New Delhi: Two degrees separate the world as we know it from one on the brink of environmental catastrophe.
On 9 July, at the meeting of the Group of Eight nations in Italy that was also attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 13 members of the Major Economies Forum (MEF) on energy and climate agreed the world needs to act soon to limit global temperature increase at 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The agreement also raised questions whether India had implicitly abandoned its stiff opposition to binding emission targets that could harm economic growth and poverty alleviation.
The forthcoming World Development Report (WDR) 2010, an annual World Bank publication, focuses on climate change. Mint has a copy of the draft report. “Stabilizing the climate around 2 degrees (Celsius) is extremely ambitious. By 2050, emissions would need to be cut by 50% below 1990 levels and be zero or negative by 2100. Massive efforts would be needed right away,” says WDR.
Ambitious plans: A 9 July photo of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (left), German Chancellor Angela Merkel (centre) and US President Barack Obama before the MEF discussion in Italy. Saul Loeb / AFP
“We absolutely cannot have a global climate deal which restricts India’s development, or ties it down to unequal per capita in perpetuity,” says Navroz Dubash, senior fellow, Centre for Policy Research, a Delhi-based think tank.
While India signed the recent climate change statement in Italy, Jairam Ramesh, minister of state for environment and forests, categorically said during the visit of US secretary of state Hillary Clinton that India will not accept any mandatory emission caps.
The MEF statement is a political statement and not a legally binding document. Yet, the possibility that a temperature cap could find its way into legally binding agreements during global climate change negotiations sponsored by the United Nations is viable, which raises concerns.
A rough internal assessment by the Indian government on the implication of a 2 degrees Celsius warming limit suggests that even if the developed world agrees to cut its carbon emissions by 85% below 1990 levels by 2050, India will be stuck at limiting its per capita emissions at 3 tonnes while the developed world averaged 18 tonnes in 1990.
The MEF statement states that global and national emissions should peak as soon as possible. But developing nations have been given more time. Their carbon emissions should peak by 2030.
The Indian assessment estimates that if national emissions are to peak by 2030, India will have to limit its per capita emissions at approximately 3 tonnes (compared with the current 1.2 tonnes) forever, while countries such as China and South Africa, which have much higher per capita emissions at present, will get headroom for a higher per capita emissions.
In short, there will be no global convergence on per capita emissions. “The risk is that any approach that doesn’t require the north to do its bit up front will lead to greater burdens on the south, which could result in unequal per capita emissions,” added Dubash.
A senior government official, who did not want to be identified, says the key issue is burden sharing. “If the burden is shared on historical emissions, then it is not an issue. But if it is on the basis of certain percentages, then it is completely arbitrary and maybe very expensive. Unless you have burden sharing, it could trap us in a low carbon but low per capita GDP (gross domestic product) forever,” he says.
The Indian government has persistently argued that any mitigation action in India will have to have development benefits at zero or negative cost. WDR says that developed countries need to quickly provide finance and technology for mitigation actions in developing nations, which is the lowest cost option. The WDR estimates the costs of staying around 2 degrees Celsius at 0.3-0.7% of world GDP per year till 2100.
Is a 2 degrees Celsius approach a worthwhile policy signal? Scientific studies published in the April edition of Nature magazine on getting emissions down to a level where global temperatures will not be more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels state that the world has already used up one-third of emission budget till 2050.
David Victor of Stanford University, criticizing the 2 degrees Celsius approach in the magazine, says, “There is no simple relationship between what governments can actually control and abstract goals such as a set limit to warming. At best, broad cumulative (emission) budgets are a general guide for policy. The 2-degree (Celsius) target is a political delusion.”