Global warming doomsayers would have us believe the fate of the earth depends on the Copenhagen climate change summit in December. They’re probably already saying their prayers, with last weekend’s negotiations in Bangkok stalling and India’s minister of state for environment Jairam Ramesh even signalling that consensus may require another meeting next year.
The problem that the Kyoto Protocol threw up in 1997—setting concrete targets for emission reductions—hasn’t changed, since negotiators still hold that cutting emissions is central to tackling a warming planet. But we wonder if the centrality of that idea is worth re-examining.
As far as this idea goes, India has tried a balancing act. Ramesh publicly opposed binding cuts in July, given the risks posed to growth. Then, last month, he announced that emission cuts would be quantified, but unilaterally. Yet, as we suggested then, what if this increases pressure on India to accept binding cuts? And how does this work for a sub-national strategy?
These questions are important, but it’s unclear how much attention the government is paying them, since the tenor of climate change talk usually comes back to emission cuts. Here, rich nations love to blame India for being “obstructionist” while the developing world is now blaming the West for straying from the Kyoto Protocol. This weekend, Ramesh noted that Copenhagen was not possible “if the basic architecture of (the) Kyoto (Protocol) was not preserved”.
It’s time to start asking other questions. Tejal Kanitkar and others wrote in the 10 October Economic and Political Weekly that “carbon offsets are unlikely to act as an incentive to the development of new technologies” since they “blunt the demand” for innovations. Obsessing over emission cuts can even be dangerous: Yale University economist Robert Mendelsohn argues that the bigger threat is actually a hurried and overdone mitigation effort, the cost of which can rise to $56 trillion.
Instead of expecting miracles from Copenhagen this year, perhaps it’s time to take this piecemeal. A consensus on emission cuts appears difficult, but there are other ideas about, say, alternative technologies that can be advanced at Copenhagen. Strangely, as the road to Copenhagen gets shakier, there might just be a chance for leaders to re-evaluate their high ambitions.
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