness as a leader committed to climate action.

Impact of climate change on India

The constant increase in temperature is a prime concern for the Indian peninsula due to its vast coastline. The rising sea level triggered by global warming is threatening different ecosystems developed along the seashores. Also, the diverse topography of India makes the country vulnerable to increasing natural disasters caused due to rapid climate change. When facing multiple adversities due to global warming and climate change, India cannot be complacent.

India is committed to combating climate change

India is continuously inching towards the commitments that it made to reduce the consequences of climate change. In 2015, India voluntarily committed to curbing its emission intensity of its GDP by 33-35% below 2005 levels by 2030 in NDC. The third Biennial Update Report (BUR) submitted by India to UNFCCC also showed a 24-25% reduction in emission intensity of GDP achieved by 2016.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has also acknowledged the significant improvement in India’s energy intensity between 1990 and 2019. During this timeframe, India’s dependence on fossil fuels (biomass) decreased because of electrification and the enhanced use of liquid petroleum gas (LPG) in households. Government initiatives like the UJALA scheme and Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana have been instrumental to this end.

International Solar Alliance is another initiative started by India and France during COP21 in Paris for harnessing affordable solar energy. The USA became the 101st member of the alliance recently. India is not ready to phase out coal anytime soon, but it is steadily moving towards a greener future.

India at COP26

  • Non-fossil energy capacity building of 500 gigawatts (GW) by 2030
  • 50 per cent of total energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030
  • 1 billion tonnes reduction in total projected carbon emissions by 2030
  • Reduction in the carbon intensity of its economy by less than 45 per cent by 2030
  • Net Zero emissions by the year 2070

India provided a clear roadmap to curb emissions in coming years with the above mentioned Panchamrita (five-pronged strategy). It also launched the One World, One Sun, One Grid (OWOSOG) initiative with the United Kingdom. The primary idea behind this proposition is the perpetual availability of Sunshine. Developing interconnected grids across nations is an innovative idea to ensure affordable clean energy through sharing solar power. The initiative can be revolutionary for worldwide energy infrastructure. India also sought the promised climate finance of $100 billion for developing economies from the developed nations (take responsibility for their historical actions) to shift to a low carbon future as per the Paris Agreement.

Silver Lining

The technological advancement of developed countries like the USA, European Union, Russia, Japan has helped them cut their emissions. These countries have already peaked their emissions. Now, besides initiating the climate financing process, the developed nations should also share their experiences and knowledge with developing economies to curb emissions and mitigate climate change while ensuring sustainable economic growth. Developing countries should also adhere to their NDCs and look for ways to move to a sustainable future. Only then do we stand a chance to save the planet from the threat of climate change.

 Priyanka Todariya 


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