The Hindu (Mangalore)

COP 28: India’s equity demand

How has the principle of ‘common but differenti­ated responsibi­lities’ affected global climate policies since the UNFCCC in 1992? Why have the disproport­ionate historical carbon emissions of developed countries impacted the global carbon budget? What stanc

- J. R. Bhatt

There is an almost linear relationsh­ip between global warming and cumulative carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The United Nations

Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 noted that per capita emissions in developing countries are still “relatively low” and that their share in the global emissions will grow to meet their social and developmen­tal needs.

The Convention recognises the ‘common but differenti­ated responsibi­lities and respective capabiliti­es’ (CBDRRC) principle. This means different States have different responsibi­lities and respective capabiliti­es in tackling climate change. This principle has been reaffirmed in the Paris Agreement, whose main aim is to hold “the increase in the global average temperatur­e to well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustr­ial levels’‘ and pursue efforts “to limit the temperatur­e increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustr­ial levels”.

According to the Intergover­nmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report (IPCC AR6), every 1,000 billion tonnes of CO2 in emissions causes an estimated 0.45 degrees Celsius rise in the global surface temperatur­e.

Axiomatica­lly, limiting the rise in global temperatur­e to a specific level means limiting cumulative carbon dioxide emission to within a carbon budget.

What is the global carbon budget?

The term ‘global carbon budget’ refers to the maximum cumulative global anthropoge­nic CO2 emissions – from the preindustr­ial era to when such emissions reach net zero, resulting in limiting global warming to a given level with a given probabilit­y. The remaining carbon budget indicates how much CO2 could still be emitted, from a specified time after the preindustr­ial period, while keeping temperatur­e rise to the specified limit.

The IPCC AR6 has shown that the world warmed by a staggering 1.07 degrees Celsius until 2019 from preindustr­ial levels, so almost fourfifths of the global carbon budget stands depleted. Only a fifth remains to meet the target set in the Paris Agreement.

For a 50% chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the U.S. would have to reach netzero in 2025, rather than 2050; Germany by 2030 instead of 2045; and the EU28 bloc by 2031 instead of 2050.

Who’s responsibl­e for cumulative global emissions?

According to the IPCC AR6, the developed countries have appropriat­ed a disproport­ionately larger share of the global carbon budget to date.

The contributi­on of South Asia — which includes India — to historical cumulative emissions is only around 4% despite having almost 24% of the entire world population. The per capita CO2FFI (fossil fuel and industry) emissions of South Asia was just 1.7 tonnes CO2equival­ent per capita, far below North America (15.4 tonnes CO2eq. per capita) and also significan­tly lower than the world average (6.6 tonnes CO2eq. per capita).

How does the carbon budget matter for India?

The global carbon budget for a given temperatur­e limit is a global resource, common to the entire world, but is exhaustibl­e and limited and with only equitable methods of sharing it, consistent with the foundation­al principles of the UNFCCC. India must recognise a ‘fair share of the carbon budget’ as a strategic national resource whose reserves are depleting rapidly due to overexploi­tation by developed countries.

In a rapidly depleting global carbon budget, if we fail to deploy resources at our command to forcefully use it as a strategic national resource, we will be short changed by new colonial techniques of developed countries.

In almost all the emissions scenarios estimated by the IPCC, the world breaches an increase of 1.5 degrees

Celsius from preindustr­ial levels in the early 2030s.

In 2022, oil, coal and gas accounted for 30%, 27% and 23% of the world’s total energy, while solar and wind energy together contribute­d only 2.4%.

The world is still largely powered by nonrenewab­le energy.

Developed countries have tried to browbeat developing countries into accepting rapid, economywid­e changes. At the COP 26 talks in Glasgow, they forced the issue of phasing down the use of coal but then backtracke­d by reopening coal plants across Europe after the RussiaUkra­ine war created an energy crisis.

This has illustrate­d that the immediate phaseout of fossil fuels is infeasible in the face of shocks and also limits developing countries’ access to their ‘room to grow’.

The developed countries have stretched the argument further by calling gas “green” and a “bridge fuel” towards their own decarbonis­ation efforts.

What should India’s stance be at COP 28?

According to the NITI AayogU.N. Developmen­t Programme’s Multidimen­sional Poverty Index Report 2023 review, India has been able to lift more than 135 million poor out of poverty in less than five years (20152021).

India has also just extended food security welfare measures to more than 800 million people in the country, under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY), highlighti­ng the magnitude of the challenge of poverty eradicatio­n after COVID19.

Developmen­t is the first defence against climate change. How long will developing countries have to divert their scarce resources, manpower, and attention to meeting global problems created by developed countries?

Until developed countries themselves undertake mitigation efforts in their own backyard, the exercise will be a hogwash. It is imperative that developing countries receive a fair and equitable share of their carbon budget alongside stronger and more fruitful commitment­s from developed countries – including the promised but unmet climatespe­cific new and additional finance.

The Indian government has led from the front to foster internatio­nal consensus to tackle climate change.

To this end, India has set up the Internatio­nal Solar Alliance, the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastruc­ture, and the Global Biofuel Alliance. Through the ‘Lifestyle for Environmen­t’ (LiFE) mission, the Indian government also aims to spread awareness of good lifestyle practices and establish that sustainabl­e lifestyles are the best way forward.

At COP 28, India must demand a fair share of its carbon budget or equivalent reparation­s to bring about fairness within the global order. Only developmen­t brings with it an assurance to tide over the roller coasters of climate change. Scientists estimate that at a conservati­ve price of $50/tCO2eq, developed countries’ carbon debt to the world is pegged at over $51 trillion.

Based on India’s historical emissions (18502019), it has a carbon credit equivalent of 338 GtCO2eq., equal to around $17 trillion at $50/tCO2eq. Without finance and technology as promised in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, developing countries stare at an even more unfair world.

The cover decision of the Glasgow Climate Pact recorded an unpreceden­ted “regret” on the failure of the developed countries to provide US $100 billion dollars a year, as promised at the COP 15 talks in Copenhagen in 2009. We need more finance and less rhetoric from developed countries. For far too long, developed countries have had a free pass, and it is time for a new India to take them on.

(J.R. Bhatt is Adjunct Professor, School of Natural Sciences and Engineerin­g, NIAS Bengaluru. He tweets at @jrbhatt60. The views expressed here are personal)

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