From Paris to where? The million dollar question
by K P Prabhakaran Nair on 30 Apr 2016 11 Comments
India is experiencing the worst drought conditions in perhaps a century. Bangalore, the “Ooty” of poor southerners, clocked 39.2 degree Celsius on April 25, unheard of in 85 years! Odisha in east India is sizzling hot, close to 50 degree Celsius. The poor in India are groaning, the “aam admi” cannot afford the luxury of an air conditioner in his house.


Over 170 seventy countries, including India, met in Paris and signed an international agreement on April 22.


How many of us stop to think why this oppressive heat? Of course, the jholawala environmental activists will immediately point an accusing finger at the millions of autos, many not roadworthy, spewing carbon monoxide and contributing to global warming.


The truth is that our “celebrated” green revolution has contributed so much to ambient warming, but is not held to account.


One single molecule of nitrous oxide, a by-product of urea use, when released through the process of denitrification, stays up in the atmosphere for as long as 150 years and has a five-fold more heat-trapping potential than carbon-di-oxide and contributes as much as 25 per cent to global warming. This nitrous oxide has been mindlessly used in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, the “cradle” of India’s green revolution, to boost rice and wheat yields.


This is a point that needs serious thinking as the world grapples with global warming, which is now beyond the stage of denial.


But that is not the central theme of this essay. We seek to examine where the developing world, India in particular, will go after the Paris talks.


The core issue of the Paris talks was to peg global ambient temperature increase to below 2 degree Celsius this century, and put in place efforts even to push it down to 1.5 degree Celsius increase above pre-industrial levels. The United Nations thinks that the 1.5 degree Celsius threshold is a safer threshold to control global climate change.


But the ground reality is different. In December 2015, it was proclaimed that the 2 degree Celsius threshold is the cutting point. Yet, in practical terms about 0.85 degree Celsius, that is 42.5 per cent, has already been exhausted. This means that achieving the target of 2 degree Celsius cap is nothing short of day dreaming.


Very disturbingly, the current Paris agreement, based on emission cuts, does not have a scientific review process. This means the emission cuts by individual countries is purely voluntary, falling short of desired curbs.


Oxfam conducted an analysis in October 2015, titled “Fair Shares: A Civil Society Equity Review of INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions), INDC, for short, is the “baby” of Shri Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment minister. According to this analysis, the total share of wealthier countries was 24.2 giga tonnes (GT) of which 9.1 GT could be achieved domestically and 15.1 GT through international actions, such as through financial input, technology and capacity building. The fair share of poorer nations was 6.6 GT.


However, wealthier nations pledged climate action of only 5.5 GT, while, poorer ones pledged 8.3 GT and, another 1.8 GT conditional on international support, leaving what one may call a massive “ambition gap” of 15.2 GT.


In fact, the INDC of the rich nations like US and European Union (EU) represents only a fifth of their fair share, while Japan’s contribution is a miserly tenth, and Russia refused to budge, committing no contribution at all.


Oxfam’s verdict is this: “The current INDC’s represent substantially less than half of the reduction in emissions required by 2030. This relates to a very risky carbon budget with a strong likelihood of keeping the global warming below 1.5 degree Celsius or 2 degrees, the current INDCs would only mean a tiny fraction of what is intended”. A very depressing commentary from a very responsible organisation.


What would be the fallout from all this?


The considered opinion of climatologists is that at 1.5 degree Celsius threshold, the earth would witness catastrophic calamities and irreversible warming that would hit the poor far more than the rich. The International Panel For Climate Control (IPCC) estimates that for even a reasonable chance of keeping the peg at 1.5 degree Celsius, the world would have a carbon budget of 400-850 GT left between now (2011, to be precise) and 2050, which works to about 10-20 GT annually.


Most distressingly, however, emissions were at a huge level of 33.33 GT even in 2013. I would surmise, at the current prevalent emissions, the world would exhaust the budget in another one to two decades, at the most. The Chinese, Asia’s top polluters, speculate that even with actions put in place in the Paris talks, temperature rise would at least be 2.7 degrees.


The Indian position is that massive infusion of money would be needed to meet the targets. While this calls for stringent review of INDCs, both India and China have opposed this, fearing excessive extraneous pressures, especially against the background of lack of clarity over the rich nations’ commitment to financial support. India, China and Brazil have demonstrated “moderate” commitments on emission reduction, as per the Climate Action tracker, which amounts to almost two-thirds of their share. The share of smaller countries like Ethiopia, Gambia, Costa Rica and Bhutan, are “sufficient”.


In this depressing scenario, this author’s perception is that India will pay a heavy price on the food front if, in the euphoria of the “Make In India” project of Shri Narendra Modi, our planners do not see the damage that can be done to our very livelihood, that is, as of now, and in years to come, agrarian.  

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