Wednesday, Jun 29, 2022

COP 26 Establishes India As The Leader On Climate Change Talks, While The Richer Nations Remained Non-Committal As Ever

The only highlight of the fortnight-long negotiations was an announcement made by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, who set five ambitious targets, starting with net zero emissions by 2070.

After two weeks of high-decibel conversation around climate change and its irreversible impact on the earth, COP 26, the annual climate change summit, came to an end on Saturday night with yet another rhetorical agreement called the Glasgow Climate Pact.

The only highlight of the fortnight-long negotiations was an announcement made by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, who set five ambitious targets, starting with net zero emissions by 2070.

Other targets with the 2030 deadline included :

  • India will take its non-fossil energy capacity to 500 GW by 2030.
  • India will meet 50 percent of its energy requirements from renewable energy by 2030.
  • India will reduce the total projected carbon emissions by one billion tonnes from now till 2030.
  • By 2030, India will reduce the carbon intensity of its economy by less than 45 percent.

The COP 26, as a whole, could not move beyond calling all the nations to come up with more aggressive announcements to achieve the 1.5-degree target. Therefore, all it did was to ask countries to strengthen their 2030 climate action plans by next year.

While most countries insisted that the agreement was important, though small, step in keeping alive the hopes of achieving the 1.5 degree Celsius temperature goal, observers and civil society groups saw it as a missed opportunity to enhance global climate action.

As has been the case every time since climate negotiations began at the global level, the Glasgow pact expressed “deep regrets” over the failure of the developed countries to keep the promise of providing $100 billion to developing and poor nations for technology adoption. It has now extended the deadline by another four years (till 2025) and urged the nations to set up higher funds for the period beyond 2025.

The developed nations have been targeting India as the world’s third most polluting country, ignoring the ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ framework, which was agreed upon at the Earth Summit of 1992.

The US had already announced its target to achieve net carbon neutrality by 2050, while China, the biggest emitter, will achieve it by 2060. However, all these numbers hide a grim reality.

To put things in perspective, let us look at the real performance. Put together, China and the US account for 38 per cent of the total global emissions, while India accounts for only 6.6 per cent of the emissions.

When we look at the per capita intensity of carbon emissions, based on the 2016 population, the developed countries are the biggest polluters. The US per capita intensity at 15.52 is about 8 times that of India, which accounts for 17 per cent of the world’s population. While China, home to the largest human population on the planet, has an intensity rate that is about 4 times of India.

China went past the US’ emissions in 2005, and in the process became the factory of the world, making its economy the second largest; lifting millions out of poverty. However, the same couldn’t be true for India. We are still a $2.5-trillion economy with our per capita income still hovering in the lower-middle-income range.

The climate catastrophe being unleashed around the world affects everyone— the rich and the poor. We witnessed this when the temperature in British Columbia touched nearly 50 degrees Celsius in June this year, or when floods in Germany killed many.

However, the degree of impact of climate change will vary, with the poor and the marginalized being more vulnerable due to the lack of means of mitigation. Here the concept of climate justice and equity becomes relevant since it is the rich world that bears the historical responsibility for climate change.

The Green Climate Fund was created under the UNFCCC mechanism to address this inequity. The developed world was required to help the developing and the vulnerable world to transition to a low energy economy, thus cutting down their emission intensity, while also dealing with challenges posed by climate change.

Under the COP16 Accord of Cancun conference in 2010, it was agreed that $100 billion per year would be mobilized by the rich countries by 2020.

But, no surprises, the needle has not moved, with financing still being the most contentious topic of climate change mitigation negotiations.

So far, only $10 billion towards GCF have been contributed by the moneyed countries.

Yet, the strongest narrative remained around India being non-committal to zero-emission targets.

While the Glasgow Climate Pact presses for more urgent emission cuts and promises more money for developing countries, it’s all in spirit, while the world needs promises to be made and followed in the letter as well.