EU’s green gambit: Pressure now on US, China and India over 2025/2030 goals4 min read . Updated: 27 Oct 2014, 12:47 PM IST
While the US has pledged to cut its emissions by 17% by 2020 on 2005 levels, China and India have announced cuts in emissions intensity
Just a few days back, leaders of the 28-country European Union (EU) announced that the EU as a whole would cut its emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 40% by 2030 on 1990 levels. They also agreed to a renewable energy market share of 27% and a 27% increase in energy efficiency by 2030. The operational aspects of the three decisions have been left vague so that a consensus could be reached since countries like the UK, Poland and Portugal have been baulking. Clearly, Europe is once again sending a signal to countries like the US, China and India in the run-up to the UN Climate Change Conference to be held in Paris in December 2015 when a new international agreement to curb global warming is expected to be finalised.
Over the past two decades, the share of EU in global greenhouse gas emissions has fallen from around 20% to around 10%. No doubt, economic stagnation has contributed to this decline, but there can be no doubt of the EU’s commitment, especially that of countries like Germany. Germany has, in fact, accomplished a hugely significant energy transition which is now referred to as Energiewiende. Almost 30% of electricity supply—and not just capacity—comes from solar and wind energy. Germany, which really has no comparative advantage in solar energy, has about 37,000 MW of solar capacity (as compared with about 2,600 MW in India which has perhaps the best endowment in terms of solar radiation). In a population of some 80 million, there are about 6 million individual and cooperative energy producers in Germany, who are guaranteed a return on their investments for a period of 20 years through a “feed in" tariff mechanism and whose electricity output is guaranteed to be purchased and put into the grid at any time of the day. Smaller Scandinavian countries have also taken major steps in renewable energy but the scale of what has been achieved in Germany is truly staggering and invites closer attention in our country.
The US, China and India have already announced their commitments for the year 2020. The US has pledged to cut its emissions by 17% by that year on 2005 levels. China and India, on the other hand, have announced cuts in emissions intensity (that is, emissions per unit of gross domestic product, or GDP). China has said that by 2020, emissions intensity would be reduced by 40-45% on 2005 levels, while India has said that its target would be a 20-25% reduction. None of the three countries have said anything firm for the year 2030. The pressure on this trio, which account for about half of world greenhouse emissions (China at 29%, US at 15% and India at 6%) will no doubt increase, and the world will expect, not unreasonably, for some firm targets from them at least for the year 2025 to begin with and some aspirational goal for 2030.
US president Barack Obama has recently announced carbon emission standards for power plants that would be enforced by the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA) through a cap-and-trade mechanism. China, which has seven pilot regional emission trading systems in place, has announced a national carbon trading mechanism to come into force in early 2016. India’s own trading system called PAT (perform, achieve and trade) for enforcing energy efficiency standards (and thereby emission levels also) in energy-intensive industries covering 478 designated companies will take effect from 1 April 2015. It has also announced mandatory fuel efficiency standards for passenger cars to become effective 1 April 2016 although there are already moves afoot to put off that date by at least a year. In April 2014, an expert group of the Planning Commission submitted its detailed report on a low carbon growth strategy for the next two decades with clear goalposts for 2030, but this seems to have been buried.
The Chinese know that they are under international scrutiny because they are, by far, the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases. But quite apart from this, there has been growing domestic concern across China on the public health consequences of its emission-intensive growth strategy. A combination of these two factors has led China to become more pragmatic—reflected, for example, in the statement of its vice premier Zhang Gaoli at the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23 September 2014. The vice premier spoke of how renewable energy capacity as a proportion of electricity generating capacity has already reached 24% in China (as compared with around 13% in India). But the more interesting part of his speech was the statement that “China will take on international responsibilities that are commensurate with its national conditions".
This is a significant nuancing of its traditional hard-line position. China has also started talking about when its emissions will peak, plateau for a while and then actually decline. There are different estimates worked out by Chinese think tanks, but the consensus “peaking year" may fall between 2030 and 2035, and some declaration to this effect could well be made sometime late next year.
India has its work cut out for itself with the Chinese shift and with the intense engagement that the US and China have on climate and energy issues at different levels. We will have to change both the substance and style of our global engagement, becoming less argumentative and far more constructive. After championing the cause of equity so long, it is perplexing that India has refused to endorse the perfectly sensible position of the Africa Group, preferring to make common cause with like-minded developing countries like Saudi Arabia. This is hardly the stuff enlightened self-interest is made of.
The author is a Rajya Sabha MP and former Union minister.