Down to Earth - - EDITOR’S PAGE -

IWROTE LAST about what I ex­pect will hap­pen at the Paris cli­mate change con­fer­ence. But what should hap­pen? First, the world must strongly un­der­score the need to keep the tem­per­a­ture rise be­low 2°C at the very least. To­day, with less than 1°C rise, the world is be­gin­ning to ex­pe­ri­ence deadly im­pacts. In In­dia, we are see­ing weird weather, ex­treme rain­fall events and highly vari­able tem­per­a­tures that have be­come the bane of agri­cul­ture, de­stroy­ing crops and caus­ing deep dis­tress. Clearly, even 2°C rise will be too much, but promis­ing any­thing more am­bi­tious would be delu­sional. It would mean greatly in­creas­ing the rate of emis­sion re­duc­tion by the al­ready in­dus­tri­alised coun­tries which is cru­cial but highly un­likely.

Cur­rent emis­sion re­duc­tion plans on the ta­ble, called In­tended Na­tion­ally De­ter­mined Con­tri­bu­tions ( indc), do not add up. Even the UN ac­cepts that the ag­gre­gate im­pact of all the plans will re­sult in a 2.7°C rise. Our anal­y­sis shows this is a gross un­der­es­ti­mate and that the rise could be well above 3°C. This is when the bur­den of tran­si­tion has shifted—anal­y­sis of indc shows clearly that the al­ready in­dus­tri­alised, who have his­tor­i­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity to cut emis­sions, are do­ing one-fifth of their share. The de­vel­op­ing world is tak­ing on this ac­tion.

Se­condly, all must agree that coun­tries will in­crease their level of am­bi­tion to cut emis­sions and that this re­duc­tion will be based on the fair share of the global car­bon bud­get. This is be­cause ar­rest­ing the rise in tem­per­a­ture means agree­ing to how much car­bon diox­ide can be emit­ted be­tween 1870 and 2100. There is a direct cor­re­la­tion be­tween tem­per­a­ture in­crease and quan­tum of emis­sions that can fill up the at­mos­phere. Ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change, to keep the world be­low 2°C, with a 66 per cent prob­a­bil­ity, the bud­get is some 2,900 bil­lion tonnes of car­bon diox­ide be­tween 1870 and 2100.

Paris agree­ment must ac­cept that all coun­tries have the right to de­vel­op­ment and that this re­quires eq­ui­table shar­ing of the global car­bon bud­get. Of the 2,900 bil­lion tonnes of car­bon diox­ide, some 1,900 bil­lion tonnes have been used up—this amount of car­bon diox­ide is al­ready ac­cu­mu­lated in the at­mos­phere. There are some 1,000 bil­lion tonnes left, which can be emit­ted be­tween now and 2100. But there are two other facts to be noted.

One, that the al­ready in­dus­tri­alised coun­tries have overused their car­bon quota. But more im­por­tantly, their lack of am­bi­tion means they will con­tinue to sur­rep­ti­tiously ap­pro­pri­ate even more of the bud­get. The US, for in­stance, has al­ready used up some 21 per cent of the to­tal car­bon bud­get. Be­tween now and 2030, as per its lack­lus­tre indc, it will take up an­other 8 per cent. In this way the indc is not just a coun­try’s com­mit­ment to re­duce emis­sions, it is its in­ten­tion to oc­cupy global car­bon space.

Two, by 2030, ac­cord­ing to the cur­rent emis­sion tar­gets on the ta­ble, some 80 per cent of the car­bon bud­get will be used up. In other words, what is avail­able to the world to use up to 2100 will be nearly fin­ished by 2030. This would be fine if all coun­tries were at equal lev­els of de­vel­op­ment and would not re­quire any space for growth be­yond 2030. But this is hardly the case. In­dia and al­most all of Africa, even un­der the most ag­gres­sive plans for growth, would still be strug­gling to meet the ba­sic needs of peo­ple be­yond 2030. But by then the car­bon bud­get would be all ap­pro­pri­ated and gone. What hap­pens to their right to de­vel­op­ment?

So, thirdly, and most cru­cially, Paris must agree to op­er­a­tionalise eq­uity by ac­cept­ing that the level of ef­fort of each coun­try’s indc will be equal to its share of the global car­bon bud­get. Any­thing less would be de­vel­op­ment apartheid. Any­thing less would be gross cli­mate in­jus­tice.

Fourthly, to en­sure am­bi­tion and also op­er­a­tionalise eq­uity, it must agree that it will “stock­take” the com­mit­ments made by coun­tries. Th­ese com­mit­ments must en­sure that the world stays be­low 2°C rise and re­flect the eq­ui­table shar­ing of the global car­bon bud­get. Fifthly, the Paris agree­ment must recog­nise that it is the world’s poor who are worst hit, even though they are least re­spon­si­ble for the emis­sions that are lead­ing the world to a cli­mate precipice. The cur­rent draft only has some broad state­ments about the need for all gov­ern­ments to build re­silient sys­tems to adapt to cli­mate change. This must change to pro­tect the in­ter­ests of the poor­est and to en­sure that not only is the loss and dam­age es­ti­mated but pay­ment is made.

Fi­nally, Paris must build the frame­work for fu­ture ac­tion, real and mean­ing­ful, to com­bat cli­mate change. To do this it must iden­tify key ac­tions that can be sup­ported through global fund­ing—not ways in which aid is passed off as cli­mate sup­port—to make the tran­si­tion to­wards low-car­bon growth. The best way to share the lim­ited car­bon bud­get is if coun­tries find ways not to use the space at all. This has to be the prom­ise at Paris.

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